Critical Reading (Online)


This course is for anyone wanting to learn to read critically and explore texts that are regarded as 'critical', or essential, reading.

The course will introduce you to some key concepts in criticism and theory. It will help you to acquire skills of close critical analysis that will enable you to study, write about, appreciate, and above all enjoy literary texts. Illustrations and exercises will be taken from nineteenth- and twentieth-century poetry and narrative fiction.

For information on how the courses work, and a link to our course demonstration site, please click here.

Programme details

1. Introduction: what is literature?

  • Critical reading
  • Critical writing
  • The function of critical readings

2. Close reading and criticism

  • Criticism and ‘practical criticism’

3. Comparing literary texts

  • Poetry
  • Figurative language

4. Narrative and structure

  • Narrative and narrative voice
  • Perspective
  • Dialogue

5. Description and devices

  • Literary descriptions
  • Description of place and the elements
  • Analysing description in longer passages
  • Descriptions of character

6. Analysing Poetry

  • Reading poetry
  • Analysing a modern poem

7. Writing critically

  • Opinion versus argument
  • Developing arguments in writing
  • Writing about place
  • Writing about character
  • Writing about dialogue

8. Developing as a writer and reader

  • The second assignment

9. Other approaches to texts

  • What is critical theory?
  • Formalist approaches
  • Structuralist approaches
  • The starting-point
  • Case or subject position

10. Honing and keeping up your skills

  • Using the work of other critics
  • Criticising the critic
  • Literary periodicals
  • Book clubs and reading groups

We strongly recommend that you try to find a little time each week to engage in the online conversations (at times that are convenient to you) as the forums are an integral, and very rewarding, part of the course and the online learning experience.


Credit Application Transfer Scheme (CATS) points 

To earn credit (CATS points) for your course you will need to register and pay an additional £30 fee for each course you enrol on. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online. If you do not register when you enrol, you have up until the course start date to register and pay the £30 fee. 

See more information on CATS point

Coursework is an integral part of all online courses and everyone enrolled will be expected to do coursework, but only those who have registered for credit will be awarded CATS points for completing work at the required standard. If you are enrolled on the Certificate of Higher Education, you need to indicate this on the enrolment form but there is no additional registration fee. 


Digital credentials

All students who pass their final assignment, whether registered for credit or not, will be eligible for a digital Certificate of Completion. Upon successful completion, you will receive a link to download a University of Oxford digital certificate. Information on how to access this digital certificate will be emailed to you after the end of the course. The certificate will show your name, the course title and the dates of the course you attended. You will be able to download your certificate or share it on social media if you choose to do so. 

Please note that assignments are not graded but are marked either pass or fail. 


Description Costs
Course Fee £385.00
Fee Take this course for CATS points £30.00


If you are in receipt of a UK state benefit, you are a full-time student in the UK or a student on a low income, you may be eligible for a reduction of 50% of tuition fees. Please see the below link for full details:


Concessionary fees for short courses


Dr Jenn Dunn

Dr Jennifer Dunn, lecturer in English at Oxford University from 2002-2009, has taught for OUDCE since 2007. She is the supervisory tutor for online writing and literature courses, and Assessor in English for the Undergraduate Certificate. She has published on twentieth-century and contemporary fiction, and her teaching and research interests also include women's literature, nature writing, and eco-criticism.

Course aims

By the end of this course students will be expexted to:

  • Have an enhanced understanding and enjoyment of literary texts.
  • Understand basic concepts of the critical idiom.
  • Distinguish between opinions and appreciations, and analysis.
  • Produce close critical analyses of prose and poetry.
  • Have a working knowledge of the broad chronological, thematic, and stylistic categories of English Literature.
  • Make effective use of online resources in English Literary Studies.
  • Begin to build a personal reading list.

Teaching methods

  • Introductory section
  • Reading required and recommended
  • Online forum
  • Online personal reading diary
  • Posted short responses to literary extracts and exercises
  • Tutor responses to forum and exercises
  • Assessment and feedback

Learning outcomes

By the end of the course you will know:

  • Basic concepts of the critical idiom.
  • Key arguments relating to literary value.
  • Key arguments relating to the methods and function of literary analysis.
  • Your own position as literary and critical theorists.
  • Differences between opinions and appreciations, and analysis.

Assessment methods

You will be set two pieces of work for the course. The first of 500 words is due halfway through your course. This does not count towards your final outcome but preparing for it, and the feedback you are given, will help you prepare for your assessed piece of work of 1,500 words due at the end of the course. The assessed work is marked pass or fail.

English Language Requirements

We do not insist that applicants hold an English language certification, but warn that they may be at a disadvantage if their language skills are not of a comparable level to those qualifications listed on our website. If you are confident in your proficiency, please feel free to enrol. For more information regarding English language requirements please follow this link:


Please use the 'Book' or 'Apply' button on this page. Alternatively, please complete an Enrolment form for short courses | Oxford University Department for Continuing Education

Level and demands

FHEQ level 4, 10 weeks, approx 10 hours per week, therefore a total of about 100 study hours.

IT requirements

This course is delivered online; to participate you must to be familiar with using a computer for purposes such as sending email and searching the Internet. You will also need regular access to the Internet and a computer meeting our recommended minimum computer specification.