One important aspect of critical reading is considering the context within which an article was written. Writers of the kinds of articles used for the Writing Proficiency Exam are usually writing in response to pressures, issues, ideas that are important or pressing at a particular moment in history. Understanding what that context is can be very helpful when thinking about the ideas the writers communicate.

For the Writing Proficiency Exam, you are not expected to do extensive research—the essay you will be asked to write is not a research report. It is an essay in which you express a judgment and support that judgment with logical reasoning.

However, even a little background research will help you see how the article fits in the broader conversation about the topic and, perhaps, give you better insight into the reasoning the author(s) uses to support his or her thesis idea.

This means you may choose to use an idea that you glean from your research in your Writing Proficiency exam; in that case, you can do an in-text attribution of the author or article title (see the Citation page for more on this). However, you may find it enough that your research helps you understand what the author was writing about, i.e. the brief research remains part of your critical reading process.

Here are some ways you might find useful information:

  • Talk to, email, or chat with a Research Desk librarian at Bracken Library about possible sources for the topic.
  • If you have a class with a professor who might know something about the topic of your article, meet with him or her to find out some possible threads to think about.
  • Go back over the material you may have studied in a course which pertains to this topic.
  • Do a quick Google search about the author, the journal or magazine the article was published in, and/or the topic.
  • Use a general article database, such as Academic Search Premiere, to do a general search on the subject, the author, or the journal or magazine.
  • Use the citation information for the article to look for other articles on similar topics.
  • Use a more expansive “topics” database, such as CQ Researcher, to research the subject

Your goal in each case is to simply be better informed about the issues, ideas, and details that the author of the article brings to your attention.