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Lifehacks for students: Critical Reading & Critical Writing Skills

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One of the most important academic skills you can get in college is the ability to read and write critically. It is wide-spread assignment in higher courses (advanced writing and technical programs) and students are expected to read, analyze and write the text critically. It includes a thorough analysis of the author’s arguments, tone, style, the credibility and sufficiency of the presented evidence and facts that support these arguments. Many papers (essays, research and term papers, reports and presentations) are based on critical reading and writing essay skills.

Aspects of Critical Reading and Writing

Most of the time professors complain that their students do little analysis before writing a text. It leads to more straightforward methods, such as combining critical reading and writing in class. Texts are analyzed the following way: arguments and facts are researched and integrated in an essay or vice versa, an essay is written based on the analyzed texts. Another option is critically analyzed works that become a model for students to work on. With critical reading students see how exactly the author organized his/her ideas and how they reflect his/her way of thinking.

Analyzing different texts, students develop logical skills and learn the ways of reasoning. So, when reading, they should not only read the presented information but look for ways of thinking and understand how the text works. This method is an active process of interacting with the text and maintaining the internal conversation with the author. It is based on asking questions, annotating, creating theories, underlining and highlighting important parts and extracting the main ideas. This is not just skimming through the text.

To read critically means making your judgments on how the text is presented. Critical writing comes from critical reading and greatly depends on it because the majority of papers you write require reflection on the text you read. To provide a careful research and analysis of the subject, you need to read the sources carefully and use them to come up with your own arguments. Your judgments and interpretations of the text are the first steps to creating your own approach.

Some practical tips

Critical reading helps students get an insight into the text, understand its logic, tone, overall flow and the structure of sentences. How to get the most out of critical reading?

  1. Get rid of prejudice. Try to read not having any initial mindset and look for knowledge. Read every page being free of prejudice thus giving an author a chance to build his/her ideas up. Reading objectively is a must;
  2. Join the targeted audience. In general, authors create texts for a specific audience, so you should be ready to join it to understand the initial purpose. Research more information about the author and previous works to understand what kind of audience it is aimed for;
  3. Examine the title. Usually a title reflects the main idea of the text, author’s intentions, personal attitude, opinion or custom approach. Understanding the title, you can better perceive the main text;
  4. Read little by little. This is a simple and obvious tip, but many students tend to ignore it. Read by little pieces (paragraphs) not to miss an important point. Try to connect with the author by means of text;
  5. Take notes. Write down key ideas, sentences, and highlight important part that carry the main thought. There can be notes of the thesis statement, comments on central parts and arguments used to support the author’s theory. Writing in your own words instead of copying text sentences will help remember it better and explain complex things;
  6. Get help from reliable sources. When reading, you may come across words or entire phrases that are hard to understand and this is the case when a dictionary should be at hand. Look up all unknown words to understand what the author meant by it;
  7. Keep a diary. In addition to making notes, write down your thoughts and impressions from reading the text. What is your first reaction? What did you feel when you finished reading?

When reading the texts critically, you start understanding how to write academic research papers. There are also some guidelines to follow:

  1. Focus. When taking notes from the text you read, focus on the arguments and the way the author explains the concepts. Write down facts and your own examples to make it more engaging;
  2. Understand the context. To get the main idea, it`s important to have the overall picture of events happening in the text. Pay attention to references and notes the author provides;
  3. Look for patterns. How does the author place arguments in the text? It will help you structure information properly when writing.

Critical reading and writing are closely interconnected: the more you read, the better is your vocabulary and knowledge and the more accurate you express your opinion.