Read critically

What does it mean to read critically?

Reading critically means reading a text ‘beneath the surface’ of what the words say and not taking it at face value. It is about questioning its source, establishing connections between the author’s intended meaning and the meaning you make from it as a reader.

This means you have to be active as a reader: you read the words to identify the author’s intended meaning, and then also read ‘between the lines’ to gain or establish deeper meaning. To do this, you analyse and evaluate the text to make an informed judgement about how it fits in its context, to identify the contribution it makes, and to describe its strengths and limitations.

Critical reading does not mean 'finding fault' or being negative. It means making an informed judgement based on set criteria. For example:

  • you can critically read an article describing research findings and evaluate it in order to point out its strengths and weaknesses
  • you can critically read a web post and explore why the author wrote it and what impact it may have on other readers.

Analytical questions to start your critical reading

Below are some analytical questions to get you started. They are shaped by what you already understand about the text, and what you need to get from it.

Critical questions to deepen your reading

Asking critical questions will allow you to evaluate the text and form your own appraisal. The depth and range of critical questions will vary by subject area and the type of text you are reading. Below are some questions to get you started on evaluating the following:

Example of a critical reading of a text

Ståhlberg, Per, & Bolin, Göran. (2016). Having a soul or choosing a face? Nation branding, identity and cosmopolitan imagination. Social Identities, 22(3), 274–290.



Extract from the introduction

Our discussion takes its point of departure from a case study of branding efforts in Ukraine. We have collected material from various branding campaigns implemented between 2004 and 2013 and interviewed involved PR professionals from four different agencies and organizations in Kyiv, in addition to interviews with representatives of the political administration, journalists, activists and academics.

Here the authors outline the evidence that their study relies on. It’s a case study of Ukraine branding campaigns. Now that you have identified what evidence is being used, you can ask critical questions including how the author has analysed this evidence to reach their conclusions, and whether the findings from a study on Ukraine can be generalised.

Taking it further