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Critical reading skills include the ability to not only comprehend the text on a page but to also be able to interact with it. When reading critically, a person should be able to identify the author’s context, his or her intended audience as well as the tone or style in which he or she wrote the piece. Readers should also make themselves aware of the logic used in an article, as well as whether the writer has valid evidence for his or her claims. Doing this will enable the reader to evaluate the quality of the information presented in the text and to develop one’s own understanding of the ideas contained in the writing.
While there is certainly nothing wrong with reading for personal enjoyment, some types of reading demand critical reading skills. This includes reading for academic and professional purposes. In fact, some school curriculums include training in critical reading and thinking skills. Without these skills, the learning process will be disrupted for students, who need to be able to evaluate the information presented to them inside and outside the classroom. The need for critical reading skills is often particularly important when students begin to do their own writing in response to what they are learning in class.
When beginning to employ critical reading skills to a book, article or other piece of text, it is often helpful if the reader can locate some basic information about the author and some history of his or her reason for writing the text. Knowing about a writer’s background and credentials can help a reader decide if a text is based in true expertise or the author’s own opinion. Knowing about a writer’s affiliations, such as with businesses or political lobbying groups, can also be helpful in determining whether writing is truly unbiased or whether the writer is motivated by an agenda.
Other aspects of critical reading skills include the ability to define and understand a text’s main concepts and argument. This can be more difficult than it might seem, given that some authors may use words and expressions in different ways than the reader understands them. When evaluating a text’s argument, someone with critical reading skills will work to identify what, if anything, in the writing supports or weakens its argument. Creative readers may also want to reflect more deeply on the evidence presented by the writer and develop their own arguments in support of the thesis that may be different from those expressed by the writer. Doing this can enhance the reader's ability to integrate what he or she reads and develop his or her own conclusions.
If we want adults to be critical readers then we need to allow our kids to question what they read from the moment they start reading. We can't pass off fairy tales as truth and explain away our children's questions with more fantasy.
I think the assumption that something written in a book is truth is natural, especially for children. If we wait until a child reaches middle school or high school to teach her how to read critically, just think how much incorrect information she has already absorbed and accepted as truth.
Having worked in the news industry for many years, I am dismayed at how many people do not know how to read critically or simply do not see the importance of questioning what they read. Though I work for newspapers, I always tell readers they should question everything they read, even when I write it.
Regardless of how fair and even handed a writer may attempt to be, his experiences, ideas and beliefs have a way of seeping into the articles he writes. Sometimes this is not a big issue. However, there are times when a writer's bias leads to distorted writing. Whether the distortion is planned or unintentional the result is the same. If the reader does not question such writing then he accepts the distorted information as truth.
When we fail to read critically and question what we read we are at the mercy of the writer.
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