Develop critical reading skills

With all the information that is available today, you must be on your guard as you read.

Nothing is automatically true just because it is in print or on the Web. You need to develop the ability to read critically. That is, you need to ask questions like these about the text and about the writer.

  • Where is this material from? Is this a valid source of information?

  • Who is the writer? Is he or she qualified to write about this topic?

  • Can I trust the information here?

  • What is the writer's purpose in writing this?

  • What is the writer's point of view about the topic?

  • How does this information compare to what I already know?

  • Based on what I already know and believe, do I agree?

In addition to evaluating the sources of reading materials, you need to look closely at the text itself to evaluate different aspects.


Purpose - the reason the writer wrote the text

The three main purposes for writing are:

  • to inform - the author presents facts and explains ideas to the reader.

  • to persuade - the author uses facts and opinions to argue for or against some idea.

  • to entertain - the author tries to amuse or interest the reader with humor, suspense, and stories.

A piece of writing can often fulfill more than one purpose. It can, in fact, be informative, persuasive, and entertaining all at once. However, the writer usually has one primary purpose in writing it.

How can you tell what the writer's purpose is?

  • Look at the information in the passage. Does it contain a lot of facts? If it does, the purpose may be to inform or to persuade.

  • Look at the language in the passage:

If it is neutral and objective, the purpose is probably simply to inform the reader; if it includes terms that are strongly positive, negative, or emotional, the purpose is probably to persuade the reader; if it includes situations or descriptions that are funny, surprising, or intriguing, the writer probably wants to entertain the reader.


Point of view - the writer's position on a particular subject

Every writer has a point of view - or way of thinking - about the topic of their writing which has developed out of their particular experiences and background. When you read critically, you need to identify the writer's point of view and consider how it affects the facts or arguments that are presented. You can identify the point of view by looking at the main idea or thesis of a passage and then examining the kind of support that the writer gives for it.


Possible bias - how a writer might purposely present ideas or events in ways that favor a particular political or religious belief

Bias is similar to point of view but taken a step further. A biased writer expresses a one-sided opinion or prejudice about a person, group, or idea. He or she chooses words that can influence the reader's feelings about the person, group, or idea.

Biased writing may include some of these characteristics:

  • It presents only one side of an argument.

  • It includes only facts or examples that support the writer's opinion.

  • It uses language intended to influence the reader's emotions (fear, anger, pity, outrage).

  • It ridicules other opinions or views.

Bias may be present in many different kinds of writing, including news reporting, political commentary, and even in textbooks. It may involve political or religious opinions, racial or national groups, or other groups, people, or ideas. It is important to recognize bias in writing so that you, the reader, can make a fair judgment about the validity of the writer's idea.

CR exercise
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