Critical Reading for Analysis and Comparison

Critical reading generally refers to reading in a scholarly context, with an eye toward identifying a text or author’s viewpoints, arguments, evidence, potential biases, and conclusions. Critical reading means evaluating what you have read using your knowledge as a scholar. You may look at the quality of the writing, the quality of the research, and the persuasiveness of the arguments, among other things. Finally, critical reading is an active process by which a scholar rigorously and systematically questions the literature with the goal of assessing credibility and validity.

Whereas reading retention and comprehension involve remembering and understanding the main ideas, critical reading begins the process of taking action. You are not simply absorbing the information; instead, you are interpreting, categorizing, questioning, and weighing the value of that information. In other words, you are engaging in higher-order thinking and the upper reaches of Bloom’s taxonomy. 

Critical reading can serve many functions. Sometimes you examine a text critically to analyze it, sometimes to compare it to other texts, and sometimes to evaluate it. As you get more advanced in your studies, you read for all of these simultaneously. In this resource, we have isolated the functions to better explain each one.

Reading for Analysis

To analyze means to break a text down into its parts to better understand it. When you read for analysis, you notice the components of a text and how they work together. As you examine those components, you make inferences and interpret the message of the text (both the overt message and the subtler or hidden message). Ask yourself questions like these while reading:

Audience and Purpose

  • Who is the intended audience? (e.g., scientists, academics, educated laypeople, the general population)
  • What is the author’s purpose? (e.g., to inform, to entertain, to persuade, to share new research)

Argument and Evidence

  • What is the thesis?
  • What are the main points that support the thesis?
  • What evidence is used?

Methods (for Research Studies)

  • How was the study conducted? Is it qualitative, quantitative, or mixed methods?

Language and Tone

  • What is the tone the author uses? (e.g., formal, informal, critical, objective)
  • How does the author’s use of language and tone support the audience, purpose, and argument? (e.g., specialized terminology, simple word choice, words with emotional connotations)

Reading for Comparison

When analyzing a text, you engage in noticing—noticing what the authors are saying and how they are saying it. Scholars do not take a single article, book, or study as the complete truth on a topic. They read widely on the issue to get a well-rounded understanding. When you are critically reading for comparison, you widen the view beyond the single source and consider the text in relation to other texts you have read on the same topic. You may also consider what you have learned in previous courses.

This process of comparison is often called synthesis. Ultimately, scholars draw together many sources and articulate unique and insightful conclusions based on that evidence. Synthesis is the hallmark of successful scholarly writing, and it is much easier to do well if you begin as an active and aware reader.

If you are reading multiple sources (such as for a literature review), use an organizational tool like a matrix to keep track of important details and easily compare them. Ask yourself questions like these while reading:

Audience and Purpose

  • Are the authors writing for a similar audience and purpose?

Argument and Evidence

  • Are the authors advocating a similar or opposing position?
  • How does the evidence in each article reinforce, contradict, or complicate the other?

Methods (for Research Studies)

  • How do the studies’ methods compare?

Language and Tone

  • How is the tone communicated in each piece?

Continue reading about Critical Reading in Hillary’s next post: Critical Reading for Evaluation.


Hillary Wentworth joined Walden in 2010 as a writing instructor in the Writing Center. She now serves as a contributing faculty member in the Academic Skills Center and as a learning architect developing Walden’s academic programs. She holds a BA in English from the University of New Hampshire and an MFA in creative writing from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. Hillary lives in Maine with her husband and young son.

4 thoughts on “Critical Reading for Analysis and Comparison

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s