When reading another writer’s argument, it is important to be able to distinguish between main points and sub-claims; being able to recognize the difference between the two will prove incredibly useful when composing your own thesis-driven essays. As you may know, a writer’s thesis articulates the direction he or she will take with his or her argument. For example, let’s say that my thesis is as follows: “smoking should be banned on campus because of its health and environmental repercussions.” At least two things are clear from this statement: my central claim is that smoking should be banned on campus, and I will move from discussing the health impact of allowing smoking on campus to covering the environmental impact of allowing smoking on campus. These latter two ideas (the health and the environmental repercussions of allowing smoking on campus) are the author’s main points, which function as support for the author’s central claim (thesis), and they will likely comprise one or more body paragraphs of the writer’s thesis-driven essay.
Critical reading is a vital part of the writing process. In fact, reading and writing processes are alike. In both, you make meaning by actively engaging a text. As a reader, you are not a passive participant, but an active constructor of meaning. Exhibiting an inquisitive, "critical" attitude towards what you read will make anything you read richer and more useful to you in your classes and your life. This guide is designed to help you to understand and engage this active reading process more effectively so that you can become a better critical reader. There is a link on this site in the right navigation bar to download a printable version, with this URL: https://writing.colostate.edu/guides/pdfs/guide31.pdf
Previewing a text means gathering as much information about the text as you can before you actually read it. You can ask yourself the following questions: What is my purpose for reading? What can the title tell me about the text? Who is the author? How is the text structured?
After you've read an essay once, use the following set of questions to guide your re-readings of the text. The question on the left-hand side will help you describe and analyze the text; the question on the right hand side will help focus your response(s).
This handout will discuss strategies to evaluate secondary printed sources—books, journal articles, magazines, etc.—based on three criteria: objectivity, authority, and applicability to your particular assignment. Printed sources, whether primary or secondary, provide the evidence for most of the academic essays you will write in college. Non-print sources, such as webpages, works of art (performance and fine), and interviews often provide significant source material for analysis but are not covered in this handout.
Note taking is an integral skill for learning college material and for writing effective papers and essay exams. Click on the links below for tips about note taking in both lectures and classroom discussions and for moving from your notes to other kinds of writing. Please note, however, that some lectures and some learning styles don't lend themselves well to linear note-taking. If you find yourself listening to a speaker whose ideas are hard to capture in a linear outline, try making a cluster or Web.
This Writing Commons site offers strategies for reading and annotating to help learn large concepts. A video on Active Reading demonstrates annotation processes. Suggestions are listed for types of information to emphasize through annotation.
This SUPERB set of guidelines describes strategies to employ to read critically. Successful critical readers read with a pencil in their hand, making notes in the text as they read. Instead of reading passively, they create an active relationship with what they are reading by "talking back" to the text in its margins.
This Writing Commons site describes a strategy for reading and taking notes that lead to synthesizing information to support your ideas—as opposed to summarizing in order to memorize. This strategy is modeled succinctly in 6 steps.
One very effective technique for avoiding note-bound prose is to respond to powerful quotations in what writing theorist Ann Berthoff calls the double-entry notebook form. The double-entry form shows the direct quotation on the left side of the page and your response to it on the right. There are two advantages to this technique: first, it helps you think about your subject; second, it helps you step away from your sources and discover your own approach and voice.