What Is Critical Reading?

Felicia Dye

Critical reading is a skill whereby an individual consumes information in a more conscientious and analytical fashion. When reading in this manner, a person is not simply trying to understand and memorize what is written. Instead, he or she draws understanding of writings from factors such as tone, intention, and logic in addition to the words. A critical reader also avoids unobjectively accepting what is written as fact. To accomplish these goals, a critical reader needs critical thinking skills.

Critical reading is tied to a reader's understanding of their material.
Critical reading is tied to a reader's understanding of their material.

When people read, they often see the words, attempt to understand them in the context that they are written, and then to remember them. When a person is reading critically, he or she approaches the task with a more investigative attitude. Critical reading is a skill that involves a person obtaining information both from what is written and what is unsaid. A person may use a wide range of factors as clues, including the title, tone, or even the intended audience.

Parents can help their children develop critical reading skills.
Parents can help their children develop critical reading skills.

As critical readers tend to be more analytical than other readers, they are usually not as easily convinced. Though a writer may make certain statements as facts, critical readers maintain open minds, but they do not unobjectively accept what is written. When engaged in critical reading, a person obtains information from what a writer means in addition to what he or she writes. The critical reader realizes that writers often have motives. One of the reader's objectives, therefore, is to understand why a writer has put forth the given information.

Critical readers tend to be more analytical than other readers.
Critical readers tend to be more analytical than other readers.

For example, a particular book could be written in attempt to dispel a common school of thought. In addition to determining the motive, critical reading involves analyzing whether the information provided supports the assertions and intentions of the writer. A critical reader is aware of the reasons that he or she accepts or objects to the information that is presented.

This type of reading often involves going through the text at a slower pace. It is not uncommon for critical readers to make notes or to reference other works during the course of reading a particular text. This skill can be employed for fiction and nonfiction works.

Critical reading is a skill that often has to be consciously developed. A person may assume, for example, that a student would naturally evolve into a critical reader due to the amount of information encountered. Many secondary educational facilities, however, find it necessary to allot resources to help students hone these skills. Critical reading works in tandem with critical thinking, which also tends to require development. If a reader cannot think critically, he or she will lack the ability to assess his or her own understanding of the material.

A critical reading of a text is usually done separate of reading for pleasure.
A critical reading of a text is usually done separate of reading for pleasure.

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Discussion Comments


@Mor - That is the reason aspiring writers of all ages should engage in critical reading of their own genre (or at least of a similar genre). I've heard of people going through a novel and marking with different colors all the parts with speech and all the parts with description in order to see clearly the percentages of each.

But even just reading something slowly with the intention of studying how characters are introduced, or how the passage of time is marked can be very useful. You never realize how much intricate planning and work goes into a novel until you read it this way.


@Fa5t3r - Even aside from the idea that media is propaganda, it can be very useful for children to learn how to read critically because it can help with their own writing. Once they really grasp that their favorite book was written by a real person, they can deconstruct it and see how it was written. Then they can apply those techniques to their own writing.


Even children should be taught to be critical readers. It's not just about metaphors and literary techniques. The most fundamental aspect is the idea that an author is trying to convey something.

If you understand that every single piece of media that you consume has been create to foster a particular agenda, then you will be a lot safer in your life.

That doesn't mean that it's a bad thing. Sometimes the agenda is to be entertaining (which is important to realize for kids, so they know that violent cartoons don't intend to teach them violence, for example) and sometimes it's to be educational.

I think too many people are inclined to think of something that has been published as simply being "fact" and that's not true of almost anything the public consumes. It's all propaganda of some kind.

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