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Guide to Starting the Writing Process: Critical Reading Strategies

Critical Reading Strategies


Critical reading is the first step to developing your own critical academic writing. Being an effective writer means first being an effective reader and having the ability to decipher academic sources.
Follow these steps to develop a solid prereading and reading strategy (referred to as the SQ3R or SQ4R critical reading model):
  • Scan
  • Question
  • Read and Take Notes
  • Recite
  • Review
  • (Relate)


First, scan the text for main sections and organization, noting the publication information, date of publication, author associations, and other information that can inform you of the source’s accuracy and relevance. Make sure you have a clear understanding of the author’s words and can identify what the author presents as the most important part of the writing. And, of course, you need to understand the vocabulary the author uses as well as note any biases the author(s) might have (for example, if the research was sponsored by a major corporation or group).


After you have had a chance to scan the text, you will want to write down any questions that you have relating to the content, what to expect, and how you expect the source content to relate to other sources you have already read. For example, do you have questions about the author's purpose? What about how it will relate to your own research or assignment? Do you expect this source to offer support for your argument, to offer a counter argument, or to offer additional information to either side of the argument you are making?


As you read the text in full, make sure that you identify the main ideas and details that support the author’s main points. Active reading means comprehending and analyzing the text, which means taking notes as you read. Visit our Note Taking page​ for tips on how to take effective notes. Take your time reading to make sure you understand all components of the source. You might find you need to re-read certain passages for full comprehension. Reading for comprehension takes time, so don't feel pressure to read quickly.


Once you have read the source in full, you now want to answer the questions that you had leading into the reading. Highlight or take notes on the passages of the source that answer the prereading questions, and of course take note of any new questions that might have developed and that you might need to answer with additional reading or research. 


Once you hone your prereading and reading skills, you'll have mastered the foundation of reading: understanding. You will then be able to progress to the next stages of critical reading and writing, which include:
  • Analyzing
  • Comparing
  • Evaluating
​These stages involve moving past critical reading to critical thinking, or placing what you have read in context of what you already know and what you still need to discover.


Not all critical reading models include this fourth "R," as relating the source to other texts is a higher order skill required for the advanced writing done when composing research problems and literature reviews. Relating refers to synthesizing the main ideas of the source with the main ideas of the other sources you have read, identifying gaps in the literature, and beginning formulate your own approach to filling that gap.