Source 2022: Open University, United Kingdom
Critical thinking is the process of applying reasoned and disciplined thinking to a subject. We need to develop reasoned arguments based on a logical interpretation of reliable sources of information. These critical reading and thinking skills improve with practice.
Critical reading involves active reading, which simply means reading something with a determination to understand and evaluate it for its relevance to your needs. Actively and critically engaging with the content can save you time.
When you read and do a critical review of the various resources provided, here are some more detailed questions that you might ask:
- Who is speaking or writing?
- What is their point of view or perspective?
- What ideas and information are presented and how were they obtained?
- Are there unsupported assertions?
- Are relevant reasons or evidence provided?
- Is the method used to find the evidence sound?
- Is the evidence correct or valid?
- What assumptions have been made?
- What is fact and what is opinion?
- What are the implicit and explicit values?
- Are there unreasonable generalisations?
- What has been omitted?
- How was the conclusion reached?
- Is the conclusion reasonable?
- What other perspectives or points of view could there be?
Tips for effective critical reading
Quickly scan the material
Before reading in any detail, scan through the materials quickly, simply to get a general impression of it. The aim at this stage is not to get to grips with its detailed arguments, simply to understand how many sections it has, which of them require careful reading and which you can read through quickly, etc. Check the contents pages to see how many sections there are. Check headings, images and summaries (see ‘Scanning and skimming’ below). Keep in mind what your purpose is.
Read more thoroughly
Once you have an idea of what you are trying to achieve and a general overview of the material, read it in more detail.
- Take notes, add margin comments or highlight sections.
- Pay attention to the structure of a text to help you to understand the writer’s purpose and argument. Take notice of headings and sub-headings, of opening and closing paragraphs and of other signposts the writer has provided.
- Try to understand what you are reading and consider whether you agree with the content and think about how it compares to any other reading you’ve done on the same topic.