IOE - Faculty of Education and Society


Academic reading: Reading critically

Learn how to read critically and confidently.

What do the terms "critical" or "criticality" mean? In an academic context, reading and writing critically means asking questions of the text as we read, and asking questions of the knowledge claims. We then need to decide what is worth commenting on, and what is not, and express these comments in writing. Which questions should I ask? You can decide which questions are relevant to your reading from a wide range of critical reading questions.

Critical reading questions

On one level, reading critically simply means asking questions and evaluating the claims, and not simply accepting what you read. However, the types of questions you ask, and the types of issues you prioritise in your evaluation, can vary considerably. You can do it in a relatively "logical" way, thinking about the reasoning used, the claims made based on the evidence, etc. You can also do it in a more "political" way, where the social implications are taken into account. You can also ask your tutor for examples, to find out how they understand the concept of criticality. This may help to understand what they are expecting in your writing.

Examples of critical reading questions

We might ask some of the questions below when reading a text. Look at the questions carefully, and check that you understand what they are asking. You do not need to use all of these questions every time you read. Choose two or three which make the most sense to you, and start there.

Questions about the overall text
  • What is the purpose/aim of this text? How do you know? How might this influence the way it is written?
  • Can you see any justification (direct or implied) for the research decisions? Do the justifications seem reasonable?
Questions about the truth claims made within the text
  • Are any assumptions being made in this text? Assumptions might include:

_______________________ is important.

_______________________ is possible.

_______________________ might influence _______________________.

_______________________ is a positive thing.

_______________________ is a negative thing.

  • Do these assumptions seem reasonable in this context? Why or why not?
  • Are any generalisations being made? Are these generalisations reasonable here?
  • Do any claims seem too certain?
  • Are there suitable examples?
  • Are there claims which are based on authority for support? What kind of authority is it? Does this seem reasonable?
  • Are there claims which are based on evidence for support? What kind of evidence is it? Does this seem reasonable?
  • Are any concepts being conflated?
Questions about how the text could be different
  • What is missing from the text?
  • How could the text be not like this/different?
  • Is anything being used out of context in the text?
Political questions
  • Is there anything problematic in the text?
  • Are any groups being excluded or marginalized in the text or in the implications of the claims?
  • Is there any exclusionary language used in the text?
  • What would the implications be, if we were to take the claims seriously? i.e. What would happen next?
Personal engagement
  • How does this text relate to my personal experience?
  • How does my personal knowledge and experience affect the way I read the text?
  • Can my personal experience help me to evaluate the claims?
  • What status does my personal experience have, in relation to the published research?
  • Can I find anything in the literature to help me relate this to my personal experience?
Further critical questions

What else? (Can you think of further critical questions? Do you have a favourite question?)

Read confidently

In an academic context, there is no writing without reading, and no reading without writing. You may find that reading takes up the majority of your time! Use the resources here to improve your reading confidence. 

Reading long sentences and unfamiliar terminology

Using the Library

Searching for information is a vital part of the writing process, along with information management. The Newsam Library at IOE, UCL’s Faculty of Education and Society, has a huge collection of resources, as well as a world-class team of professional staff who are there to help you. We recommend that you make the most of these services.

UCL Library

The UCL Library provides training and support for your library skills and information literacy development on the page LibrarySkills@UCL. We have listed some resources below to help you with searching for information via the UCL Library or other tools.

Using the Library

Find out more about the UCL Library's top tips for using Library Services online. This is a great starting point to familiarise yourself with the services that are available to you.

Search skills

Before you explore various academic databases for literature, you may want to consider your module reading list. This video from the UCL Library introduces ReadingLists@UCL and demonstrates what the tool offers.