Now that we have looked at active reading for study purposes, let's look more closely at critical reading. This reading technique means that you:
A practical start point is to assume that what you are reading is not fact, but is the argument of the writer. Make your own evaluations regarding what you find believable. This means that you don’t blindly accept what you read. The aim is not to find fault, but to assess the strength of evidence, ideas or arguments.
When you read critically you need to look at the evidence you are presented with eg measurements, statistics, quotes, arguments and/or theories. Consider why the evidence has been selected and presented to you. Is the writer biased or is there another way to interpret the evidence? Ask:
When you write critically you will:
Be clear and confident about whether you agree or disagree with the arguments and evidence contained in the information sources that you include in your writing.
Be able to give a balanced presentation of the reasons why the views of others should be accepted or treated with caution.
Give a clear presentation of your own evidence, arguments and conclusions.
Recognise your own limitations.
Your assignments and essays need to balance the use of critical and descriptive writing. Descriptive writing refers to writing that describes an object or a theory, background history, biographical details about a person’s life or research.
When you write descriptively you are not developing your own argument – you are merely setting the background within which an argument can be developed. You are presenting ideas but not transforming information. You are presenting a situation and not an analysis or discussion. This type of writing is easy to do, so many students fail to balance descriptive with critical writing.
When you write critically you are participating in a debate and weighing up the evidence and arguments of others, and then you are contributing your own. You are not writing critically if you are putting together a string of quotes from other people to support your argument. A large number of quotes won’t make your argument stronger. You need to balance the quotes you use with your own interpretation of the material. Explain to the reader how the quote, idea or argument is relevant or irrelevant. Show how they relate to the topic and discuss whether they are valid.
Planning your paragraphs can help you to write critically. You can use paragraphs to make a clear and visual separation by switching to a new paragraph when you move between descriptive and critical writing. This can help:
Emphasise to the reader that you are including both types of writing and analysis.
Force you to produce critical writing and counter balance your descriptive writing.
A good rule is: If it’s worth including, it’s worth telling the reader why you did so. A certain amount of descriptive writing is necessary but it is easy to include too much. After you have described something, get into the habit of explaining why that description is relevant. A sentence or two might describe something, but then the next few sentences can explain what this information contributes to the argument you are making. This may feel like duplication at first, or that you are explaining something that is obvious, but it is your responsibility to explain things to the reader. Don’t assume the reader will follow the same logic you do.
Remember not to lose sight of your line of argument as your write several paragraphs. You need to ensure that each paragraph has a beginning, middle and end, but you also need to consider their placement in the overall structure. The aim is to lead the reader through the thread of your argument to a well supported conclusion.
When you read back over your critical writing, ask yourself:
Why should the reader be convinced by what I’ve just written?
Are their gaps in my logic or arguments?
Is there a balance between descriptive and critical writing?
Is my conclusion well supported? Do I lead the reader to my conclusions via the evidence or do I spring them suddenly on the reader?
Have I made general and sweeping statements which I haven’t backed up with evidence?
[The text above is based on that provided by the University of Leicester]