Critical Reading Assignments

Critical Reading


Critical Appraisal and Analysis (Cornell University Library)This page includes questions for your initial appraisal and content analysis of a text. Initial appraisal questions relate to the text’s author, date of publication, edition, publisher, and journal title. Content analysis questions address the intended audience, objectivity, evidence, style, and critical reviews.

Critical Reading (Writing@CSU) “Exhibiting an inquisitive, "critical" attitude towards what you read will make anything you read richer and more useful to you in your classes and your life. This guide is designed to help you to understand and engage this active reading process more effectively so that you can become a better critical reader.”

What is Critical Reading? (Daniel J. Kurland) This page covers facts vs. interpretation and the reasons it is important to read critically.



Critically Reading Assignment Sheets (Writing@CSU) Click on the links in the right-hand column to read tips for analyzing your assignment sheet, understanding the requirements, and managing your time.

Understanding and Interpreting an Assignment (UW-Stout Writing Center) (PDF) This one-page handout provides questions to ask yourself when you receive an assignment and strategies for better understanding its guidelines.

Understanding Assignments (UNC at Chapel Hill, The Writing Center) “The first step in any successful college writing venture is reading the assignment. While this sounds like a simple task, it can be a tough one. This handout will help you unravel your assignment and begin to craft an effective response. Much of the following advice will involve translating typical assignment terms and practices into meaningful clues to the type of writing your instructor expects. See our online demonstration for more tips.”

Understanding Your Assignment (Vanderbilt University, Writing Studio) (PDF) On this handout you’ll find questions to help you better understand your assignment. Questions relate to the purpose of the assignment and the audience, evidence, formatting, and style for your paper.



7 Critical Reading Strategies (Salisbury University, Counseling Center) Here you’ll find an explanation of seven strategies you can use to read a text critically. These include previewing, contextualizing, questioning, reflecting, summarizing, evaluating, and comparing/contrasting.

Critical Reading and Writing (Empire State College, Online Writing Center) “The handouts and worksheets listed and linked to here are intended to help students learn to read critically and thoughtfully.” They can help you take better notes, interpret texts based on the author’s rhetorical choices, evaluate texts, and write critical responses.

Guide to Reading Primary Sources (University of Pennsylvania, Office of Learning Resources) (PDF) This guide defines a primary source, explains how reading primary and secondary sources is different, and offers strategies for reading primary sources.

Playing the Believing and DoubtingGames (Seton Hall University) Peter Elbow’s believing and doubting games can allow you to better read and interpret arguments by siding with and siding against different points of view. This chart shows you what to look for when approaching the text from the believing and doubting angles.

Poetry: Close Reading (Purdue OWL) “Once somewhat ignored in scholarly circles, close reading of poetry is making something of a comeback. By learning how to close read a poem you can significantly increase both your understanding and enjoyment of the poem. You may also increase your ability to write convincingly about the poem. The following exercise uses one of William Shakespeare’s sonnets (#116) as an example. This close read process can also be used on many different verse forms. This resource first presents the entire sonnet and then presents a close reading of the poem below. Read the sonnet a few times to get a feel for it and then move down to the close reading.”

Reading Critically (Harvard University, Harvard Library) Harvard University suggests six reading strategies: previewing, annotating, outlining, finding patterns, contextualizing, and comparing/contrasting.

Reading Critically – Worksheet (NOVA Southeastern University, Office of Undergraduate Student Success) (PDF) Here is a one-page handout you can fill out after reading a text. The questions test your comprehension and urge you to consider the author’s potential biases.

Strategies for Reading More Critically (Writing@CSU) Writing@CSU suggests six strategies to help you become a better reader: previewing, annotating, summarizing, analyzing, re-reading, and responding. Use the links in the right-hand column to navigate to each of these categories and learn more.

Study Strategies: A Simple Guide to Text Annotation (Catawba College) (PDF) This two-page handout can help you develop your own system for annotating texts by understanding what to look for and make note of as you read.

The Writing Process: Annotating a Text(Hunter College Reading/Writing Center)This handout discusses the goals of annotating and explains what types of notes you should be making on the page. A sample annotated text is also included with its own system of annotations: plain, bold, and italicized font to indicate descriptions, main ideas, and commentary.



In order to become a better writer of history, you must also become a better reader. Above all, you must become a critical reader.

Many undergraduate students are surprised when, having slogged their way through the week's assigned reading, they come to class only to be encouraged to critique, rather than merely summarize, that reading. Remembering high school, many beginning college students assume all the readings assigned for a class will provide reliably "true" information that is not to be questioned.

College-level history courses, however, assign much reading that is not necessarily reliable at all. Primary Sources are often aimed at a specific audience, for example, who are assumed to share the views promoted in the source. What, however, if that source is Hitler's Mein Kampf, a work whose arguments we engage briefly in our section on Bias/Prejudice? Nor should we assume that even a secondary sources by a respected historian is necessarily reliable. As we show in our section on Historiography, an Ivy League professor is no more inherently trustworthy than a bestselling popular historian: both may potentially have a personal agenda, and it is possible that the information provided by either one, or both, can be consciously (or unintentionally) "slanted." Furthermore, the student of history will frequently encounter sources offering fundamentally contradictory data and claims, meaning that one of those sources, at least, is not telling the full story.

In order to make sense of such issues, you need to read critically. Always bring a degree of skepticism to a text - even to a history textbook - and look for inherent contradictions, inconsistencies, and evidence of a possible bias or agenda. The links on this page will introduce you to some basic skills and mindsets that will help you master difficult texts. Please select from the following:

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