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  Home > InfoWrite > The Writing Process > Becoming a Critical Reader

InfoTrac College Edition

Becoming a Critical Reader

Reading for entertainment, you read for plot, allowing yourself to be captivated by the action and imagery. Reading for a class, you absorb information, underlining and highlighting facts and ideas. Critical reading, however, demands more than simply paying attention or identifying important ideas.

  • Critical reading examines a writer's thesis and support. Reading critically, you not only seek to understand what the writer is saying but measure and weigh the logic of his or her position. Does the writer supply enough evidence to prove his or her thesis? Can the facts, surveys, testimony be interpreted in other ways? Can you think of information that counters the writer's argument?
  • Critical reading can improve your writing by observing how other writers choose words, introduce ideas, organize essays, and present evidence. If your instructor notes weaknesses in your writing, refer to the readings in your text to see how other writers have addressed this issue. How do they develop paragraphs, state a thesis, or present details?

Strategies For Reading Critically

  1. Examine the entire document
    Before beginning to read the first line, review the entire document. Look at the title, paragraph structure, and length.
    • Read any background material about the subject or biographical information about the writer.
  2. Consider the goal and format of the document
    What is the writer's purpose -- to write a letter to one person, review a movie for newspaper readers, present an argument to a specific audience, entertain readers of a popular magazine, or address a serious issue for a select group of professionals?
    • Does the form of the document dictate a certain writing style?
  3. Review the title
    Does the title simply label the document -- or does it pose a question or state a thesis?
  4. Consider the intended audience
    Does the writer take his or her readers into account? Does the audience seem to affect the way the writer selects words, presents ideas, or use emotional appeal? Does the writer appear to see the audience as receptive or hostile to his or her point of view?
  5. Review the writer's thesis
    What is the writer's point? Can you summarize it in your own words?
    • What kind of thesis does the writer use? Is it clearly stated in a sentence you can underline, does it evolve through a series of statements, or is it implied?
    • Where does the writer place the thesis -- at the beginning or the end?
  6. Analyze supporting evidence
    How does the author support his or her thesis -- through detailed personal observations, expert testimony, facts and statistics, or surveys?
    • Does the author offer enough proof to be convincing? Are the sources reliable? Can you think of other ways of interpreting the data?
    • Do you think the writer's proof would impress the intended readers?
  7. Review the introduction and conclusion
    How does the writer introduce the subject? Does the introduction arouse attention, supply background information, or announce the writer's purpose? How effective is the conclusion? Does it make a strong final impression?
  8. Consider the writer's style and choice of words
    Does the writing style and word choice reflect the writer's goal and audience? Does anything seem to clash with the context of the document? Can you locate words or phrases that might have a negative impact on readers?
    • Pay attention to word choice. What connotations to these words have? How do they influence the writer's purpose?
    Consider this piece of writing a work sample. Is there anything you can learn from this writer -- writing stronger introductions, organizing paragraphs, creating effective conclusions, selecting details?

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From The Sundance Reader, Third Edition, Web Site by Mark Connelly.