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Reading to Engage and Evaluate

Reading for Evaluation

Whereas analysis involves noticing the parts of a text, evaluation requires a judgment about those parts. 

A critical reader must weigh the details, data, and conclusions to see if they add up to a strong compelling argument. You may not be confident in your ability to assess what you were reading. Remember though, that even though a piece of writing is published it is not necessarily accurate, scholarly, or free of bias. You must look at published writing with a critical eye to gauge its trustworthiness. 

Steps in the process of evaluation include pre-reading, reading, and forming the evaluation. 

Pre-reading involves examining publication information before engaging with the actual content. This helps you determine the relevance and appropriateness of the reading. 

  • The author's bio can tell you their affiliation, such as a university, and possibly past publication credits. 
  • The publisher can reveal the type of source, whether it is a scholarly article, a popular magazine, or a textbook, as well as any biases. 
  • The date of publication tells you whether the information is still relevant and timely. 
  • Lastly, the presence of a reference list reveals the level and type of research the author did to gather evidence on the topic.

woman looking at tablet screen

Next, read the content. As a critical reader, you read to learn the information, but at the same time, question and scrutinize that information.

At first, you may need to read the text several times to accomplish that goal of understanding and evaluation. However, once you gain practice, you will do these two actions simultaneously. Some questions to consider while reading are:

  • Has the author communicated clearly and organized the text well?
  • Does the evidence support the argument and the conclusions that are drawn?
  • Are there gaps in logic that stand out?
  • Has the author allowed bias to influence their work?
  • Has the author made generalizations or unreasonable assumptions?

And for a research study:

  • Was the research method appropriate or would another method have been more effective?
  •  What limitations or potential weaknesses are there?

woman in library

A two-column method for taking notes can help you evaluate as you read.

  • In the left column you can place key ideas and details from the text. In other words, the facts as they are represented. 
  • In the right column you include your reaction to those facts such as questions you have, judgments on the value or strength of detail, or ideas that are confusing.

In this example, the student has begun to fill out the two columns for a research study on changes to the curriculum in public schools. They notice that the study is missing a key point of view, the teachers, and wonder how the data would be different for a school situated in an urban area. These critical responses could prompt additional research or could mean the student comes to different conclusions than the study authors. 

Column 1: Key Ideas and Details. Data gathered from interviews with six high school administrators. All administrators in rural or suburban districts. Column 2: My Critical Reactions. Study missing teacher involvement, a critical point of view on curriculum change. How would the data change for urban schools?

Learn More

Want to learn more about Critical Reading for Evaluation? Review this short presentation for more strategies.

Critical Reading for Evaluation

Form Your Evaluation

Form your evaluations based on the judgments you made while reading or in your notes. This evaluation should answer the overarching question "how was the article, book, or essay?" It is helpful to pair this evaluation with a brief summary of the text so that you remember the main idea and provide context for the evaluation. 

Note that you won't will always include the evaluation in the paper or other writing you are working on. The evaluation might just help you consider how to use the information and whether it fits with your research focus. 

Here is an example of one student's evaluation of an article on high school curriculum changes.

In this summary, this student: 

  1. Provided an Overall Evaluation: The student acknowledged the study provided insight into the topic. 

  2. Explained Gaps in Knowledge: The student pointed out that the researchers left out an important voice, the teachers', who are more intimately involved in the curriculum than others. 

  3. Called for Research: Lastly, the student called for more researched focused on teachers and other stakeholders. 


Final Reflection

How would you change or improve your strategies for critical reading?

What additional steps could you add to your reading routine that would allow you to read or think even more critically?