Critical reading does not mean reading to find fault in a writer’s idea. Rather, it means reading and rereading a text to be able to go beyond what an author stated in a text. It involves identifying the elements of a text and looking for patterns among the elements to be able to make interpretations of the material and to formulate textual evidences. The process also includes studying the structure of the text, the language used by the author, the examples and non-examples found in the text, and making meaning of the various aspects of the text as these are presented by the writer.
A critical reader engages with the author. At various points in the reading process, he/she asks questions like “What does the writer mean by this line? Why did he use this word instead of another? What do all these lines say about this character? How is this text similar to the one by the same writer that I have read before?” Note that developing critical reading skills is crucial to you since the writing requirements in the next lessons (reports, position papers, and critique papers) would entail understanding of many lengthy reading materials of varied topics and content.
There are a few things you have to remember about critical reading. Critical reading involves steps that must be followed in order, and these are:
- Restating what a text says
- Describing the text
- Interpreting the text
Critical reading involves analyzing how the text was written by the author. A good reader will try to determine the author’s purpose, viewpoint/tone, and the presence or absence of logical fallacies.
Authors have three general purposes when writing: to inform, to entertain, or to persuade. Remember that there are times when an author may have more than one purpose in writing. For instance, an author may start writing about basic information about global warming in the Philippines, but may continue convincing the readers to take certain actions to limit the effects of global warming. An author’s purpose may not be explicitly stated, and may need to be inferred. Lastly, there are cases when an author is explicit about his/her purpose (This paper aims to inform the reader about the facts behind the sensational XXXX case), but is “hiding” the real purpose in writing a text. Using the same example, a text may really start with the facts about XXXX case but ends up persuading the readers to take a particular side. That is why you have to be a critical reader to sense instances like this.
Critical reading also involves the ability to identify the author’s viewpoint and tone in writing. The truthfulness of ideas presented in the text is best assessed only after you are able to do these steps. Viewpoint is how the author looks at the topic, while tone is the author’s attitude, which may be positive or negative, toward a given topic. As you can see, an author’s attitude is very much related to the author’s viewpoint.
What tone of the author is reflected in the following statements?
- John and Marcus got into a senseless fight.
- Mark attacked John and the latter just defended himself.
- The guy surely needs our support. Just look at his eyes and you’ll know he’s a good man.
- I will never trust a man with tattoos.
Below are some guide questions on how you can infer the author’s viewpoint and tone:
- What is the main idea that the author aims to convey?
- How do the words of the author influence how you should think about the topic?
- What impressions would you have if different words have been used?
- How do the examples and details given by the author influence how you should think about the topic?
- Are there any detail or information which you think is missing in the text?
- Do you know anything about the author’s background that may help you identify his viewpoint/tone/attitude on the topic?
- What impressions do you have about the author after reading?
Author’s Bias and Use of Logical Fallacies
A bias is a person’s prejudice against or favoritism for something. Especially in academic writing, you are expected to be very objective when you write. You should not flout fairness and truthfulness by highlighting your personal feelings and opinion when they should not be mentioned in your writing; rather, you aim to present ideas based on verified sources and you interpret those as accurately as possible. At all times, fallacies should be avoided. Fallacies are beliefs not based on logic. There are several types of logical fallacies. Learn to identify those in reading and avoid those in writing.
- Hasty generalization — making a conclusion based on limited cases/ examples.
- Paul likes cheeseburger. Mark likes cheeseburger. Therefore, men like cheeseburger.
- Dicto simpliciter — treating a general rule to be a universal truth.
- Milk is good for the bones. Everyone should drink milk. (Lactose-intolerant people should avoid drinking milk.)
- Post hoc — pointing to something as the effect or cause of something.
- His parents did not increase her allowance, so she did not go to school for three days. (There could be another reason for her absence.)
- Appeal to pity – making people feel sorry instead of presenting a logical reason.
- The man should get the job, for he has five children and a wife to feed.
- Poisoning the well – intends to discredit or ridicule a person or an idea by presenting unanticipated information.
- Don’t listen to her. She is the daughter of two traditional politicians.
- Bandwagon – making people believe that popular ideas are necessarily right.
- Seventy percent of housewives in Manila use Brand XXX, so you should use it too.
Recall movies, stories, advertisements, and essays you have encountered in the past. Did they contain any fallacy? How did it affect the general message of the material? Is it easy to detect fallacies? Why or why not?
Critical reading requires the use of reading strategies before, during, and after reading. One effective strategy that you may use is SQ3R. It stands for Survey Question Read Recite Review.
Survey – Preview the material. Read the title and infer what the text will be about. Know the author. Know his/her background and previous work/s. Skim the material to get an idea on the general structure of the text.
Question – Guide your reading by asking yourself important points that you hope the text will answer or clarify. Sometimes, your teacher will be the one to do this for you, but you should have your own questions as well before you start reading.
Read – As you read, remember the questions you intend to answer. Doing this will make your reading active and focused. However, be aware that you may not be able to answer the questions in the order that you have listed them. Also, pay attention to headings and graphic aids (pictures, charts, diagrams, etc.) that can give you additional information. This is also the time to identify the author’s purpose, viewpoint, possible biases, and logical fallacies.
Recall – After reading a few paragraphs or segments of the material, pause and summarize what you have read. This allows you to remember the main points. Pausing also allows you to think whether the part that you have just read can answer a question you have previously posed.
Review — After reading, go back to your questions to see if you were able to answer all of them. If not, this is the time to reread the text to check if it really does not have the answer or if you just missed it the first time you read. Check if you can summarize the entire text, which means that you have comprehended the material well. Review also means thinking if there are new questions you can pose after reading.
Test Your Understanding
Identify the logical fallacy in each of the following items.
- Siblings Dan and Joe had a serious argument, and Dan told Joe that he hated him and wished that he would get hit by a car. Two days later, Dan was told that Joe had been struck by a car. Dan blamed himself and thought that if he hadn’t made that comment during their fight, Joe would not have been hit.
- Company R.E. are working on an advertisement for a new juice drink. Some of their marketing employees went to a school to do a survey on students’ beverage preferences. The majority said they preferred orange-flavored drinks, so Jeff told his superiors that orange was the flavor favored most by high school students.
- Don’t believe what Alex says about global warming. Alex dropped out of college!
- The government is convinced that it was a bomb that brought down the aircraft. “Our countrymen believe it was a bomb,” said the president. “A survey done a few days after the crash indicates that almost seventy percent of the people believe it was a terrorist’s bomb.”
- “Val, a French, stole my laptop. Thus, all French are thieves.”
- Satanist Quarterly reports that ninety percent of Californians ore atheists. Therefore, there is no god.
Read the following texts and identify the author’s purpose, viewpoint, and tone. Do not forget to cite textual evidences that helped you identify those elements. Share your answers in small groups.
- Tatlonghari (2002) enumerates and describes the steps in the RMI procedure. First, the researcher chooses reading material which should be a step or two steps higher than the current grade level of the reader. It should be new and interesting to the reader. Also, it should be long enough to have an ample amount of miscues to be analyzed. Second, the reader orally reads the selection while the researcher observes and marks all the deviations from the text. Audio taping the session is encouraged. Third, the reader retells all the things he/she can remember from the text. After the session, the researcher codes and analyzes the miscues using the RMI Coding Sheet and grades the retelling using the Retelling Format. (Monte, 2006)
- I saw the man checking whether his gun was in place and looking around if there were many people near Stella. Noticing that there were none, he quickly approached her from behind, grabbing her by the waist while covering her mouth with cloth. With hardly any resistance from Stella, he was able to bring her to a waiting car nearby with two men inside. One of them is Miguel, her suitor. I wanted to help, but I was so scared. I left with a heavy heart.
- As a researcher, I believe that this may also mean that the two used their imagination while reading in order to picture how the characters looked and acted at various points in the story. This made retelling the story an easy task for them. Extending this theory, it can be claimed that the two were also using their prior knowledge while reading and retelling the story. Bong said that the dog in the story is a homeless dog, but there was no explicit mention of anything to that effect. But since the boy and the dog met on the street, he probably assumed that no one owned the dog—not a bad guess at all.
- It is therefore recommended that teachers teach text structure explicitly so that students will learn how ideas and information are arranged in these kinds of materials. Research reveals that expository texts in general are more difficult to comprehend, especially because they come in various structures that students are not familiar with (Williams, 2005). Furthermore, the study made by Pearson and Duke (n.d.) identified a relationship between awareness of expository text structure and positive reading comprehension.