Reading to engage and evaluate is also know as critical reading. You may not want to think of yourself as someone who was critical. In general usage, the term can refer to a person with a negative attitude or judgmental perspective; someone who is inclined to criticize.
However, academically you must be a critical consumer of information. This means not taking any information at face value but instead evaluating it to determine its credibility, objectivity, and usefulness. Being critical then is not a negative quality, but a positive one; associated with a confident academic researcher.
Reflect on how you have demonstrated you are a critical reader in the past.
Q1: How have you demonstrated critical reading in the past?
Q2: What actions have you taken that showcase careful judgment or judicious evaluation?
Critical Reading is More Than Understanding
Critical reading asks you to not only understand what you read, but also engage with it. In other words, do not just passively receive information, scrutinize and question that information while reading.
While reading an article about the need for additional law enforcement training, this example student engaged with the article in several different ways.
Click on each button to reveal how this student demonstrated critical reading.
"The author brings up some good points, but how much money will this additional training cost?"
"How would this additional training affect my city? What might the benefits be to that demographic population?"
Examining the Quality of Argument and/or Writing
"The author could have included more evidence about existing police training to show the need. I noticed that most of the evidence comes from popular news media and not primary research."
Critical reading involves actively thinking about the information presented.
As you read, consider a perspective or argument that opposes the author's perspective. Has the author adequately addressed that counterargument?
In the scenario, the student questions the amount of funding needed to improve Law Enforcement Training. Also, look at what is missing. For example, the gaps in an author's reasoning, or the unexplored implications of a proposed change. Finally, identify any assumptions the author is making and consider how those assumptions may have led to false conclusions.
Examine the Quality of the Argument
As a critical reader, you also examine the quality of the argument and the writing. Some key areas to focus on are:
Through your examination, you make a judgment about whether to trust the information and use it in your writing. You might ask yourself what types of evidence are used and whether the author is an established voice in the field.
In the scenario the student determines that the evidence is weak in some areas and that the author draws heavily on non-scholarly sources. The student is then more cautious in using the information
Critical readers do not read in a vacuum; they connect what they are reading to their own research and to their profession. They also consider what they have learned in relation to their prior knowledge and experience.
For example, in this scenario, the student has considered applying the information about training to their city. It is important to note that, even though you read a single text at a time, you must make connections among multiple texts to understand current research on the topic. Compare the information to other information you have read. Notice those areas where the texts overlap and support each other and areas where they contradict.
Critical reading does involve a lot of in-depth thinking and questioning. Don't worry as you get more familiar with reading in this way much of it will be automatic.