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  • 00:00

    [MUSIC PLAYING][Mike Wallace & Alison Wray Discuss CriticalReading][How do you define critical reading?]

  • 00:16

    MIKE WALLACE: Critical reading meanslooking for claims that authors make about what something isor what it should be in the social worldand checking that they've got adequate backingto justify or warrant those claims being accepted.[Mike Wallace, Cardiff University]And if we're going to engage in critical reading,it's probably best done with what we call frontline texts--

  • 00:41

    MIKE WALLACE [continued]: these could be research articles, theoretical books,and so on--rather than what we call support texts--encyclopedias, internet encyclopedias too of course,or textbooks and the like--because there isn't really space for the authorsto provide the evidence for the various claims

  • 01:03

    MIKE WALLACE [continued]: that they are relaying in giving an overview of what peoplehave claimed in their field, and so on.So support texts are a brilliant wayof beginning to get your understanding of a new fieldfor you, but fairly soon you need to be addressingfrontline text--people's journal articles and so on-- where

  • 01:24

    MIKE WALLACE [continued]: you can expect them to provide the evidence thatwill justify the claims they make about what they found out.

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    ALISON WRAY: Critical reading, I suppose,can be thought of essentially as discernment.It's when you read something, yousee that somebody makes a claim about the world,about something they found, and it's just thinking,OK, that's what you've claimed, so howdo I know that that's right?How do I know that I should take that seriously and perhapsbuild my own research on it?

  • 01:51

    ALISON WRAY [continued]: Is that a reliable claim?[Alison Wray, Cardiff University]And so you're thinking, how do you know thatand, OK, that's where you tell me how you know.So what have you done exactly?Can I tease apart bits of the assumptions that you've madeor the kind of data you've used?And so am I satisfied that that really does back up the claimthat you've made?And very often it will.

  • 02:13

    ALISON WRAY [continued]: But it is simply that you're taking a skeptical approach,if you like-- come on, convince me.If you can convince me, I'm willing to go with it,and then I will know that I'm building my own researchon something that is reliable.But once you read something and you think,do you know what, I just think it'sthe way you collected that data or it's the way you'veinterpreted what's being said that I'm not

  • 02:33

    ALISON WRAY [continued]: sure I agree with that.And I've read this other thing, maybe,that makes me think if you'd read that then you'dthink about this differently, so I'm not going to put quite somuch weight on that for my own researchbecause I'm not satisfied that that isas reliable as you think it is.[Why engage in critical reading?]Well, knowledge is-- to some extent--

  • 02:54

    ALISON WRAY [continued]: contentious in the social sciences.That's the reason why you need to engage in critical reading,because you can't just read a text and say, I know that fact,I know that fact, I know that fact.You've always got to be saying, on what basisis that claim being made, what underlying assumptions arethere that were taken in to that research

  • 03:14

    ALISON WRAY [continued]: or have been drawn out of the researchthat not everybody might agree with?If somebody else came along and did that research,how might they see it differently,what might they do differently?And it's that critical, that discerning approachthat's going to give you some way of pryingunderneath the claim to see the limits of it,the boundaries of it, the places where other people might come

  • 03:37

    ALISON WRAY [continued]: in and say, no, no, if you do it differently,you'll get a completely different way of seeing things.So you can question the assumptions,you can question the values that people are taking in,and just check that you understand how that's shapingthe claims that they're making.[What is the difference between an opinion and an argument?]Well, if we start at the very basic level,

  • 03:58

    ALISON WRAY [continued]: we all have opinions in all of the things we do every day,and that's absolutely fine.It's only a question what's appropriate for whenyou're doing your research.So when you have an opinion about it,it's a view that you've developedon the basis of your experience and your values, the thingsyou think are important.When we get into research, those things

  • 04:19

    ALISON WRAY [continued]: can inform the way we think, but we need a little bit morebefore we make a claim.So when we make a claim in our research,we want it to be something where others could look at thatand say, yeah, I can see that pretty well anybodywho looked at that bit of evidencewould come to the same conclusion.And with opinions, that wouldn't necessarily be the case.

  • 04:40

    ALISON WRAY [continued]: So you're looking for something a little bit more objective,even within the social sciences whereeverything is contentious.So maybe you can say, well, look,the reason I think this is this, this, and this.And I've worked this out and it allseems to add up to meaning this.And that's a little bit stronger than just saying, I think,I have a hunch that that's the case.So we're looking for something where

  • 05:02

    ALISON WRAY [continued]: the research is working for you to enableyou to draw conclusions.

  • 05:09

    MIKE WALLACE: More formally, perhaps, an opinionis just one or more claims that something is or should be true.For example-- students who engagecritically with the literature get good marksfor their dissertation.That's just a statement.Whereas, an argument would be one or more claims,

  • 05:32

    MIKE WALLACE [continued]: but this time it would be backed by some form of evidence.So it might be something like--students who engage critically with the literatureget good marks in their dissertation,because, in my experience as an examiner,they demonstrate they have met fully the criterionfor assessment about adopting a critical approach to the study.

  • 05:55

    MIKE WALLACE [continued]: So here the evidence is the reported experienceof the person who's making the claim, the examiner.Now while an argument can be about a single ideaand expressed in a single sentence,a lot of the philosophy works at that level,we found that it's not that helpful.

  • 06:15

    MIKE WALLACE [continued]: We're most interested in the overall argumentthat somebody is developing throughout a whole paperor a whole dissertation or thesis,and that's the level we tend to work at.For an overall argument, then, we see two key components.The first is the conclusion-- that's a set of claims.

  • 06:36

    MIKE WALLACE [continued]: It's often several claims together that somethingis or should be true.But on its own, the conclusion is just an opinion.So what makes it the conclusion of an argument?That's where you have the warranting or backing,the support from some form of evidence.

  • 06:59

    MIKE WALLACE [continued]: So one might say, I've looked at the literatureand other people report these findings.Or, from my own research, these are the findingsthat I've got that support the claim I'mmaking in my conclusion.So an argument consists of two parts--a conclusion and the warranting in some form of evidence.

  • 07:22

    MIKE WALLACE [continued]: [How can I focus my literature search?]You'd be surprised to know that everything dependson what you want to know.There's any amount of literature saying any amount of things,so you need to focus.And we recommend as soon as you cantrying to specify a clear review question that

  • 07:45

    MIKE WALLACE [continued]: will help you frame your search for literatureand know how to choose stuff that is both relevant and--in total-- manageable.The sort of questions we often come up with go somethinglike, well, what's already known about this?

  • 08:05

    MIKE WALLACE [continued]: How well is it known?What are the limits of what is known?One could even say on the end of that, what don't weknow but we need to know next about the particular areaof study.So having got a question, it's fairly easyto search these days the academic literatureelectronically and so on.

  • 08:26

    MIKE WALLACE [continued]: A lot of people use keyword searches.And then I would recommend that once you have a few papersand so on that as you begin scanning, skimming, and thenintensive reading of some of themyou're bound to come across references where you think,ooh, I'd like to know more about that, that's relevant to me.

  • 08:47

    MIKE WALLACE [continued]: And so you essentially snowball from there.You pick up that reference, find the material,and go on from there.So it's a mixture of methods to help researchfor what you need.

  • 08:60

    ALISON WRAY: So I think the hardest bit is reallywhen you're starting, because you'vegot that whole wealth of a world library full of stuff.How do I know what to read?I can't possibly read everything?Now, I think at the very first stagesyou have to accept you're going to haveto do a little bit of just general background reading just

  • 09:21

    ALISON WRAY [continued]: to get your head around what it is you're looking at.But as soon as possible, you wantto get away from that, because that can justabsorb so much time.And so you need to figure out the precise things that youwant to know and go in with a review question-- or morethan one question-- where you say,I'm reading this because I want to find this thing out.

  • 09:43

    ALISON WRAY [continued]: And the important thing about that is that--because you go in with a question,and you're reading these things, saying,how is this helping me answer my question--then there comes a point when you realize that you'rereading more and you're not really finding out more answerto the question.You're starting to consolidate into an acceptable answerto that question.And then you can stop and move on to the next thing.

  • 10:06

    ALISON WRAY [continued]: As soon as you accept that you're never going to have readeverything that could possibly feed into an answerto the question-- you have to accept that,there's far too much stuff out there--you just say, well, now I've got enough to answer my question sonow I can move on.So it helps you to know when to move into the new area.[What makes a literature review critical?]

  • 10:30

    ALISON WRAY [continued]: First of all, what is a literature review?Well, obviously, you're going to look at the research literatureto find out what's in there.But rather than thinking of it as being just a descriptionof this person said this, this personsaid this, I always find it's quite useful to think of ita bit like a detective story.So if Poirot comes in and he says,

  • 10:51

    ALISON WRAY [continued]: aha, there's the dead body in the library,my job is to find out who killed this person.And then he goes out with a set of questions.And he's asking questions and he'sgathering information in order to come to a conclusion.So he's driving everything that he does--all the data he's collecting from wherever, from talking

  • 11:12

    ALISON WRAY [continued]: to people, whatever else--in order to help him to come to a conclusion.And if you drive your literature review that way,you have a lot more power and a lot more voice in it,because it's not simply a description of thingsthat is done before you can get into the real nitty-grittyof your thesis.It is the nitty-gritty of your thesis.This is part of your research.

  • 11:33

    ALISON WRAY [continued]: It's just that the data happens to be other people's claimsrather than data that you've gone out and collectedin the field.So that's what a literature review is.And then what makes it critical?Well, is has to do with being discerning in what one readsand how one interprets it.

  • 11:54

    ALISON WRAY [continued]: So one doesn't want simply to just describeone thing after another.You've got to find some way of understanding whether what isdescribed is convincing or not.On the other hand, you don't want to go to the other extremewhere you're saying that you're critical of everything.It's easy to be in one extreme where you say because it'sin print it must be true.

  • 12:15

    ALISON WRAY [continued]: And then you think, I've got to be critical,because it's in print, it can't be true.Well, that's obviously not going to be the case either.It's much less about what's right and wrong and much moreabout what is this telling me that's relevant to whatI'm trying to find out.A critical lecture review, in a wayit's a bit like the kind of conversation

  • 12:36

    ALISON WRAY [continued]: you would have with a good friend of yours whose opinionsyou respect but who you're not sure aboutin this particular instance.So they say, ah, cabbage is just amazing.And you're going, what, come on, you'vegot to convince me that cabbage is amazing.And then you'll be saying, how did you cook it?

  • 12:58

    ALISON WRAY [continued]: Where did you have it?What kind of cabbage was it?Because those questions will helpyou to understand why that-- perhaps slightly alarming claimin the first place-- suddenly starts to make sense.And they would have the chance to answer back.Now of course when you're reading the literature,you haven't got the author in the room to answer back,so you're relying on what they've told you

  • 13:19

    ALISON WRAY [continued]: in the printed version to help you findthe answers to these questions.But it means that all the way through doing a literaturereview, even in those very early stages when you're just readingfor information, you need to be annotating with those questionslike why didn't you say that, what about this, whydid you think that was good evidence.

  • 13:40

    ALISON WRAY [continued]: So you're thinking all the time.Whenever you're reading, you're engaging your brainwith thinking-- what questions would Iask if they were in the room, what would I want to know,and what do I think they would answer, what can Iinfer from what they tell me in the paper about what they mightanswer if I asked them these questions.

  • 13:57

    MIKE WALLACE: Critical literature reviewis a product of the reviewer's critical imagination.And everybody will come to their own viewpointabout an area of literature that they'veread according to the kinds of judgments that they make.

  • 14:17

    MIKE WALLACE [continued]: So it's worth thinking that a critical literature view doesexpress the voice of the reviewer whois taking a position in relation to the literature beinginterviewed.So what do you have to do?You have to develop your own argumentabout what the literature suggests is known,what the limits are of what's known,and so on about the review question that you've

  • 14:39

    MIKE WALLACE [continued]: asked in the first place.So you're going to focus your review by asking that reviewquestion, search for the relevant texts,evaluate the author's arguments about what they claimto have found out, and draw your own conclusion whereyou give your answer to your review question,having provided the evidence that will warrant

  • 15:01

    MIKE WALLACE [continued]: your own conclusion in reporting your critical engagementwith the texts that you've actually reviewed.[MUSIC PLAYING]

Video Info

Publisher: SAGE Publications Ltd

Publication Year: 2016

Video Type:Interview

Methods: Critical reading, writing and thinking

Keywords: argument (research); claims making; critical reading; opinions; practices, strategies, and tools; Skepticism ... Show More

Segment Info

Segment Num.: 1

Persons Discussed:

Events Discussed:



Mike Wallace and Alison Wray discuss critical reading, literature searches, and literature reviews.

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Mike Wallace & Alison Wray Discuss Critical Reading

Mike Wallace and Alison Wray discuss critical reading, literature searches, and literature reviews.

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