Reading critically means questioning arguments, ideas and evidence, and comparing them with other sources, and any research data you have collated yourself.
When reading a text, you need to start with some descriptive questions that will give you a general overview of what the text is about. You then need to ask more analytical and evaluative questions to help you engage critically with what you are reading.
Critical reading questions
The following questions will help you to evaluate what you are reading. You will need to decide how you will use what you have read, and what the relationship is between a source and the other information you have found.
- Who is the author?
- What is the main purpose and overall argument or conclusion of this text?
- When was the text written and in what context?
- Is the author an expert or an academic?
- What kind of reasoning and evidence has the author provided for their main argument and how relevant and reliable are they?
- How convincing is the overall argument? Why (not)?
- Are there any assertions in the text that are unsupported?
- Has something been omitted? What and why?
- How effective is the language on the strength of the overall argument?
- Is the conclusion reasonable?
- How is this text significant to your research? What can be learned from it?
- What are the strengths and weaknesses of this text?
- What is your position on the subject? How does it differ from the argument in the text? How could you use the text?
- How does this text relate to other information you have read? Does it contradict, support or challenge other evidence?
- What else needs considering? Which aspects of this argument would you like to investigate further?
If you are reading literature within the field of medicine and health, you might need to critically appraise it. Critical appraisal is the process of systematically examining scientific literature to assess its trustworthiness and reliability.
The Critical Appraisal Skills Programme has developed a series of checklists that help you to critically appraise different types of study design, eg randomised controlled trials and systematic reviews. Alternatively, refer to the critical appraisal guidance that you have been given by your school.