Two major goals of critical reading:
Pre-reading (focus: to understand)
First reading (focus: to understand and respond)
- Read the title. Tap into what you know about the subject. Think about other texts you may have read on this topic.
- Read the first and last paragraphs. Try to get a grasp on the writer's perspective on the topic. Underline thesis sentences. Understand the writer's purpose: is it to inform, or persuade?
- Skim through, looking mainly at section headings. For a book, look at the table of contents. Try to get a handle on the article or book's structure.
- If there is information about the author, read that. Knowing what other texts the author has written may help.
Try using the left margin for these markings
Second reading (focus: to respond)
- Underline or highlight topic sentences or key phrases. Limit yourself to one sentence per paragraph. The purpose here is to speed up your re-reading. Mark in the book if you own it. Mark on a photocopy if it's a library book. When reading a book, you can use small stickies to mark important passages, and you can write on the stickies to summarize or gloss.
- Gloss. Write one- to four-word summaries of paragraphs or sections.
- Identify sections. Use brackets on a page to group paragraphs into subsections. Write a one- to four-word gloss of sections.
- Identify confusing passages, or sudden shifts in the argument. Often these indicate significant statements or important new assumptions in the argument. Develop a shorthand system: maybe question marks for passages you don't understand, new vocabulary words, arguments which seem illogical; exclamation points for passages which surprise or startle you; a circle with cross bar to indicate counter-arguments, rebuttals, or passages with which you strongly disagree.
- Look at your gloss and section tags. Jot down, on a separate piece of paper, in your own words, the structure of the text.
Try using the right margin for these markings
- Re-read the text, paying particular attention to your glosses and shorthand tags, especially question and exclamation marks. Write brief phrases (or whole sentences if you prefer) opposite passages to which you reacted.
- Ask yourself WHY you reacted to the author's idea/passage.
- What other writers or texts does an idea/passage remind you of? Write connections in the margins.
- If you could vote on an idea or argument presented by a writer, how would you vote? Why?
- Try to take an author's idea one step further. Imagine what would happen with an idea 10, 20 years in the future. Imagine what would happen in a different historical period in the past. Imagine if the writer's proposal was applied to a different group of people.
- Imagine your current writer engaged in a debate with another author you know. How would the latter respond to the former?
- Review your own responses to the text and try to engage yourself in conversation. Play devil's advocate with your own ideas.