Interpreting Texts Critically: Asking Questions

What does it mean to interpret a text critically?

It means being a discerning reader who: 

  • questions what you read
  • thinks about what the author wants you to believe and works to convince you
  • decides whether the author’s views are worthy of agreement

Asking questions about what you read requires your careful examination of the writer’s claims, as well as the use and quality of the writer’s supporting evidence.

As you interpret the text, you inevitably draw upon your own experiences, as well as your knowledge of other texts. However, the basis of your analysis must be rooted in the text itself.

Learning how to examine texts critically is an essential skill, especially in college.

You will need to use the knowledge you acquire from texts for your own projects. In order to do that, you must interpret or analyze them.

Here are some things to consider in your analysis:

  • the authority of the writer (Go to worksheet)
    Using both the information that you have about the writer as a person (training, political affiliation, life experiences), as well as clues from the language, tone and approach of the text, decide whether the writer is credible. Is the writer knowledgeable? What biases or values may be playing a role in his/her argument?
  • the logic of the writer’s argument (Go to worksheet)
    It is important to ask yourself what the writer wants you to believe and whether the reasons and supporting evidence convince you of this viewpoint. Examine the credibility of the “facts” as well as the line of reasoning that ties the facts to the main assertion.
  • how the writer gets your interest (Go to worksheet)
    A writer may use one or more of the following strategies to get the reader intellectually and emotionally involved in the text:
    1. Trying to get the reader to identify with the author or evoke respect for the authority of the author (for example, through the tone)
    2. Trying to get the reader to care about a subject, cause or problem (perhaps by appealing to his/her emotions by using shocking statistics, anecdotes, or detailed descriptions)
    3. Trying to get the reader to align him/herself with a greater class of readers (e.g. “the educated,” women, environmentalists)
    4. Using the assumed interests and values of the reader as a foundation for another argument

Ask yourself which of these techniques the writer is using and how. Are they effective?

  • consider the writer’s use of language and style (Go to worksheet)
    The writer makes many decisions concerning language and style that serve to influence your responses as a reader. Examine the following aspects of the writing: overall tone, sentence formation, choice and connotation of words, use of punctuation, and brevity or length of passages. How do the writer’s choices about language and style aid their argument? What do these choices reveal about the writer’s argument?
  • consider the ideology that informs the text (Go to worksheet)
    Try to uncover the ideology -- the system of beliefs, values, and ideas about the world -- that underlies the text. A simple way to do this is to write down words and ideas that are valued in the text or represented by the author in a positive way. Then write down the opposite of each word. These binaries, or pairs of opposites, will reveal the ideology that informs the text.

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