Critical Reading Strategies


Source: University of West Virginia, USA.


The strategies outlined can be learned readily and applied to your reading to make this more productive and satisfying.

Fundamental to each of the strategies is:

• annotating directly on the page

• underlining key words, phrases or sentences

• writing comments or questions in the margins

• bracketing important sections of the text

• constructing ideas with lines or arrows

• numbering relevant points in sequence

• noting anything that strikes you as interesting, important, or questionable.


It is a good idea to annotate in layers adding further annotations on second and third readings.



1. Previewing:              Learning about a text before actually reading it.

This enables you to learn about a text before really reading it. This helps you get a sense of what the text is about and how it is organised before you read it closely. The idea is to see what you can learn from the headings and other introductory material (abstracts, summaries), skimming to get an overview on the content and organisation.


2. ContextualisingPlacing a text in its historical, biographical and cultural contexts.

This places the text in its historical, biographical and cultural contexts. You read a text through the lens of your own experience. Your understanding of what you are reading and its significance is formed by what you have come to know and value because of living in a particular time and place. To read critically you need to recognise the differences between your contemporary values and attitudes and those represented in the texts.

3. Questioning to understand and remember the content:  Asking questions about the content.             

When you need to understand and use new information it can be helpful if you write some questions as you read the text the first time. You can write questions at any point in the reading but for difficult, academic readings you will understand the material better and remember it longer if you write a question for every paragraph or brief section. Each question should focus on a main idea not on details or illustrations, and each should be expressed in your own words and not just copied from parts of the paragraph.


4. Reflecting on challenges to your beliefs and values:  Examining your personal responses.

The ideas in the text may challenge your beliefs and values. As you read put a mark beside the points that challenge your attitudes, unconsciously held beliefs, or your position on current issues. Make a brief note in the margin about what you feel or what in the text challenged you. Now look again at the places you marked where you felt personally challenged. Do you see any patterns?


5. Outlining and summarisingIdentifying the main ideas and restating them in your own words.

Outlining and summarising are key strategies for understanding the content and structure of a reading section. The key to outlining is being able to distinguish between the main ideas and supporting details and examples. When you make an outline don't use the text's exact words. Outlining can be part of the annotating process or it can be done separately.

Summarising begins with outlining, but instead of just listing the main ideas a summary recomposes then to form new text, a synthesis. Putting the ideas together - in your own words and in a condensed form — helps you develop a deeper understanding of the text.


6.  Evaluating an argument:  Testing the logic of a text as well as its credibility and emotional impact.

You need to test the logic of a text as well as its credibility and emotional impact. Look at the claim made and its supporting evidence. Support can include reasons (shared beliefs, assumptions and values) and evidence (facts, examples. statistics and authorities). When you assess an argument you are concerned with the process of reasoning as well as its truthfulness —they are not the same things. At the most basic level, in order for the argument to be acceptable the support must be appropriate to the claim and the statements must be consistent with each other.


7.  Comparing and contrasting related readings:  Exploring likenesses and differences between texts to understand them better.

Exploring likenesses and differences between texts can help you understand them better. Many of the authors we read are concerned with the same ideas and questions but approach how to discuss them in different ways. Fitting a text into an ongoing debate helps increase understanding of why an author approached a particular issue or question in the way he or she did.