How to be a critical reader
How to be a critical reader

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How to be a critical reader

1.2 Two meanings of ‘critical’

In the next activity you will read two responses to Extract 1 from an online forum and will think about what being ‘critical’ means.

Activity 2

Task 1.1

Before you read, answer the following questions.

What do you think the expression ‘to make sweeping generalisations’ means?

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Answer

The expression ‘to make sweeping generalisations’ means to make general statements about a whole group of things or people without sufficient evidence.

Task 1.2

Read the statements below. Which ones do you think are ‘sweeping generalisations’?

a. 

(i) All women like fashion.


b. 

(ii) Drinking too much wine can be bad for your health.


c. 

(iii) Studying abroad can be quite challenging.


d. 

(iv) Children like sweets.


The correct answers are a and d.

Answer

(b) The sweeping generalisations are: (i) All women like fashion and (iv) Children like sweets.

At university it is considered that writers should not make sweeping generalisations, but should express their opinions more cautiously. This is what happens in the statements Drinking too much wine can be bad for your health and Studying abroad can be quite challenging. Note that the words ‘can’ and ‘quite’ make these statements more cautious.

Task 2.1

Read the forum entries in Text 1 and Text 2, which are responses to Extract 1. Then answer the questions.

Text 1

Mark: Sweeping generalisations about a whole generation are frighteningly ignorant, especially from an educator.

Text 2

Sonia: I can see some truth in this. I interview job applicants now and then. My experience is that core skills (reading, writing, math) are in decline. I had to explain the difference between mean and median to a college graduate the other day. I wouldn’t generalise my experience to a whole generation, but one certainly does see more and more articles like this one.

How would you describe the attitude of the writer of Text 1? Choose one of the options below.

a. 

(i) angry


b. 

(ii) reasonable


c. 

(iii) very sympathetic to the author


The correct answer is a.

Task 2.2

How do you know? Copy and paste any parts of the forum entry which led you to your answer.

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Answer

(a/b) The writer of Text 1 is angry: words such as sweeping generalisations and frighteningly ignorant indicate his anger because these are strong criticisms.

Task 2.3

How would you describe the attitude of the writer of Text 2? Click on one of the options below.

a. 

(i) angry


b. 

(ii) reasonable


c. 

(iii) very sympathetic to the author


The correct answer is b.

Task 2.4

How do you know? Copy and paste any parts of the forum entry which led you to your answer.

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Answer

(c/d) The writer of Text 2 is reasonable: words such as My experience is that… and I wouldn’t generalise my experience to a whole generation, but… show that, while drawing on her opinion to support the author of Extract 1, this writer can also see that he is making a sweeping generalisation.

Comment

Both writers have responded in a ‘critical’ way to what Jon (the writer of Extract 1) says but they are critical in two different ways: the first writer (Mark) makes negative criticisms of Jon whereas the second writer (Sonia) is much more balanced in her opinion and assesses Jon’s views in a reasonable way. Critical reading is about doing what Sonia does. It is about judging what you read in a balanced, reasoned way based on your analysis of a text.

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