“Critical thinking skills” are strategies people use to consider and evaluate new ideas. If you are a “critical thinker,” then you do not necessarily believe everything you read or hear. You analyze ideas and judge them by your own set of values. This is a valuable skill to develop.
How do I analyze a reading?
Exactly what does it mean to analyze something that I read?
College assignments often ask you to “analyze,” “infer,” or “interpret” some article or other reading. This is called “critical thinking.” Understanding exactly what these terms mean can help you as you plan a paper or a class presentation. Next time you are asked to analyze a reading, look over these definitions and use them to plan out your response.
When evaluating, you decide whether something is good, bad, accurate, misleading, worth buying, worth seeing, and so on. When you see a movie, and you tell someone else that it’s good, great, or lousy, you are giving your evaluation of that movie. You often add the reason why you did or didn’t like it—the plot was funny, there was too much violence, you liked the characters, and so forth. In the same way, when you evaluate something you read, you give your opinion of its value. You should be able to point to a reason why you have that opinion—for example, the writer was logical (or illogical), the story was interesting (or boring), the point made was important (or not important). Be prepared to point out your reason for your opinion.
When inferring, you pick up a meaning that is not specifically stated or written out. For instance, if you read: “This dog that I am taking care of is big, smelly, dirty, noisy, and has chewed up my best shoes,” then you can infer that the writer does not like taking care of the dog, even though this is not specifically written. “Inferring” means about the same as “reading between the lines.”
When interpreting, you express—in your own words—the meaning of something you’ve just read. You might interpret a very long poem, for example, by stating in a few short sentences your understanding of what the poem means or says. According to your own personality, you can make your interpretations very short and concise or very long and creative. It’s your own personal interpretation. Be prepared, however, to be able to point to some words or phrases that influenced you to form your particular interpretation.
So how do I come up with a professional, educated opinion
of a written work?
Step 1: Form a judgement based on your analysis (evaluation). As you read, think about whether or not the information you are taking in is worthwhile, true, and/or important to you. If you decide to stop reading and go on to something else, that action in itself indicates a judgement. Why did you stop reading?
A judge needs evidence to back up a decision. So do you. Something written in the text caused you to form a certain judgement. Those particular words, sentences or paragraphs are what you use as your evidence to support your judgement. State your opinion (“I disagree with the idea that all problems in the world are caused by malnutrition”) and then point out the words, phrases, or paragraphs that caused you to form your opinion (“On page two, paragraph three, the writer said . . . ”). This is called “supporting your comments from the text.”
Step 2: Use your own life experiences to back up your opinion. Using your own personal life experiences to judge the worth of what you are reading is the biggest part of thinking and evaluating. Ultimately, your own beliefs will determine how you evaluate someone else’s work. Some people talk quickly and superficially about the topic at hand. But if you are trying to put together an in-depth, thoughtful analysis, don’t make a decision until after you’ve considered all the information.
Step 3: Consider the quality of the source. Is the author qualified as an expert? Is the author biased? Where did the information come from? Is it from an untrackable source or a personal web site? Can the reader look up the information to check it out? Generally, information from professionally certified sources and information that can be looked up and verified is considered “better” than personal opinion or information from sources that cannot be checked.
Step 4: After you have read the material and made some notes, take time to think. What is important? What’s the main point? What do you really think about the whole thing?
Jot down your thoughts. Briefly note the parts from the reading that you can point to for evidence for your opinions. This is your evaluation, your analysis, of what you have read. It may not be the same as everyone else’s, including your teacher’s. That’s fine. College is the time and place to exchange different opinions and to consider other people’s ideas as well as your own.
Practical tips for quickly evaluating an article or text:
1. Preview the entire reading first. How long is it? What is it generally about?
2. Check out the author’s credentials, if possible. Is the author considered an expert in the subject?
3. As you read, keep a pen or highlighter handy. Mark sentences or paragraphs that strike you as important or that you have a question about. Jot down your own thoughts in the margins for reference.
4. If the reading is very long—20 or 30 pages—you may want to write down your thoughts on a piece of paper. Put page numbers by your notes. Then, when you are done reading, you can quickly look over your thoughts and put together a statement of your opinion. If you are writing a paper, then you will have page numbers right at your fingertips to use for quotes.