So much of the information we consume on a daily basis happens passively. We swipe through our phones, reading or listening to the content that other people post without really questioning the validity or the accuracy of the information. At university, however, you are expected to think more critically about the information you read and listen to, which is an active rather than a passive process.
As you have discovered, there are strategies you can use to actively and methodically interpret information. Using the SEE-I method is an important initial step because it helps you clarify your thinking so you can understand and explain the topic more clearly. Only once you understand the topic can you begin to think about it critically.
Thinking critically about the information you read or listen to involves
Asking questions: When interpreting information, it can be helpful to ask questions about the content and its context. For example, you can ask yourself what the information means, who created it, why it was created, and how it relates to other information you already know.
Making connections: You should also try to make connections between the information you are interpreting and other information you have learned. This can help you see how the information fits into a larger picture and can provide additional context.
Considering multiple perspectives: It can be helpful to consider different perspectives when interpreting information. For example, think about how someone with a different background or point of view might perceive the information.
Evaluating the credibility of sources: It is important to evaluate the credibility of the sources of the information you are interpreting. This can help determine whether the information is reliable and accurate.
Using critical thinking skills such as analyzing and synthesizing information, can be used to interpret information more effectively. This can help with making more informed decisions and drawing more accurate conclusions.
Some Things to Avoid
When reading critically, here are a few things to avoid:
Skimming: Skimming through a text quickly without paying attention to the details can lead to a misunderstanding of the author's message and meaning.
Jumping to conclusions: It is important to avoid making assumptions or drawing conclusions about the text before fully understanding the author's argument.
Focusing on one aspect: Avoid focusing on only one aspect of the text, such as its structure or language, and neglecting others, such as the author's purpose or the context in which the text was written.
Ignoring counterarguments: A critical reader should also be aware of counterarguments or alternative perspectives presented in the text, rather than only considering the author's own argument.
Being influenced by personal biases: Be aware of your own biases and how they might influence your interpretation of the text, and try to minimize it as much as possible.
Since much of the reading you will do at university will inform the papers you write and contribute to a larger body of knowledge, consider Daniel Dennet's suggestions below. Notice that the first three recommendations are about understanding before you can attempt #4, which is about the analysis and construction of your argument. He recommends that when composing your "critical commentary:
You should attempt to re-express your target’s position so clearly, vividly, and fairly that your target says, “Thanks, I wish I’d thought of putting it that way.”
You should list only points of agreement...
You should mention anything you have learned from your target.
Only then are you permitted to say as much as a word of rebuttal or criticism".
In the next module, we will look more closely at how to evaluate and construct an argument, and how to distinguish facts from opinions.
Before moving on, complete the self-reflection exercise that follows. By engaging in this process, you will gain a deeper understanding of yourself and the content covered which will ultimately prepare you to think more critically and develop your own informed opinions about the information presented. It also allows you to evaluate if the information is relevant and useful, and whether to adopt new ways of thinking and doing.