Social Research Glossary


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Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2012-20, Social Research Glossary, Quality Research International,

This is a dynamic glossary and the author would welcome any e-mail suggestions for additions or amendments. Page updated 19 December, 2019 , © Lee Harvey 2012–2020.


A fast-paced novel of conjecture and surprises



core definition

Reading is the process of making sense of texts.

explanatory context

This entry focuses on 'reading' in the sense used by semiologists and other critical media analysts.

analytical review

The University of Toronto (Duncan with O'Connor, nd) distinguishes reading from critical reading:

Critical reading is a more ACTIVE way of reading. It is a deeper and more complex engagement with a text. Critical reading is a process of analyzing, interpreting and, sometimes, evaluating. When we read critically, we use our critical thinking skills to QUESTION both the text and our own reading of it. Different disciplines may have distinctive modes of critical reading (scientific, philosophical, literary, etc).






To get a basic grasp of the text.

To form judgments about HOW a text works.





What a text SAYS

What a text DOES and MEANS


What is the text saying?
What information can I get out of it?

How does the text work? How is it argued?
What are the choices made? The patterns that result? What kinds of reasoning and evidence are used? What are the underlying assumptions?
What does the text mean?


WITH the text (taking for granted it is right)

AGAINST the text (questioning its assumptions and argument, interpreting meaning in context)


Restatement, Summary

Description, Interpretation, Evaluation


Referring to critical discourse analysis, Kress and van Leeuwen (2006, p. 14) explain reading:

The still growing enterprise of 'critical discourse analysis' seeks to show how language is used to convey power and status in contemporary social interaction, and how the apparently neutral, purely informative (linguistic) texts which emerge in newspaper reporting, government publications, social science reports, and so on, realize, articulate and disseminate 'discourses' as ideological positions just as much as do texts which more explicitly editorialize or propagandize. To do so we need to be able to 'read between the lines', in order to get a sense of what discursive/ideological position, what 'interest', may have given rise to a particular text, and maybe to glimpse at least the possibility of an alternative view. It is this kind of reading for which critical discourse analysis seeks to provide the ways and means. So far, however, critical discourse analysis has mostly been confined to language, realized as verbal texts, or to verbal parts of texts which also use other semiotic modes to realize meaning.


Open and closed texts: Eco (1979) refers to the reading of, what he calls, open texts and closed texts:

That codes will not always coincide does not bother the author of a closed text. Having posited the 'average' or model reader, texts that 'obsessively aim at arousing a precise response on the part of more or less precise empirical readers ... are in fact open to any possible 'aberrant' decoding. A text so immodestly 'open' to every possible interpretation will be called a CLOSED one.' (Eco, 1979, p. 8). Superman, Fleming's James Bond novels, and Sue's work as well as soap operas belong to this closed category. 'They apparently aim at pulling the reader along a predetermined path, carefully displaying their efforts so as to arouse pity or fear, excitement or depression at the due place and at the right moment'. (Eco, 1979, p. 8). However, such texts while pre-planned do not plan the reader. Superman can be read as a new form of romance but can also be read in other ways—each independent of the others. This cannot happen with OPEN texts (such as Finnegan's Wake) because it outlines a 'closed' project of its model reader as a 'component of its structural strategy'. 'It is possible to be stupid enough to read Kafka's 'Trial' as a trivial criminal novel, but at this point the text collapses'. (Eco, 1979, p. 9–10). An open text is thus nothing else but 'the semantic-pragmatic production of its own model reader'.


associated issues


related areas

See also

Researching the Real World Section 1


Duncan, J.with O'Connor, M., nd, 'Reading critically', Handout from The Writing Centre, University of Toronto Scarborough, available at, accessed 13 June 2019.

Eco, U., 1979, The Role of the Reader, Bloomington, Indiana University Press.

Kress, G. and van Leeuwen, T., 2006, Reading Images : The grammar of visual design, Second edition, New York, Routledge.

copyright Lee Harvey 2012–2020


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