WHAT IS CRITICAL READING?
Facts v. Interpretation
To non -critical readers, texts provide facts. Readers gain knowledge by memorizing the statements
within a text.
To the critical reader, any single text provides but one portrayal of the facts, one individual’s “take” on the
subject matter. Critical readers thus recognize not only what a text says, but also how that text portrays
the subject matter. They recognize the various ways in which each and every text is the unique creation
of a unique author.
A non-critical reader might read a history book to learn the facts of the situation or to discover an
accepted interpretation of those events. A critical reader might read the same work to appreciate how a
particular perspective on the events and a particular selection of facts can lead to particular
What a Text Says, Does, and Means: Reaching for an Interpretation
Non-critical reading is satisfied with recognizing what a text says and restating the key remarks.
Critical reading goes two steps further. Having recognized what a text says , it reflects on what the text
does by making such remarks. Is it offering examples? Arguing? Appealing for sympathy? Making a
contrast to clarify a point? Finally, critical readers then infer what the text, as a whole, means , based on
the earlier analysis.
These three steps or modes of analysis are reflected in three types of reading and discussion:
• What a text says – restatement
• What a text does – description/purpose
• What a text means – interpretation .
You can distinguish each mode of analysis by the subject matter of the discussion:
• What a text says – restatement – talks about the same topic as the original text
• What a text does – description – discusses aspects of the discussion itself
• What a text means – interpretation — analyzes the text and asserts a meaning for the text as a
Goals of Critical Reading
Textbooks on critical reading commonly ask students to...