Critical Reading: Reading effectively requires approaching texts with a critical eye: evaluating what you read for not just what it says, but how and why it says it. Effective reading is central to both effective research and effective writing. Being an effective reader also means being able to evaluate your own practices, working to develop your critical reading skills.
Here are some strategies for effective reading.
1. Identify What You’re Reading For
Knowing why you’re reading a given text can help you organize both your reading and how you can use what you read. Before you read a text, ask and answer the following kinds of questions: Are you reading only for general content? For data? For specific information or for general thematic concerns? For arguments that support or contest your thesis in a writing assignment? For information that you know you’ll need for an assignment, or for information to get you thinking about what you’ll need?
2. Enough Time to Read
Reading critically is not a fast process. Many students do not set aside enough study time for reading, and read everything either too quickly or at the same speed. If you know what you’re reading for, you can better distinguish information that can be skimmed from that which should be more closely examined, and make better use of your reading time.
Preview or survey the text before detailed reading begins, looking for clues related to its purpose, its relevance, its difficulty, and how it connects with ideas or information you already know. Be willing to struggle with the text in order to understand it — but don’t get hung up on single, tough details in first readings. Rather, hold confusing passages in mental suspension, and continue to read with the idea that what seems difficult to understand now may be cleared up as you go along.
Just as having more than one conversation with another person leads to closer understanding, conducting a number of readings leads to a richer and more meaningful relationship with, and understanding of, a text.
If your first reading is for basic information and evaluation, subsequent readings can take on different levels of focus. In re-reading, work to separate parts of arguments e.g., thesis idea, evidence, preview, counterarguments and to understand how these parts work to support the author’s thesis.
4. Get the Most Out of Text
Read with a pen or pencil, highlighting key statements, parts, or points — even those you find confusing. Also, ‘bake note of words or terms you don’t understand so you can look them up later. Note where and how the text relates to lectures or discussions, as well as general or specific questions you might wish to ask your instructor in Class or office hours.
Record your own questions,points of agreement or disagreement, references to related ideas, and points at which ideas match up with each other. In other words, work to enter into a dialogue with the text, mark it up, and make it your own.
5. Writer’s Background and Purpose
Reading a text critically requires that you ask questions about the writer’s authority and agenda. You may need to put yourself in the author’s shoes and recognize that those shoes fit a certain way of thinking. Work to determine and understand an author’s context, purpose, and intended audience. Read more
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