|Critical Reading Guide
Speculate about Causes
Date the Critical Reading Is Needed By:
Thank you for taking the time to read and comment on my paper. First, please make sure you have a copy of my paper. If I didn’t give you a hard-copy version, you can find an electronic version here:
Next, read these notes to understand what I was trying to do in my draft and where I want to go from here.
Readers. Here is a brief description of the readers I am addressing in my essay and my assumptions about how they will respond to my writing:
Purpose. Here is what I hope to accomplish with my readers:
Problem. Here is what I see as the single most important problem with this draft; please keep this in mind as you read through my paper:
Finally, please use the following guidelines to approach this draft with a well-focused, questioning eye. Space has been provided for you to fill in your responses.
Thanks again for your help.
Guidelines for the Reader
1. Read for a First Impression. Read the essay straight through. As you read, try to notice any words or passages that contribute to your first impression and identify those weak contributions as well as strong ones. After you have finished reading the draft, write a few sentences giving your impressions. Did the essay hold your interest? What most surprised you? What did you like best? Did you find the causal argument convincing? Also, consider the problem the writer identified. If the problem will be covered by one of the topics listed below, deal with it there. Otherwise, respond to the writer’s concerns now.
2. Evaluate How Well the Subject Is Presented. How well does the draft present the phenomenon or trend? Does it give enough information to make readers understand and care about the subject? Does it establish that the subject actually exists? If the subject is a trend, does the draft demonstrate a significant increase or decrease over time? Where might additional details, examples, facts, or statistics help?
3. Consider Whether the Causes and Support Are Convincing. Look first at the proposed causes and list them. Do there seem to be too many? Too few? Do any seem either too obvious (not worth mentioning) or too obscure (remote in time or overly complicated)?
Next, examine the support for each cause—anecdotes, examples, statistics, reference to authorities, and so on. Which support is most convincing? Which seems unconvincing? Where would more support or a different kind of support strengthen the argument?
Check for errors in reasoning. Does the argument mistakenly take something for a cause just because it occurred before or at the start of the phenomenon or trend? Are any of the proposed causes of the subject actually effects of it instead?
4. Assess Whether Readers’ Likely Objections and Questions Are Anticipated Adequately. Look for places where the writer has acknowledged readers’ possible objections to or questions about the proposed causes. How well are objections handled? Should any of them be taken more seriously? Help the writer see other ways of either accommodating or refuting objections. Do any of the refutations attack or ridicule the persons raising the objections? Try to think of other likely questions or objections the writer has overlooked.
5. Assess Whether Alternative Causes Are Adequately Anticipated. If causes likely to be preferred by readers are acknowledged, are they presented fairly? Is it clear why they have been accommodated or rejected? Do the refutations seem convincing? Do any of the refutations attack or ridicule the persons proposing the alternative causes? Try to think of other plausible causes readers might prefer.
6. Consider Whether the Organization Is Effective. Given the expected readers, are the causes presented in an effective sequence? Raise specific questions about the sequence; suggest a different sequence.
Look at the beginning. Will it engage the readers? Imagine at least one other way to open. Look for sections of the essay that could be moved to the beginning—an intriguing anecdote, for instance, or a surprising statistic.
Look at the ending. Does the essay conclude decisively and memorably? Think of an alternative ending. Could something be moved to the end?
Look again at any visuals the writer has incorporated. Assess how well the visuals are integrated into the essay. Point to any items that do not provide support for the writer’s argument.
7. Give the Writer Your Final Thoughts. What is this draft’s strongest part? What about it is most memorable? What is weak and most in need of further work?