Reading critically

Critical reading is more than just reading a text and memorising or restating the information it contains. It requires you to analyse and interpret the text, and reach a deeper understanding of what you are reading.

When reading critically you need to think about and understand the author’s:

  • purpose
  • point of view or bias
  • reasons for selecting certain facts and presenting them in a particular context
  • choice of language, etc.

Reading critically also involves evaluating the text to reach your own conclusions; synthesise what you have read; and link it to your prior knowledge or perhaps to other texts.

How to read critically

Reading an academic text critically is not the same as reading a novel or a magazine. You don’t start on page one and read through the whole text. Instead you start by reading the:

  • abstract or summary of the text (if there is one)
  • chapter headings and subheadings
  • introduction, and
  • conclusion.

This will give you an idea of what the text is about. If not, try skim reading the text.


Ask questions

An important part of critical reading is asking yourself questions about the text while you read. For example:

  • What are the main points?
  • What examples are used to explain the main points? Are the examples useful? Do I agree with them? Can I think of better ones?
  • What’s been included in the text (i.e. things, people, scenarios, ideas)? Has anything been left out?
  • What’s the author’s point of view or perspective? Is the author biased or impartial?
  • Is the author’s argument logical (i.e. does it make sense and are the steps easy to follow)?
  • Does the author provide good evidence to support his/her ideas and conclusions (i.e. is the text well-researched)?
  • What other conclusions could be drawn from the same material?
  • Do I agree or disagree with the author? Why?
  • Is the text similar to or different from other texts you have read on the topic? In what way is it similar/different?


Reinforce your reading

To help you take in and understand what you are reading, also remember to:

  • Make notes.
  • Stop at the end of each section for a few minutes to think about what you have read and summarise the main points in your own words.
  • Tell someone else what you’ve been reading about. If they know nothing about the topic, what would you have to tell them for them to understand it?
  • Take part in online forums and discuss what you have read with your fellow students.
  • Think about why your lecturer/tutor required you to read the text. What questions might your lecturer ask to check your understanding of the text? Write these questions down then try to answer them in your own words.

You could also try reading strategies to help reinforce your learning:

Get the most out of your reading
Understand and remember using SQ3R

More about critical reading

Reading Critically - University of Queensland website (opens in new window)

Critical reading - Study Guides and Strategies website (opens in new window)

Related information

 Academic writing