Critical reading questions
You will need to make use of high-quality evidence and information. But with so much information out there, how can you decide what to use? Not everything you find, particularly on the web, is appropriate for academic study. You need to be able to think critically and judge what is relevant and appropriate for your purpose.
If we consider the critical thinking model, the description segment in particular helps us to generate the type of questions you may ask when making an initial evaluation of information.
Questions you may ask include:
- What is the source about? How relevant is to your context?
- Who is the author and are they subject experts?
- When was the material published? Is that significant to you? Has the information been superseded?
- What evidence is provided? Are there references that you could follow up to check any claims made?
Use our full set of critical thinking questions (PDF) to help you engage critically. These questions will take you through the description, analysis and evaluation stages as presented in the critical thinking model.
The questions will help you to evaluate the relevance and significance of your reading to your research or assignments.
You will be prompted to make the decision on how you will use the reading and what the relation is between this reading and the other information you have read.
However, this is not a comprehensive list and you may need to adapt or add your own questions for your subject, different assignments or a particular purpose.
Evaluating the author’s argument
When you have found a section of text that is directly relevant to your essay title or research, you need to slow down and read it more intensively. Critical reading is about analysing and evaluating the author's argument, not just looking for information.
The author should outline their viewpoint clearly and provide evidence from reliable sources to back this up.
- Is the author's argument clear? How is it presented?
- What evidence is provided? How is it used and interpreted?
- Is the argument convincing? How does it reach its conclusion?
You can also download our Evaluating information checklist (PDF). This is just a guide; some of the questions will be more relevant to your context than others.
Making effective notes
Making meaningful notes as you read can help you to clarify your thinking, organise your ideas and engage critically with the information.
Microsoft OneNote can help you organise your notes. You can upload screenshots or scans of your journal article, textbook etc. and annotate them with your own comments. The “highlighter tool” can be particularly useful for noting strengths and weaknesses in an argument. Available as part of the Student Advantage Office 365 pack.
For advice on specialised software and tools that can help you with your studies and assessments (such as dictation, screen reading or mind mapping tools), visit the Disability Services Assistive Technology page. You can also find a wider range of personalised support, from academic adjustments and alternative exam arrangements to advice on extra funding. To find out more and register, contact Disability Services.