Critical Reading to Write

Whether your students are reading a textbook for a class discussion, articles for a paper or thesis, or even just a newspaper, the ability to read critically is essential to writing or to public speaking. As preparation for composition, critical and close reading leads to stronger comprehension; it also sparks critical thinking and reasoning, which leads to more developed content.

You can help students read better by reviewing the reading process and encouraging them to follow it. Making students more reflective about their reading process can pay handsome dividends.

Preparing to read

Critical reading actually starts before a reader looks at the text. Students should begin by establishing the reason for reading. You can help by setting this up in an assignment. Clarify if you want students to read for information, or to understand the context of an issue, or to determine pros and cons—what do you hope they will get from reading a particular piece?

Awareness of document type can also help readers determine what to expect from reading. If the text is an analysis, for example, it will criticize, evaluate the authenticity or accuracy, or question a concept. If it is a research study, it will present the purpose, methods, and results. If it is an argument, it will present a claim and evidence for the claim.

Students can use knowledge of the basic organizational structure and purpose of a document type to take notes and to help them see the main points in the text. For example, if they are aware that the text is an analysis, they can identify what is being critiqued and the evaluative stance of the author. Given the dense nature of much academic prose, such guidance will simplify their task.

Guiding the reading

The following questions can help students decide what is important in a text:

After the reading

Advise students to think about the text once they have read it and review any notes they made while reading. They should make notes on their own evaluation of the text. Do they accept the text’s claims, evidence, or results? If they are reading for a project, how does the reading contribute to their own work? Thinking about the text and reviewing their notes will help them remember and use what they read.

Critical Reading Tips (to share with students)

Reading Logs

Especially if students are doing an extended research project, a reading log can help them read more thoroughly and critically as well as provide a means to keep track of sources. The reading log should include full bibliographic information and a summary of the reading, as well as critical reflections and evaluations. Make sure students are aware that they should use quotation marks whenever they quote directly from a text, so that if they refer to their notes during the composing process, they can give proper credit. The easiest way to show them how to keep a log is to provide a few sample entries that you have written yourself. Have them read the text it is based on and then examine and discuss the entry in class.

Additional Resources

Bean, John, Virginia A. Chappell, and Alice M. Gillam. Reading Rhetorically. 2nd brief ed. New York: Pearson Longman, 2007.

Kennedy, Mary Lynch, and Hadley M. Smith. Reading and Writing in the Academic Community. 4th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall-Pearson, 2010.

Academic Success Center, Reading for Success