As a freelance journalist, I spend a lot of time reading the media. Often I'll come across an article that I admire, and feel is leaps and bounds above my own work. Naturally, I want to learn from such pieces: but often I struggle to understand exactly why I find them inspirational. Without that, they're not very helpful as learning tools.

I understand the oft-given advice that to improve as a writer, one must read a lot and read with a critical mind. However, I frequently feel that I'm not doing the latter bit as well as I should.

I studied Literature to A-level (age 16-18 - no idea what the US equivalent was), and did well. However as the years have passed and I've no longer needed to exercise those critical skills, they've atrophied. I've become more used to reading and interpreting things on their surface level, and not looking so hard to see what's underneath.

This is of particular importance to me because much of what I write is criticism. A lot of the material I cover doesn't offer layers of allegory or metaphor. But when it's there, I'm sure I often miss it. So I need to learn to be critical not just of writing but other media, and to learn the language of critical theory that goes with it.

There's also an element of self-discipline here. Why look harder when you don't need to? Especially when it comes to fast-paced media where it's easy to get caught up in the ride. When a moment rises that invites reflection, it's too late: you're swept on to the next scene.

So - what can I do to learn more about how to think critically, and to encourage myself to use those skills? I'm aware that a lot of Universities offer free videos of lecture courses nowadays, which on the surface would seem an ideal resource - but almost everything I've found in that vein is STEM focussed.

  • 1
    Can you add a line or two about how this will help your writing? Otherwise this is an interesting question which isn't quite on-topic. May 19, 2015 at 17:32
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    @LaurenIpsum Added another paragraph
    – Bob Tway
    May 19, 2015 at 20:22

4 Answers 4


You could read a text (literary or media) and then look at what other people have said about it. This can make you more aware of what to look for so that you can look for it in future and make you think about the text in a deeper way.

You could look into literary theory as a way to make you more aware of different ways of looking at texts. Personally, when I was taught about semiotics it changed how I looked at Shakespeare. If you want a start on literary theory I would recommend downloading the audio versions of the Open Yale course available here.

On a simpler level, try using the frameworks that you were given for analysing literature at A-Level.


If you want to (re)learn how to analyse and criticise literature, it would certainly help you to read analyses and criticisms.

Since you studied literature, you probably know all the resources you can turn to (bibliographies, libraries, databases, ...), so use them to locate and read literary theory, analytical methodology and examples of literature analysis and criticsm.

  1. Try to find scholars that use the books you like to read privately as objects of their studies. If what you like is not or only rarely studied by scholars of literature, try to find whatever comes closest. There is of course more on Shakespeare and Hawthorne than contemporary fantasy, but there are scholars that look at contemporary popular media, too.

  2. Whenever you have read a study or theory or methodology that resonates with you, try to apply what you read to a book you want to analyse. At first you might not want to spend too much time on writing this out, but just take some quick, shorthand notes, similar to what would serve as the basis for your actual writing.

  3. Read a lot, and, more important, apply what you read as much and as often as you can. Don't worry about wether or not your analysis is "correct", but rather do as many of them as you can. Revisit your older ones and see if you want to rethink them. You could get feedback from likeminded peers, but more important than checking the opinion of others is that you practice what you want to be good at. With time, with reading a lot of scholarly texts, and with analysing and criticizing different or the same texts again and again, you will finally find your own methods, style and approach.

Have fun!


Unfortunately there is no easy answer. As changing ones modality of thought and interpretation, is no easy task. @Tave has a great idea, that learning about the different frameworks, the skeletal structure of writing/differing types of media. As that is a good and basic way to critique certain works. But other than that, there is no real surefire way of changing the way you view pieces/works.

The issue here is that criticism, other than an objective assessment. ((Spelled wrong, formatted poorly.) With a slight portion of comparison between it and works of its ilk) Is only your own personal emotional response. Which is dependent upon your own life experiences.

The way you expand on that should be self evident. If you need to learn how to be a better critic of food articles or shows. Try enrolling in a basic culinary course. To immerse yourself in that world, in the hopes that you may have a better vantage point to criticize.

I am not a painter, thus my criticism of fine works will be at a disadvantage, however, if i can find a way to illustrate what i am getting at. In a palatable and understandable way. Furthermore that point resonates with enough other people. Then even my amateur status, can yield constructive and helpful criticisms.

In essence, my suggestion would be to try to "walk a mile in the shoes" of what ever topic or what have you... uhhh, i think you see what i am getting at. Best of luck.


I would recommend studying philosophy. Within philosophy, I would focus in on logic, which can help you perceive the underlying structure and/or structural flaws of any persuasive writing, as well as help you build stronger arguments of your own. You can also read the Socratic dialogues of Plato, which are the classic example of how to approach all topics critically (as opposed to taking things at their face value).

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