Essay preparation: critical reading
(Last updated: 30 November 2018)
Reading a novel or magazine is one thing, but when you read as a student you put a whole range of different skills into use. Before you begin to write your essays, you need to read widely and critically. This becomes more important when you approach your masters dissertation and higher levels of study. Here are some points to keep in mind as you approach academic critical reading.
Critical Analysis Essay
At university you will be given a range of sources to read – some good, others bad. You need to make up your own mind about many of them. Each text is considered to be the author’s viewpoint, rather than firm facts that should be accepted without question. How can you trust what you are reading?
- The author – Is the author a well-known academic? Do they have a lecturing post at a university? Perhaps they hold a different position of responsibility. They may sit on a government quango, or act as Chair to a charity. Have a look at the author biography.
- The publisher – are they an esteemed academic publisher. If they are, this gives more gravity to the books that they publish.
- Sponsorship – Despite the author and publisher being well-respected, if a book has been published with help from a particular company or organization the author may be writing material slanted towards pleasing the sponsor. Have a look for clues on the jacket or in the front or end papers of the book.
- Evidence – Is the argument well-presented with evidence sourced? Does the text have footnotes or endnotes and does the bibliography look good?
Do you agree or disagree?
After assessing how well the argument has been constructed and assessing the scholarship of the author, you then need to consider whether you agree with the book or article.
What is the author arguing? This can be hard to work out when the text is complicated.
Do you agree? Consider how their opinion makes you feel. Does it agree or disagree with the material that you have already read? Does it make sense in the context of that other material?