Critical reading 1: Read with a purpose

Read with a purpose: generate questions to focus and structure your reading.

An effective starting point to do this is to break down the question into several sub-questions to guide your reading, typically WHAT, WHY, HOW and SO WHAT?

Click on the questions below to see examples of how to break down essay questions into sub-questions that can guide your reading.

Question: "Critically evaluate how gender inequality can be addressed in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) professions".
This title raises the following questions:
  • What is gender equality?
  • To what extent have organisations/sectors in Scotland/the UK/Europe/India/Nigeria achieved gender equality?
  • What are the barriers to gender equality in the STEM professions?
  • What mechanisms/strategies are there for increasing gender equality in these professions? How successful are these mechanisms/strategies? Why are they more or less (un)successful?
Question: "Critically evaluate the key factors which influence job satisfaction"
This title raises the following questions:
  • What is job satisfaction?
  • Why is it an important issue in the workplace?
  • What are the characteristics of high or low job satisfaction?
  • What impacts on job satisfaction - different factors?
  • How do they impact on job satisfaction?
  • Which factors have the biggest influence and why?
  • How can job satisfaction be increased?
Question: "Crime is a social construct. Discuss"
This title raises the following questions:
  • How is crime defined?
  • What does the term social construct mean?
  • What arguments are put forward as evidence that crime is a social construct?
  • Are there different/competing perspectives on this issue e.g. do feminist/Marxist/functionalist theorists view the issue in the same way?
  • What are the implications of crime being a social construct?
  • Why does it matter?
These questions break the topic down into manageable chunks. They also help you navigate the literature which includes: recommended text books, research articles in academic and professional/practitioner journals, authoritative websites e.g. corporate, national and local government, international and non-governmental organisations - check your module reading list for appropriate publications and websites.

These questions can also often help you develop a structure for writing. Click here to see how you can develop a plan for your answer from these questions.

There is a lot of discussion in the academic literature about definitions, theories and models – these are often very strongly contested issues and you are expected to show that you are familiar with a range of perspectives.


Click on the links below:

a) to see examples of questions writers ask when reading about theories

b) to understand how a writer integrates information from different sources to show that she has read a range of sources and is aware of the key ideas/perspectives