Critical reading means thinking carefully about an author’s claims and evidence, not accepting them at face value.
It requires several skills:
identifying arguments in a text;
evaluating the logic of these arguments;
determining if the author offers sufficient and valid evidence to support these arguments; and
considering alternative evidence and arguments that might challenge the author’s claims.
Why bother? Because if you don’t read critically, you may miss the main arguments of the text, or worse, your opinions may be influenced by bogus arguments.
Critical reading is one aspect of critical thinking, or the ability to evaluate arguments and reach your own well-reasoned conclusions. In fact, critical thinking may be the single most important skill to acquire in your university education – regardless of your major. In both your professional and your personal life, you will have to separate strong from weak arguments, develop your own opinions based on evidence and careful reasoning, and sort through and make sense of a confusing mass of information. Critical thinking and reading skills allow you to do this.
So, how can YOU learn to read critically?
It’s not hard, and it gets easier with practice. Here’s what to do:
When you begin each of your course readings, keep the following QUESTIONS in mind, which you can remember by thinking about the word "clear."
CLAIMS: What are the main claims or arguments in the text? What is the author’s main point?
LOGIC: How does the author reach these conclusions? What are the steps in the author’s reasoning or logic? Is this logic sound?
EVIDENCE: What evidence does the author present to support the argument(s)? Does the author offer enough evidence? Is this evidence convincing? Can you think of any counter-evidence that would challenge the author’s claims?
ASSUMPTIONS: Does the author rely on hidden assumptions? If so, are these assumptions correct?
ALTERNATIVE ARGUMENTS: Can you think of alternative arguments that the author has not considered?
That’s it. Once you get into the habit of critical reading, you'll automatically ask yourself these questions – and you’ll be better off for it!