A Guide in Critical Thinking: Critical Reading

Reading critically is all about examining and deconstructing text. In order to master that, being patient and focus reading is essential, which is why this process takes time. Critical reading skill requires you to focus on a certain part of a written text which involves analysis, reflection, evaluation and making judgements (Cottrel, 2005, pp.147). It is also a matter of identifying significant parts and examining how those parts are related to each other (Wall, 2005).

Elements of Critical Reading:

2. Identifying Theoretical Perspective
A good research text usually states the author’s theoretical position in an explicit way (Cottrell, 2005). Different type of texts usually positions its theory differently.

• Books > Outlined at the beginning of chapter.
• Articles, report, dissertations or theses > Indicated in the research hypothesis or the selected literature.

3. Finding Author’s Purpose of Writing
There is rarely one reason of an author’s purpose to write a text. When you are able to consider the reasons behind a written text, you will gain valuable insights and get most from your reading. Finding the author’s purpose can be done by asking “Why has the author told me these things?” or “What does the writer want me to do with this new knowledge?” (BYU, 2000)

Example (1) of evaluating a text for possible purposes: The following is an excerpt from the second chapter of Amin Maalouf’s book, “In the Name of Identity”.

This excerpt provides examples of multiple purposes, some can be immediately detected, while others might seem implicit. In the meantime, we can confirm that Maalouf disagrees with the existence of people who do violence in the name of identity.

CONSIDER: What is Maalouf’s main idea? Or What am I to understand from this text?

“The need to be attached to faith should not make you an exclusive human being. If spirituality continues to feed fanaticism, our identity should not solely be based on our religion.”

How does Maalouf present his ideas? What tools does he use?

According to the tools of the text, how does the author want me to react?
From bringing in a reflective text, with strong words expressing a deep personal concern, I can come to understand that Maalouf wants his readers to really think about the fundamental cause of how people can act violent in the name of identity. He also brings up two different points of view, which he considers natural, as to emphasize that he does not despise people who still consider the importance of gathering with the same religious identity. He wants to warn readers of the danger of identifying ourselves of only one affiliation.

Example (2) of evaluating a text for possible purposes: The following is an excerpt from the conclusion of Suzanne Britt Jordan’s essay, “That Lean and Hungry Look.”

This excerpt provides examples of multiple purposes in which we can establish that Jordan refers herself as being part of the fat, since earlier in the article she uses the phrase, “all of us chubbies.”

CONSIDER: What is Jordan’s main idea? Or What am I to understand from this text?

“Thin people are just too boring. It is the fat people you want to be with; they are more accepting and more fun.”

How does Jordan present his ideas? What tools does he use?

According to the tools of the text, how does the author want me to react?
From her extensive humor, I can conclude that Jordan wants her readers to laugh. This may be for entertainment reasons, but also in order to gain the reader’s attention. Her humor works as a hook and we keep reading. Jordan’s unusual approach emphasizes that she wants her readers to gain a new perspective on thinness and fatness. She also entices her readers to reconsider the pros and cons of each. There is obviously a specific emphasis on considering the positive sides of fatness. From looking specifically at the diction and the alliteration, we note that Jordan combines the seemingly opposite in order to change our point of view on fatness.

4. Judging the Quality of an Argument
Areas to emphasize when analyzing logic and persuasiveness at work in a text:

5. Categorizing and Selecting
Making critical choices of information for research tasks is easier when you are skilled in categorising (Cottrell, 2005, pp.151). These are the generic themes typically used for various types of argumentative texts :

It’s also important to have a preliminary findings or ‘investigation’ on your topic. This helps you gain relevant keywords, which will then assist you on what to input into search engines such as Google Scholar, JSTOR, Ebscohost, and other reliable online resources. The information which you receive from online resources also needs evaluation which can be done by asking yourselves these following questions:

6. Annotating

An act of making notes to support your critical reading is called annotating. The strategies might differ from one person to another, but here are some tips for starters:

(1) Underline important terms,

(2) Circle definitions and meanings,

(3) Write keywords and definitions in the margin, and

(4) Signal where important information can be found with key words or symbols in margin.

References:
• Cottrell, S. (2005). Critical reading and note-making: critical selection, interpretation, and noting of source material In Palgrave study skills critical thinking skills (pp. 147 - 165). London: Palgrave Macmillan.
• Critical Reading mini-lessons. (n.d.). BYU center for teaching and learning. Retrieved February 3, 2019, from https://ctl.byu.edu/critical-reading-mini-lessons
• Maalouf, A. (2003). The age of global tribes In Violence and the need to belong in the name of Identity (pp. 95-96). New York : Penguin Books.
• Wall, A. & Wall, R. (2005). Let’s get critical In The Complete Idiot’s guide to critical reading (pp. 3-17). New York: Penguin Group Inc.
• Beginning Your Research. (December 24, 2018). Library Guides City University of Hong Kong. Retrieved October 22, 2019 from https://libguides.library.cityu.edu.hk/research/pick-the-best-sources

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