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

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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

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

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

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 from these options?

  1. angry
  2. reasonable
  3. very sympathetic to the author

What gives you this impression? Note any words or phrases from the text which led you to your answer.

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Answer

Strong criticisms like sweeping generalisations and frighteningly ignorant indicate that Mark is angry about Extract 1.

How would you describe the attitude of the writer of Text 2 from these options?

  1. angry
  2. reasonable
  3. very sympathetic to the author

What gives you this impression? Note any words or phrases from the text which led you to your answer.

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Answer

Phrases like My experience is that… and I wouldn’t generalise my experience to a whole generation, but… typify a reasonable response. They show that, while drawing on her opinion to support the author of Extract 1, Sonia 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.