Skip to content The Open University

Skills Check 0

The Skills Check is a short survey which should take you no more than 3 minutes to complete. Once you have completed the Skills Check we provide you with a personal learning plan targeted to your personal study needs and goals.

Sign in to work on the Skills Check.
  1. Home
  2. Core skills
  3. Critical reading techniques
  4. Critically processing what you read

Critically processing what you read

Critical thinking is the process of applying reasoned and disciplined thinking to a subject. The higher grades at every level of university study require some critical analysis.

You will need to develop reasoned arguments based on a logical interpretation of reliable sources information. These skills are essential if you want to obtain high grades in your university study and, like other skills, they improve with practice.

As you read your module materials follow these three steps.

  1. Analyse - Examine how key components within your module materials fit together and relate to each other.
  2. Compare - Explore the similarities and differences between the ideas you are reading about. Do some ideas conflict with or complement each other?
  3. Synthesise - Bring together different sources of information to serve an argument or idea you are constructing. Make logical connections between the different sources that help you shape and support your ideas. Are there any inferences you can draw from the material and apply to an assignment question?

The OU booklet 'Thinking critically' gives you further information on this subject.


Finding and evaluating material

Most OU modules provide you with all study materials. However, if your studies require you to look for some supporting material yourself (e.g. case studies) make sure you choose appropriately. You will need to develop the skill of finding and evaluating sources of information.

Finding material

The OU Library gives you access to over 5000 electronic journal titles, databases of journal abstracts, newspapers, etexts and other library catalogues. It also offers resources that can help you identify and evaluate material. Visit the OU Library website , also search the 'Activities A-Z' on the OU Library's Being Digital site for further help on how to find material.

Jo Parker, from the Open University library, talks about using online information resources during your studies.

Evaluating the material

If you are new to finding your own web resources you may find it difficult to select trustworthy sites. For example, there is a mass of information on nutrition and diet, but much of it is sponsored commercially or potentially biased. You need to critically evaluate the resource. To help you think critically, here are some questions you could ask.

Aspect of text Questions
Presentation

Is the information clearly communicated? Look at language, layout, and structure.

Relevance Does the information match your needs? Look at the introduction or overview to check what it’s about.
Objectivity Is the author's position or interest made clear? Look for an introduction or overview. Does the author declare any connections that might compromise their independence? Is the language emotive? Are there hidden vested interests?
Method

What research methods were used, and how are results reported? Do you need to reassure yourself about their importance?

Provenance

Is it clear where the information has come from? Can you identify the authors or organisations responsible? How was it published? Has it been peer reviewed?

Timeliness

Is it clear when the information was produced? Does the date of the information meet your requirements? Is it obsolete?

Some module activities and assignment questions ask you to read and do a critical review of the various resources provided. Here are some more detailed questions that you might ask.

  • Who is speaking or writing?
  • What is their point of view or perspective?
  • What ideas and information are presented and how were they obtained?
  • Are there unsupported assertions?
  • Are relevant reasons or evidence provided?
  • Is the method used to find the evidence sound?
  • Is the evidence correct or valid?
  • What assumptions have been made?
  • What is fact and what is opinion?
  • What are the implicit and explicit values?
  • Are there unreasonable generalisations?
  • What has been omitted?
  • How was the conclusion reached?
  • Is the conclusion reasonable?
  • What other perspectives or points of view could there be?

Getting started with the online library tells you how to make good use of the OU Library website. Also look at Finding information for your assignment.