Appendix 3 Critical Reading

(from Edith Cowan University )

This module will provide you with some ideas upon which to reflect and critically think. Firstly, you will be asked to reflect on what critical reading means to you. Secondly, some suggestions will be provided of aspects to consider in your critical analysis, with some examples for you to practise.

What does critical reading mean to you?

Please reflect on your answer. Does it concentrate on negative comments such as criticism on what is being presented? This is only one part. Critical reading also examines and focuses on the positive aspects. In addition it involves analysis, logical reasoning, evaluation and synthesis; all high order skills in thinking. To follow are some suggestions for effective analysis with examples provided:

Critical thinking requires some subjectivity, that is, your own opinion, rather than objectivity, which is mere presentation of facts.

You may consider that an author has researched a topic very thoroughly and you give evidence of that. For instance:

"Pauk(1989) provides a broad range of study skills and he bases his ideas on research. In a section on memory he cites the work of various researchers such as Ebbinghaus, Eliot and Ren (p.96-98)."

Be careful to avoid emotive language and generalisations.

"The business results were amazing. Sales targets went through the roof."
(This is from a student's essay and is not an isolated case!!)

Keep to the facts and provide evidence.

How could you rewrite the above statement in more acceptable terms?

Possible solution:
The results reported clearly indicate that the project was successful. Sales targets improved by 27%.

You may like to critically evaluate the following paragraphs:

  1. Accountants are rarely stressed. At meetings with various accountants over the years I have always found them to be extremely relaxed. Perhaps working with numbers is a soothing occupation. Certainly they seem less stressed than teachers in large secondary school

  2. Accountants are rarely stressed. A study by Numero in 1995 found that, of workers observed in 50 different occupations, accountants were seen to be most stress free(1996, p.45). The research involved watching 50 people for one day at their work and noting their moods. At the end of the day each person was given a questionnaire related to stress.

  3. Accountancy appears to be a relatively stress free occupation. Research conducted by Boyd and Benn of Yale university revealed that pressures experienced at work by accountants were the least amongst employees from 80 different occupations. One of the reasons provided for the low stress was the solitary nature of the tasks (1921, p.34).

Now here are some aspects to consider:

  • Which paragraph did you consider to be the best in an academic sense?

  • What did you criticise in the first and second paragraph?

  • What did you notice about the third paragraph?

Here are some ideas:

  • Paragraph 1 contains a generalisation. The observation, based on meetings with various accountants, does not necessarily indicate that the same low stress level applies to most accountants. There is no evidence provided that working with numbers is soothing. The comparison with teachers does not clarify the idea that accountants are rarely stressed. It is also irrelevant.

  • Paragraph 2 is better, in that an attempt is made to provide some evidence. But look at the evidence! Watching people for one day and then giving them a questionnaire is not substantial enough to make the broad conclusion.

  • If you didn't spot the date in paragraph 3 don't worry, nor did many of your fellow students at workshops! The date 1921 of course is totally out of date for a reference in this instance. However, note that such a date for a reference could be appropriate in a history or philosophy topic.

Avoid generalisations.

Example: It is estimated that millions of dollars can be saved through an implementation of better customer service strategies within the City of Greendale Council.

Questions to ask about the text?

  • Who has estimated?

  • What is the evidence for that figure?

  • Millions of dollars? Really? This is a sensational generalisation!

A suggested rewrite:

"An independent research consultant company, Ford & Smith, has estimated that at least 3.6 million dollars can be saved through an implementation of better customer service strategies within the City of Greendale Council"

Critical reading takes some practice and especially some confidence. Students often comment that they are very hesitant to take a stand or provide a definite point of view on a topic. However, this is what academic study involves at a high level; to draw conclusions from research and/or reading. Of course you need to justify and supply evidence to support your thesis statement or position (well referenced too!). This can be difficult at first but after a while, at least making an attempt to critically think, as well as using a sense of logical reasoning, will help produce essays of a higher standard.

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