Read critically

Evaluate what you read!

We cannot assume that everything that is written, researched, or published is accurate, correct, justifiable or even worthwhile!

Critical reading is not criticizing, it is critiquing, which is quite different. The word critique is related to the word criteria. We need criteria in order to measure the value of what we read. Before we can critique something (read it critically), we have to develop our criteria.

In order to determine how robust a published piece of research is, look critically at how the research has been conducted, how data has been gathered, analysed and interpreted, to assess for yourself how valid and reliable you believe it to be. Are the writer's claims adequately supported by the research findings? Identify problems or inconsistencies.

Read critically so that you can analyse and evaluate a work in terms of what it purports to achieve and also as it relates to other published work in the discipline. What perspective is it presenting? How does each research, book or article, relate to others on the topic? How relevant is this work for your topic and for the discipline in general?

You will need to compare, contrast and find similarities and differences between researchers' approaches, findings, claims and opinions.

You may focus on a work's main contention, and your general impression of the work, where you agree or disagree with the author. You may have some positive and some negative opinions regarding the work.

Therefore you read both for content, for information and also for the way the writer thinks about the material. Identify the writer's purpose or main message. It is important to see how this message is developed as an argument through the text.

Look for the writer's argument in the text

What argument words does the writer use to make the argument? - Look for words such as: therefore, as a result, by contrast.

Look at the writer's argument as a particular focus for assessing and and evaluating the work. In general the first sentence in a paragraph is critical. Find the essence of the argument. Now, try to identify its premises and see if you can arrange them in an order of importance. What is the writer's conclusion?

Is it a logically constructed reasonable argument? - Look for any problems in the logic or reasoning. Look for fallacious reasoning in the argument. Is there adequate supporting evidence upon which the writer can base his or her claims? Where and how was the evidence obtained, and what kind of evidence is it?

Johnson and Blair identify three criteria for a good argument. They are:

  • The premises must be relevant to the conclusion
  • The premises must offer adequate support for the conclusion
  • The premises must be acceptable, plausible

Read critically to identify worthwhile works that relate to your topic, and to establish your legitimate position within the thinking of the discipline.