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6.5 Learning from Your Reading

Learning Objectives

  1. Understand what it means to read carefully and critically.
  2. Know how to read with an open mind.
  3. Recognize that, for a writing project, you should use careful, critical, and open-minded reading both with research material and with your writing.

It would probably not surprise you if your professor told you to read your research sources carefully and critically and with an open mind. It simply sounds like a logical, good idea. But how do you know if and when you are reading carefully and critically? Do you really know how to read with an open mind?

These are important questions to consider even when you can easily find what appears to be objective, unbiased, unfiltered information about your topic. Let’s return to the idea (from Chapter 1 "Writing to Think and Writing to Learn", Chapter 2 "Becoming a Critical Reader", Chapter 3 "Thinking through the Disciplines", and Chapter 4 "Joining the Conversation") about reading closely and carefully. Some sources for a writing assignment can be less than thrilling, so your mind might wander a bit or you might speed-read without really focusing. Reading without your full attention or speeding through the text without taking it in not only is a waste of your time but also can lead to critical errors. To use your time wisely, you should try some techniques for getting the most out of your reading. Anything that gets you physically involved, mentally involved, or both will probably help, such as the following ideas:

  • Use sticky notes to mark points to which you want to return.
  • Take notes.
  • Ask questions while you read and then look for the answers.
  • Copy and paste or type the parts that are relevant to your topic into a document saved as “Source Material for Essay.”

Once you are reading carefully, you are in the proper position to also read critically. To read critically does not mean to judge severely. Rather, it means to determine what the author’s intent or assumptions are, if the author’s points are adequate to support the intent or assumptions, and if the conclusions work. You have to decide what sense the text makes and whether the information in it will help support the points you are trying to make (or perhaps complicate them or even contradict them).

One key roadblock that can get in the way of reading critically is letting personal ideas and opinions cloud your judgment. To avoid this possible problem, you need to do your best to read your possible sources with an open mind. Don’t slam a door before you really know what’s behind it.

Along with reading other sources carefully, critically, and with an open mind, you should also apply these techniques to your work. By reading your work carefully as you are writing, you will see things you want to change. By reading your work critically and with an open mind, you can get a sense for the parts that are working well and those that aren’t.

Key Takeaways

  • To read carefully means to take your time and focus. To read critically means to make judgments about what you are reading and decide if the assumptions, support, and conclusions work.
  • Reading with an open mind means putting your personal ideas and opinions aside so you can consider other ideas and opinions.
  • You should apply the techniques of careful reading, critical reading, and reading with an open mind to both your research sources and your writing.


  1. Choose a text you are reading for this course or for another course. Make sure the text includes some opinions that you do not hold, that are new or unfamiliar to you, or both. Print or copy the text so you can mark it up if needed to answer the following questions:

    1. Choose one of the careful reading techniques in this section or in Chapter 2 "Becoming a Critical Reader". Use the technique to read your selection. Then discuss with your classmates whether you found the careful reading technique you used to be helpful.
    2. Read the selection critically and write a paragraph sharing your critical judgment of the selection. Include your opinions about the article’s assumptions, support, and conclusions.
    3. Create a three-column table with the following headings. For each idea in the first column, record your opinion and the opinion presented in the article.

      New or unfamiliar ideas or ideas with which you disagree Your opinions Opinions presented in the article