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How to Do Critical Reading: A Step-by-Step Guide

Jun 7, 2024 | 0 comments

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Jun 7, 2024 | Blog | 0 comments

 Critical reading is a vital skill beyond simply reading words on a page. It involves actively analyzing and evaluating a text to uncover its deeper meaning and implications.

To read critically is to engage with the material thoughtfully and discerningly, questioning assumptions and considering multiple perspectives. In this step-by-step guide, we will explore the process of how to do critical reading effectively.
When we read a text critically, we don’t just accept what is presented at face value. Instead, we examine the author’s argument, evidence, and underlying assumptions. This allows us to develop a more nuanced understanding of the material and think critically about the presented ideas. 

By honing our critical reading skills, we can also improve our critical writing abilities, enabling us to craft well-reasoned and persuasive arguments. Join us as we explore the essential steps to mastering the art of critical reading. 

Read Also: How to Do a Close Reading: A Step-by-Step Guide + Examples (2024)

Critical Analysis vs Criticism

Critical analysis involves a deeper process of reading called critical reading, where readers analyze a text by asking questions and considering the ways of thinking the author is trying to convey. This approach to reading goes beyond simply accepting what the text says and instead actively reading to uncover the purpose of your reading. 

Unlike mere criticism, which is a more superficial and negative approach to reading and writing, critical reading and critical analysis involve engaging with the ideas presented in reading the text.

So, how do you do critical reading? Let’s find out in the steps below:

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Step 1: Understand the Purpose of Critical Reading

Critical reading is more than just reading the text. It involves actively engaging with the ideas, evaluating the author’s arguments, and reflecting on the underlying assumptions and implications. The purpose of critical reading is to:

  • Evaluate the Author’s Argument: Analyze the author’s claims, evidence, and reasoning to assess the validity and soundness of their argument.
  • Identify Biases and Assumptions: Recognize the author’s biases, values, and underlying assumptions to understand their perspective and potential influences.
  • Reflect on the Text’s Relevance: Consider the text’s relevance to your experiences, beliefs, and the broader context. Ask yourself how the text relates to your life and your world.
  • Develop Critical Thinking Skills: Critical reading enhances your ability to think critically, question assumptions, and evaluate information. It helps you become a more informed and discerning reader.

Step 2: Choose a Text and Set a Purpose

Select a text that interests you and lends itself to critical reading. It could be an article, essay, book chapter, or poem. 

Define your purpose for reading the text. Are you evaluating the author’s argument, analyzing their use of language, or reflecting on the underlying assumptions?

A clear purpose will guide your reading and help you focus your critical thinking.


Let’s say you’re a student assigned to read George Orwell’s “1984.” Your purpose isn’t just to follow the plot, but to analyze how Orwell uses language to comment on totalitarianism.

Step 3: Skim the Text

Before diving into a close reading, skim the text to understand its structure and main points. Pay attention to the following elements:

  • Title and Subheadings: What do they tell you about the text’s focus and organization?
  • Introduction: What is the author’s stated purpose or objective?
  • Main Body: What are the key points and arguments presented?
  • Conclusion: How does the author summarize their argument and reflect on its implications?


Before diving into “1984,” you might skim chapter titles (“Big Brother is Watching You”) or the blurb (“dystopian society”). This gives you a sense that the book is about surveillance and control.

Read Also: How to Structure an Informative Essay: A Step-by-Step Guide

Step 4: Take Notes and Ask Questions

As you read the text, take notes to capture your initial reactions, questions, and observations. You can jot down quotes, summarize main points, or write down questions that come to mind. Here are some types of questions to consider:

  • Clarifying Questions: What must you understand or clarify to grasp the text fully?
  • Analytical Questions: Why has the author chosen this topic? What assumptions are they making? What evidence do they present?
  • Evaluative Questions: Is the author’s argument valid? What biases or assumptions are influencing their perspective?


While reading, you note phrases like “thought crime” and ask, “How does this relate to modern digital surveillance?” or “Is there a connection to current political events?”

Step 5: Identify the Author’s Argument and Purpose

Critical reading involves evaluating the author’s argument and understanding their purpose.

Ask yourself:

  • What is the author trying to achieve with this text?
  • What point are they trying to make? 
  • What underlying assumptions or values are influencing their perspective?
  •  Are they addressing a specific issue or problem?
  • Are they advocating for a particular solution or change?


You realize Orwell’s purpose isn’t just to tell a story, but to warn readers about the dangers of totalitarian control, propaganda, and the manipulation of language.

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Step 6: Analyze the Text’s Structure and Language

Pay attention to the text’s structure, including the organization of paragraphs, sentence structure, and use of language. Consider the following:

  • Paragraph Structure: How are the paragraphs organized? Do they follow a clear pattern or format?
  • Sentence Structure: Are the sentences long and complex, or short? How does this affect the flow and tone of the text?
  • Language and Tone: What type of language does the author use? Is it formal, informal, or a mix of both? How does the language shape the reader’s interpretation?


You notice Orwell uses simplified language (“Newspeak”) to show how limiting language can limit thought. The structure, with protagonist Winston rebelling, creates tension.

Step 7: Reflect on the Text’s Assumptions and Biases

Authors bring their own biases, values, and assumptions to their writing, consciously or unconsciously. 

Identify and reflect on these underlying influences.

Ask yourself:

  • What assumptions is the author making about the world, society, or human nature?
  • How do these assumptions shape their argument and perspective?
  • Are there any implicit biases or value judgments influencing their thinking?


You consider Orwell’s background. As a democratic socialist writing post-WWII, his views on totalitarianism likely influenced the book’s stark portrayal.

Step 8: Evaluate the Evidence

Critical reading involves evaluating the quality and validity of the author’s evidence.

Ask yourself:

  • What type of evidence does the author present?
  • Is it based on empirical research, personal anecdotes, or theoretical frameworks?
  • Is the evidence sufficient to support the author’s argument?
  • Are there any gaps or limitations in the evidence presented?


Orwell uses real-world examples (Stalin’s regime) to make his case. But you question: is it an accurate representation, or an exaggeration for effect?

Step 9: Reflect on the Text’s Relevance and Implications

Consider the broader implications and applications of the text.

Ask yourself:

  • What does this text contribute to my understanding of the world?
  • How does it relate to my experiences or the experiences of others?
  • What are the potential real-world applications of the author’s argument or ideas? Are there any ethical or social implications to consider?


You ponder how “1984” relates to today’s digital age. Do social media echo chambers resemble “thoughtcrime”? Is “fake news” a form of “doublethink”?

Step 10: Write a Critical Summary

After critically reading the text, write a summary that reflects your analysis and evaluation. Include a brief overview of the text’s main points, the author’s argument, and your critical reflections.

This summary should demonstrate your understanding of the text and your ability to think critically about its content and implications.


Your summary might start: “In ‘1984,’ Orwell uses a dystopian narrative to warn against totalitarian control. His exaggerated portrayal, influenced by post-war politics, prompts readers to question language, truth, and power in their own societies…”

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Critical Reading Strategies

  • Know Your Purpose: Before reading, ask yourself, “Why am I reading this?” Is it for a writing assignment, part of a reading list, or personal interest? Having a clear purpose helps guide your reading.
  • Preview the Text: Don’t dive in blind. Look at headings, subheadings, and any summaries. This gives you a sense of the text and the main ideas.
  • Ask Questions: As you read, ask questions. What is the author’s purpose? What are they trying to say? Are their arguments convincing? These questions help you engage with the text actively.
  • Annotate: Don’t be afraid to write in your books (if they’re yours!) or take notes. Circle keywords and phrases, and jot down thoughts in the margins. This active engagement helps you remember and understand better.
  • Summarize: After each section, summarize the main points in your own words. This helps you check if you’ve grasped the text’s meaning.
  • Read More Than Once: The first reading might just give you the gist. A second reading lets you dig into the details, analyze the author’s rhetorical techniques, and grasp the text’s meaning.
  • Be a Skeptic: Don’t just accept what you read. Always ask, “Is this true? Why should I believe this?” This critical examination is key to being a critical reader.

Critical Analysis Template

Critical Analysis Essay Template-converted

Critical Reading Essay Example



Critical reading is a valuable skill that enhances your ability to engage with and interpret texts.

By asking questions, evaluating arguments, and reflecting on assumptions, you can develop a deeper understanding of the world around you.

Remember to approach texts with curiosity, skepticism, and an open mind. Happy reading!

Frequently Asked Questions on How to Do Critical Reading

Critical reading is a process that involves active engagement with the text, analyzing its content, and evaluating its implications. The following steps can guide you through critical reading:

  • Ask questions to understand the meaning of the text.
  • Identify the purpose of your reading.
  • Engage with the text as a whole rather than just skimming through it.
  • Recognize the main ideas presented in the reading.
  • Consider the author’s perspective and any potential biases.
  • Draw connections between the text and your existing knowledge.
  • Evaluate the validity and credibility of the information presented.

Critical reading techniques help readers approach texts analytically and thoughtfully. Here are five techniques to enhance your critical reading skills:

  1. Questioning the text and its underlying assumptions.
  2. Identifying the author’s arguments and evaluating their logic.
  3. Recognizing persuasive techniques used in the text.
  4. Engaging in active reading to fully comprehend the content.
  5. Comparing different sources and perspectives on the same topic.

To read critically, you can start by asking questions, making connections, and assessing the validity of the information presented.

Four ways to become a critical reader are to ask questions, connect ideas, analyze arguments, and evaluate evidence.

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