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Critical thinking

Critical reading

You will select sources and read them in different ways depending on their value to your assignment. For example, you might read to:

  • get a general overview of the text by skimming through it
  • look for specific information or to understand some core concepts by scanning the text
  • examine the text in depth and actively ask questions of the source, in order to understand its relevance and reliability for your own research topic.

The last approach is particularly important for any work you submit for assessment.

You should ask yourself:

  • Why am I reading this? Are you reading for a presentation, assignment, pre-reading for a lecture, or for finding ideas?
  • What do I want to get out of it? Are you looking for specific facts, a general idea of the content, the author's viewpoint?
  • What do I already know?
  • How will I know when I have read enough?

Select what and how to read

Usually, you can't read all the texts you find on a topic, or even everything suggested on a long reading list. You need to make choices and be selective.

Opt for quality and not quantity, and choose reliable and current sources. We also recommend that you start with an easy text to give you an overview of the topic.

You could choose one of four main reading strategies. These are:

  • Predicting: making an educated guess about what the text is about before you start to read.
  • Scanning: looking through the text very quickly to look for keywords.
  • Skimming: reading the introduction and the first line of each paragraph to work out what the text is about.
  • Intensive reading: reading a short section of text slowly and carefully.

When reading and analysing a source closely, use our set of critical thinking questions (PDF) to help you engage critically.

Spreeder is an online tool useful for skim-reading text whilst still gaining an understanding of the context. You can adjust the number of words presented and reading speed of your text, helping you to improve your reading speed.