Reading Critically

To read critically, you must carefully consider the argument, context, author, and author's perspective and bias in each source you read at the same time as you remain aware of your own perspective and bias.

When attempting to read critically, keep the following points in mind.

  • Try to judge arguments on their merits: be aware of how your own bias may be affecting your judgment. .

  • Context matters. Where a text comes from and who it is written for can affect meaning. Think how its historical and cultural context influences a reading.

  • What does the author hope to achieve (to convince the reader, arouse sympathy, inspire indignation)? You may see an author emphasize certain points but ignore others in an effort to achieve his or her purpose.

  • Do not accept authorities unquestioningly. They may be quoted out of context. They may be wrong. Authorities do not always agree; the word of one is not indisputable.

  • Watch for generalizations. Does the author draw conclusions on the basis of similarities between things that are not similar?

  • Does the author think in extremes, ignoring possibilities in between? Anything neatly divided into polar opposites should be suspect.

  • Watch for value-laden language

    • Words are chosen for denotation and connotation. Distinguish between them. “Soda pop” denotes a fizzy drink; it connotes a bygone era. The term can be used to evoke nostalgia.

    • Up-labelling and down-labelling create different emotional responses. “Matchbox” is a down-label for a small house, “cosy home” an up-label.

  • Watch for faulty reasoning

    • Does the author avoid a question, talking around it by tackling other issues?

    • Does the author beg the question (avoid answering the question)? Is the evidence the same as the conclusion? To accept the evidence, must you already accept the conclusion?

    • Are there non sequiturs? This phrase means “it does not follow.” For example, “In Sweden, spanking is illegal. There is a high suicide rate. Spanking prevents suicide” is a non sequitur.



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