General Suggestions for Critical Reading
***These suggestions are in no specific order***
I. Note Unfamiliar Vocabulary Words and References to People, Works, and Places
Resist the urge to go immediately to the dictionary. How does the word feel? Sound? Predict what you
think the word means, look it up, and evaluate the similarities and differences between the two different
assessments. To probe even further into a term's history or obscurity, check and see if the editors of a
work (as in the case of Aristotle) have left a note or footnote. Also, check its etymology in the Oxford
Dictionary or visit an encyclopedia like Wikipedia or the Gale Virtual Reference Library. Look up its
synonyms, as well. This strategy of mapping various sources helps you develop a deeper understanding of
both the author's use of the word. Furthermore, this process enables you to pick up on numerous other
possible meanings of the words in question, but also helps you pick up on additional vocabulary.
II. Read the text's introduction, afterword, or epilogue
Aristotle's works make more sense with some historical context. Note the time period, audience, and
genre of these works to better understand their organization and purpose. Although the web is a good
place to learn more about context, if a work has an introduction it's probably worth considering first since
its gone through an extensive editing process by people who are likely to have some expertise about some
aspect of the subject (e.g. a Classics scholar knows about ancient history and probably speaks many
languages, which is knowledge that would be crucial for making sense of Aristotle's written works (esp.
since these works have been translated over time in multiple languages).
III. Practice Active Reading
Develop a notetaking system. Some works you read will be more memorable than others, and you will
find yourself prepared to discuss it based on your immediate reaction. Other works require more
reflection and analysis. To fully engage, write in the marginalia, on a separate sheet of paper, in a special
journal, or some other place that encourages you to revisit and revise often. This habit may seem
timeconsuming or futile, but can help you interpret densely written prose or produce the beginning phases
of a wellwritten argument.
b. Recall and Visualization
As you are reading, try to enact the text visually. Who's doing what? Why? When? Where? How?
What are the consequences of character's events and actions? What other ideas, texts, and contexts
seem connected to the author's work. How does your personal experience relate to the author's work?
The experiences of others?
c. Recall and Rhythm
How does the text sound? Read it aloud. Become aware of your reaction to the length, tone, and
variation of words and sentences, as well as the flow between them. Having to reread a sentence over
and over again, does it sound clunky? Does a long sentence, in which you find meaningful seem especially
sonorous? If you become sensitive to it, you will find that rhythm adds another layer of meaning to
textswhether spoken, written, or visual. Paying attention to rhythm helps you begin to interpret and
improve upon your own style of writing.
Critical/Active Reading: Purposes and Strategies (Con’t)
Critical, or active, reading is a process that serves multiple purposes.
1. Increases the reader’s focus on the subject material
2. Prompts inquiry regarding the subject matter
3. Encourages the reader to interact with the material (e.g. converse with the material)
4. Generates ideas from the reader that can be further developed
5. Functions as a crucial building block to the process of writing a major essay assignment
Possible Methods for Critical Reading
Create an index at the back of the book or in a separate notebook, as in previous exercise.
Outline. This is a great strategy if you are trying to get a sense of the article’s structure.
● How is the piece organized?
● How does this organization help the overall clarity (logos) of the article? Its overall
● Is there a logic behind the order important concepts/terms/arguments appear.
Doubleentry/Tripleentry note taking
Draw a vertical line down a piece of notebook paper, about 2/3s of the way across so that you have
two columns. In the first column, use outlining or note taking summaries of the reading. Include page
numbers. In the second column, comment on what you are summarizing: what is your understanding of
the key concept/term/claim? do you agree or disagree? What might you add to this idea? What does
this idea remind you of?
Create your own system! Sometimes taking notes on an external page can be time consuming if you
have wide margins, and you own the material you are writing on.
For instance, some might use a marginal notetaking system:
[ key term/concepts ] : Key Terms/concepts are bracketed
( main arguments ): Main arguments are placed in parenthesis
Thesis Statement : Thesis statement is placed in a box
Evidence is underlined
Basil Bernstein, Pierre Bourdieu, and Michael W. Apple: External Sources (e.g. references the author
has used in order to frame or contextualize the study) are squiggled.
*Creating a Summary
A Brief Summary. Create your own summary of the article by answering the following questions:
1. Look through your marginal notes and highlights and take note of the article’s structure
2. What elements are included here?
3. Are there headings to guide you as you move through those elements?
4. Where does the author present a question or thesis?
5. How does the author structure the paper to address that question or thesis?
A Detailed Summary. Write a detailed summary of the article’s main points. Your job is to attempt to
represent the article as clearly and accurately as possible.
1. What is the article about?
2. What is being studied and what is the author reporting on here?
3. Why has the author undertaken this study?
4. What question is the author posing?
5. What is the author trying to discover, explain, or understand?
6. How has the author gone about discovering some answers or gaining some new
7. What methods has the author used to learn more about the topic and his/her specific question or
area of concern within that topic?
8. What key points does the author present?
9. What evidence does the author examine or use to support those points?
10. What is the author’s conclusion?
11. How does this author present this information and how might that mode of presentation be
connected to the concerns and purposes of the discipline, and t the likely audience of readers?
Organize the answers to these questions in essay format.
Questions for Evaluating Sources
1. What type of source is it?
a. journals and books have been reviewed and edited by experts, but still may have a
certain bias depending on their agenda
b. Newspapers & magazines have been “fact checked”
c. Websites can be authored by anyone and can change frequently
2. Will my audience find this source convincing?
3. Does this source support my purpose?
4. Will this source contribute to my topic?
5. What are the author’s credentials and associations?
6. What is the source’s argument?
7. Who is publisher?
8. What is the publisher’s agenda?
9. If using a website, who sponsors the website?
10. What are their associations and agenda?
11. At what level, in reference to written style, (such as difference between a trade journal and a
scholarly journal) is the source written?
12. When was the source published?
13. Can I obtain the source?
14. Does the source include other useful information (i.e. footnotes, works cited page,
Reading the Source:
● How is the argument supported? Is it persuasive?
● What is the author’s agenda? Ideology?
● What is the publisher’s agenda? Ideology?
● Is the information accurate? Complete?
● How does the argument relate to your position?00
● What is the source’s purpose? Audience?
*Questions are Adapted from “Evaluating Sources” Norton Field Guide to Writing, 1st Edition, pp. 354357