This is the "Critical Reading" page of the "Writing a Literature Review" guide.
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Writing a Literature Review  

This tutorial provides an overview of the literature review process.
Last Updated: Aug 1, 2014 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates

Critical Reading Print Page

Critical Reading

Before you begin reading the literature you have found, write out a set of questions you will ask about every document you read. This will help you to focus your reading and assist you in determining how useful each item is, and how they relate to each other. These questions might include:

  • What problem or issue is the author addressing?
  • Is the problem/issue clearly identified?
  • How does the author approach the topic and could the topic have been addressed more effectively from another perspective?
  • What do you know about the author (e.g. their research background and theoretical approach)?
  • What type of literature does the author cite? Has literature that has been written from a stand point that the author does not agree with been included?
  • How does the author make their argument (e.g. by appealing to emotion, objectively, etc.)? Can you detect bias in their argument?
  • How is the argument laid out? Is it structured in a logical way?
  • What methodological approach does the author use?
  • What does this document contribute to the field of research?
  • What contributions does the item make to your specific study or research?
  • How does this document relate to other literature you have read?

It is also useful to pre-read or preview, each publication to determine which sections you should focus your attention on. As you read, take notes related to the questions you are asking. Record any direct quotes from the publication carefully so that you avoid unintentionally plagiarizing. Transcribe the citation for the item you are reading, including the library name and call number if the item is a book, or the database name if it is a journal article. You may wish to use RefWorks, a web-based citation management tool to keep track of the references you read. You can access RefWorks from the Library’s homepage. If you have an abundance of sources, think carefully about the sources before including them.

Once you have worked through these steps, or at any point in the process, it may be necessary to go back and re-evaluate the search process and work through the steps again. Searching for materials is very much an organic process, and there is no such thing as the perfect search strategy. If you encounter difficulties in the search process, please feel free to contact the Library by email or phone ( or 1-800-788-9041, ext. 6254) for assistance.


Research Tip

Remember to review the bibliographies of the sources you are reading, as this can be a way to help you identify additional materials that you should read as well.

Athabasca University Library
Hours: Monday-Friday 8:30am-4:30pm (MT)
Phone: (800) 788-9041, ext. 6254


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