How to Become a Critical Reader

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Whether you are reading for pleasure or for school, it's important to understand basic structural and content elements about the text you are studying. These questions and idea generators should help you to become a more critical reader. Understand and retain what you read! 

Steps to Becoming a Critical Reader

  1. Determine your purpose for reading. Are you gathering information for a writing assignment? Are you determining whether a source will be useful for your paper? Are you preparing for a class discussion?
  2. Consider the title. What does it tell you about what the book, essay, or ​literary work is about?
  3. Think about what you already know about the topic of the book, essay, or play. Do you already have preconceived notions of what to expect? What are you expecting? Do you hope to learn something, enjoy yourself, be bored?
  4. Look at how the text is structured. Are there subdivisions, chapters, books, acts, scenes? Read over the titles of the chapters or sections? What do the headings tell you?
  5. Skim the opening sentence of each paragraph (or lines) under the headings. Do these first words of the sections give you any hints?
  6. Read carefully, marking or highlighting places that are confusing (or so wonderful that you want to re-read). Be careful to keep a dictionary close at hand. Looking up a word can be an excellent way to enlighten your reading.
  7. Identify key issues or arguments the author/writer makes, along with important terms, recurring images and interesting ideas.
  8. You may want to make notes in the margin, highlight those points, take notes on a separate sheet of paper or notecard, etc.
  9. Question the sources that the author/writer might have used: personal experience, research, imagination, popular culture of the time, historical study, etc.
  10. Did the author effectively use these sources to develop a believable work of literature?
  11. What is one question you would like to ask the author/writer?
  12. Think about the work as a whole. What did you like best about it? What puzzled, confused, angered, or irritated you?
  13. Did you get what you expected out of the work, or were you disappointed?

Additional Tips

  1. The process of reading critically can help you with many literary and academic situations, including studying for a test, preparing for a discussion, and more.
  2. If you have questions about the text, be sure to ask your professor; or discuss the text with others.
  3. Consider keeping a reading log to help you to track your perceptions about reading.
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Your Citation
Lombardi, Esther. "How to Become a Critical Reader." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, Lombardi, Esther. (2020, August 27). How to Become a Critical Reader. Retrieved from Lombardi, Esther. "How to Become a Critical Reader." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 23, 2023).