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Assignment Essentials: Step 4: Critical Reading, Critical Thinking

Critical Reading

When writing your assignment you will gather information from lots of sources. You need to read that information in a critical fashion, analysing and evaluating what you have found. 

Consider what others have said on the topic (do they provide evidence for their views, how it related to other materials you have read on the subject). When you read a number of sources you will get a more complete picture of how to look at a topic from a number of angles.

Identify the useful and weak aspects of an argument – you don’t have to accept everything you read as being 100% accurate – . You’ll start to recognise themes and possible issues, gaps in knowledge.

When it comes to reading non-academic sources in particular (newspapers, websites etc) be aware of:

  • Generalisations (e.g. most people agree…)
  • False assumptions lacking in evidence (Women have always been better at cleaning…)
  • An expert opinion is still just one person’s opinion.

Reading Lists

If you have been given a reading list with your assignment title read the prescribed (essential) sources. Also consult the additional (recommended) sources.

They will help you understand what your lecturer is looking for and help you structure your essay. You will see then what additional information you need to search for.

Even if your assignment doesn't include a specific reading list you will have been given one for the module, so examine it for relevant resources and make sure to read what your lecturer has recommended.

Start with the reading list, but don’t restrict yourself to the reading list.


Asking relevant questions

Ask relevant questions as you are reading – such as why did this happen, when, who did this information come from, so what, are the research results meaningful? As you create answers you can take each new idea further, asking the same questions to drill deeper into the subject. This will help you structure your assignment. Include opposing ideas – make sure your own bias doesn’t show!

e.g. researching PRIVATE HEALTH CARE

Use the CRAAP Test to evaluate sources

When was the article, book, or webpage written or updated? The importance of when something was written will depend on what you are writing about. If you are doing an historical look back at something you will want older information included (with information produced at the time of the event, for example). If it’s an examination of current trends or thinking, you will want your information to be as up-to-date as possible. Often you need a mix of both to ensure you have the seminal (ground-breaking, original) articles as well as the current research.

Is there any evidence (references to other articles or description of methodology of research conducted) to support the author’s viewpoint? Can the information by verified from other sources? Is the author or publisher biased – do they have a particular stance on the subject? Is the information peer-reviewed?


Who wrote the article, book, or webpage? Is the author or organization is an expert on this subject? Can you check his/her credentials? For example on the About Us section of the website is it clear who is producing the website and why?



Is there evidence to support the information provided? Can it be verified from other sources?


Is the intent of the book, article, webpage to entertain, inform or persuade? Is there a bias? Who is the intended audience? 


Reading Journal articles

There is so much information available that you may find yourself discovering a large number of articles matching your literature search.

You may find it useful to skim read what you find in the first instance, to identify the most relevant materials that you will use in your assignment.

Journal articles often have the same structure depending on the subject discipline, so it may be enough to read the abstract and/or first couple of paragraphs, as well as the last paragraph to get the scope or main ideas of the article, and the main conclusions.

If the subject matter matches what you are writing about you can then read the entire article. If not you can leave it aside without having wasted too much time.

Taking notes

Take notes as you read, using the key questions you have set yourself for the assignment.

Keep a record of what you have read and the key ideas from each source as you go – you’ll find this saves time if you need to edit your assignment draft later.

It will also help when it comes to creating your bibliography or reference list.