Critical reading and analysis

R20–0713 MATS67151

By working through this section you will understand what being critical means for your academic work. More importantly how you can be critical across a number of different academic activities like reading and writing.

Being critical can feel difficult to grasp as a strategy or activity, but there are habits and strategies you can apply that will help you develop your critical lens and strengthen your analysis. But the reality is that there are things that you can do and strategies that you can apply to practice developing your critical view.

In this section we are going to cover a couple of approaches that will cover note-making and lead you up to preparing to write and communicate your own informed critical opinions.

In section one we are going to use a three step approach to critical analysis. This will set up up and allow you to draw your own informed opinion on a topic. The key skill for this process is note-making. Note -making is integral to all the work you have done as a student so far — going to lectures, attending seminars, reading for research or revising. However, here we are going to use note-making to act as the first stage of your critical thinking to support you as you build your own ideas and develop your arguments.

In section two, we will cover one pre-writing strategy that supports you in planning a strong and well-informed argument, the question matrix.

So in this section we are going to share three steps that can guide you towards being more critical in your analysis of what you are learning. You can apply the steps to a range of different academic activities such as reading articles and looking at data listening to lectures to name a few.

Each of the steps leads to the next. Remembering that you will need to document all of this using a good note-making technique. First of all:

Learn: you will focus upon selecting the core concepts and key facts.

Connect: you will focus on noticing where things fit together, a mind map or annotations to your original notes could help you record your thoughts.

Create: is where you get your thesis for your paper, your topic for your presentation or your idea for your next project. Make sure to write down your conclusions as you go! Think of a way to make them easily distinct from your notes on “others”

Throughout this process it is crucial to document each stage and you can do this by applying a good note -making technique.

There are many different ways to make notes. It is important to find an approach that works for you. This may be using pre-existing approaches or note-making templates, or creating your own.

To discover different ways you can make effective notes, work through our short interactive resource: ‘Note making: capturing what counts’.

Image of My Learning Essentials Note-Making online resource
Interactive resource on note making

Different approaches are suited to different tasks; this means you may want to vary how you make notes depending on what you are doing. The resource above gave small introductions to different approaches and how they can help with different types of work. Click on the links below to find out more about individual note-making approaches and download templates that you can use.

  1. Cornell Notes
  2. Know, Want to Know, Learnt (KWL)
  3. Know, Want to Know, How (KWH)
  4. Dual Coding & Mind Maps

Note-making is an individual activity, take some time to find an approach that works for you and helps you get the most out of your academic reading.
— If you already have your own approach (which is great!), think about changes you may want to make to your approach based on everything you have read here
— If you don’t have an approach you already use, think about which strategies you may start to use; or take elements from different strategies to create your own approach that works for you.

Activity — Practice

Pick a note-making strategy from the above suggestions to use while reading Chapter 1 Introduction to Retail Marketing Management of the following from your reading list:

Goworek, H. and McGoldrick, P.J. (2015). Retail marketing management principles and practice . Harlow, England: Pearson

Share your thoughts on what you found useful, and not so useful, about the note-making approach you chose in the Google Jamboard.

After adding your own thoughts in the Google Jamboard, look through what other students have shared about the other note-making approaches. Have they convinced you to try that template?

You can find out more about accessing e-books here.

(1) Learning something new

So now you have selected a way to take notes we can start to consider the 3 steps. In this first step think about what is new to you.

Critical thinking requires new input of some sort, a new idea, new facts or a new perspective. If you are merely going over what you already think, it is unlikely you are being critical!

You will need to assemble the new content. So when you are taking notes consider what you are making a note of.

  • What is new that you didn’t know previously?
  • Are there facts to note down — dates, formula, words?
  • What concepts are new to you and what might you need to understand better?

Activity — Practice

Look back through your notes and highlight new facts and annotate anything that you need to know more about from your reading of the chapter.

(2) Connect: contextualise them within your prior knowledge

This step is where you connect what you have learnt with what you already knew, increasing your understanding of the materials and topic.

As you learn information you can organise it and connect it to what we already know to contextualise that information.

As you are reading and come across new material, note it down and ask yourself questions such as..

  • What else do you know about this topic?
  • What connections can you make between what you already knew and the new information?
  • Can you draw the connections using images and words in your notes?

For each new piece of knowledge you highlighted in the previous activity, try and answer the one of the above questions to help contextualise and connect it to what you already know about the topic.

(3) Create: Using your new understanding, come up with an original opinion or idea.

After you have learnt the new information, and made connections to what you already understood, you will start to see new ideas and understanding on the topics and materials. A helpful way to clarify your new ideas is to summarise your new knowledge and the connections you have made. This will allow you to draw conclusions (your own critical analysis!) that will be your own original additions to the topic.

You will have your stance, your argument and most of all you will have your notes to reflect your thinking throughout.

Summarise the notes you have made from the previous two activities (in no more than one paragraphs)

Write up your thoughts and opinions about this summary.

Do you find the author’s argument convincing or unconvincing? Why?

What do you like or dislike about the ideas in this chapter?

You will also want to consider evaluating your information sources and the information sources that others are using to inform their opinions.

Read more about how to do this in this blog post here.

(Embed link to blog)Evaluating Information Sources

You now need to take your thinking and communicate this to your reader or audience. To do this you can use the notes that you have made to ensure that you are building a strong argument to convince your reader of your stance.

A good strategy that you can apply to preparing to write is the question matrix. This strategy provides you with a plan that can be used to develop your argument within your writing paragraph by paragraph.

Work through the resource below.

What is the big idea MLE resource

You have practiced an approach to support you in developing your critical analysis skills and how you can make your notes work to support that process. Now all you need to do is put it into practice.

Find out what other students find useful when making notes: Student Team Note-Making Top Tips.

The below infographic gives note-making tips and advice from other students.
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