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Critical reading techniques: Critically processing what you read

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Critical thinking is the process of applying reasoned and disciplined thinking to a subject. The higher grades at every level of university study require some critical analysis.

You will need to develop reasoned arguments based on a logical interpretation of reliable sources of information. These skills are essential if you want to obtain high grades in your university study and, like other skills, they improve with practice.

As you read your module materials follow these three steps.

1 Analyse

Examine how key components within your module materials fit together and relate to each other.

2 Compare

Explore the similarities and differences between the ideas you are reading about. Do some ideas conflict with or complement each other?

3 Synthesise

Bring together different sources of information to serve an argument or idea you are constructing. Make logical connections between the different sources that help you shape and support your ideas. Are there any inferences you can draw from the material and apply to an assignment question?

Finding and evaluating material

Most OU modules provide you with all study materials. However, if your studies require you to look for some supporting material yourself (e.g. case studies) make sure you choose appropriately. You will need to develop the skill of finding and evaluating sources of information.

Finding material

The OU Library gives you access to over 5000 electronic journal titles, databases of journal abstracts, newspapers, etexts and other library catalogues. It also offers resources that can help you identify and evaluate material. Visit the OU Library website , which includes the interactive SAFARI (skills in accessing, finding and reviewing information).

Evaluating the material using PROMPT

If you are new to finding your own web resources you may find it difficult to select trustworthy sites. For example, there is a mass of information on nutrition and diet, but much of it is sponsored commercially or potentially biased. You need to critically evaluate the resource. The OU Library has developed PROMPT which offers a structured method for evaluating any information that you find online. To find out more, visit the OU Library website and complete the Evaluation using PROMPT learning activity.

Aspect of text Questions
Provenance

Is it clear where the information has come from? Can you identify the authors or organisations responsible? How was it published? Has it been peer reviewed?

Relevance Does the information match your needs? Look at the introduction or overview to check what it’s about.
Objectivity Is the author's position or interest made clear? Look for an introduction or overview. Does the author declare any connections that might compromise their independence? Is the language emotive? Are there hidden vested interests?
Method

What research methods were used, and how are results reported? Do you need to reassure yourself about their importance?

Presentation

Is the information clearly communicated? Look at language, layout, and structure.

Timeliness

Is it clear when the information was produced? Does the date of the information meet your requirements? Is it obsolete?

Some module activities and assignment questions ask you to read and do a critical review of the various resources provided. Here are some more detailed questions that you might ask.

  • Who is speaking or writing?
  • What is their point of view or perspective?
  • What ideas and information are presented and how were they obtained?
  • Are there unsupported assertions?
  • Are relevant reasons or evidence provided?
  • Is the method used to find the evidence sound?
  • Is the evidence correct or valid?
  • What assumptions have been made?
  • What is fact and what is opinion?
  • What are the implicit and explicit values?
  • Are there unreasonable generalisations?
  • What has been omitted?
  • How was the conclusion reached?
  • Is the conclusion reasonable?
  • What other perspectives or points of view could there be?

Section 5 of the OU Library's SAFARI resource gives you more information on evaluating resources you have found yourself.

Getting started with the online library tells you how to make good use of the OU Library website. Also look at Finding resources for your assignment.

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