Your work will benefit from using 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 of a good standard or appropriate for academic study. You need to be able to think critically and judge what is relevant and appropriate for your purpose.
Think about each source by asking yourself:
- Who is the author and what are their interests?
- Is the material objective?
- When was the material published? Is the information up-to-date?
- What evidence is provided?
- How relevant is the material to your work?
Our Evaluating information resource (activity) provides activities to help you evaluate the quality and relevance of information you find.
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.
Critical reading questions
Once you have made an initial judgement that a source appears to be useful and relevant, you then need to analyse it in more depth by asking appropriate questions of the source that determine whether the research, ideas or arguments presented are worthy of discussion in your writing.
Some of the questions you need to ask yourself are:
- What is the main purpose of this text?
- When was it written and in what context?
- Is the author an expert or academic?
- How convincing is their argument/conclusion and why (not)?
- Has something been omitted? What and why?
- How is this text significant to your research?
- What are the strengths and weaknesses of this text?
- What is your position on the subject?
- Does it contradict or support other evidence?
- What else needs considering?
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 the reading at hand to your research. 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?
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.
For more information, take a look at our Note making guide.