Critical thinking is an important element of all academic disciplines and is applied to reading, assignment writing and academic presentations. Critical thinking is not a negative process in a university context, it is not about finding fault – but it is about judging the strengths and weaknesses of a written or spoken argument or ‘case’. It is not about describing or accepting information or giving uninformed personal opinion.
It is a way of interpreting and appraising evidence and evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of arguments to enable students to come to well-reasoned conclusions and to give well-argued explanations. The key critical thinking questions are what, why, how, who, where and when – plus what if, so what, what next…
CRITICAL THINKERS ARE ACTIVE NOT PASSIVE!
Catch 22: What is a critical student?
Given all the emphasis on being a critical student – or on using analytical and critical thinking whilst a student, you would think that it would be really easy to define just exactly what critical thinking is – and how to do it. It is of course more complicated than that. Try this five minute video by Stuart Johnson and Steve Rooney from Leicester:
So, we can say that critical thinking and analysis is a process of:
- Evaluating information and assertions
- Developing arguments
- Forming judgements
We form judgements by balancing different approaches and points of view in an objective and rational way by applying reasoning and reflection as a guide. This entails
- Distinguishing between FACT and OPINION
- Avoiding irrational and emotional appeals and
- Evaluating the validity of information sources.
Critical thinking involves considering a variety of possible viewpoints or perspectives and remaining open to the merits of alternative interpretations explanations or models. Applying critical thinking requires:
- Weighing evidence
- Asking questions and
- Finding the best explanations
It is about considering the strengths and weaknesses of an argument. This involves the recognition of unstated assumptions, beliefs and values and subjective and emotive language. It also requires an awareness of bias, stereotypes, prejudices and distortion which may be presented as facts.
WHAT IS AN ARGUMENT?
By argument we do not just mean to fight or disagree with something. An argument is a claim about a topic that is supported by REASONS and EVIDENCE. As a student you are not supposed to not make statements or assertions about what you believe or think or even ‘know’ to be true – you will need to construct an argument to justify your position. This means that you will need to:
- Research and evaluate your evidence
- Draw conclusions based on the arguments and evidence of others
- Make your own ‘case’, supported by arguments that you put together
- Give your reasons and support them with evidence, building a case for your claims
- Use reputable, scholarly, and unbiased sources
- Present each reason and the evidence for it in logical order
CRITICAL ANALYSIS IN YOUR WRITING:
Do be analytical and critical – even if you are asked to be personal and reflective.
Do not use a descriptive, personal or journalistic style.
Do remember to present your ‘argument’:
- Present evidence and examples to support your reasoning and argument
- Set out your reasons or evidence in a logical order
- Link your ideas and information
- Show a clear line of reasoning, leading to your conclusion
- View your subject from different perspectives
- Review early drafts before writing a final draft
Information, further research and reflection
This link takes you to the LearnHigher student website on critical thinking – packed with additional tutorials and handouts:
The complete study guide to Critical Thinking, Plymouth (2009):
The Reflection study guide considers how to be a critical reflective student:
The Critical Questions Model: go beyond ‘What ,Where, Who and When’ …:
Tips for writing a critical essay:
The Wrasse project at Plymouth has examples of student essays annotated for critical and analytical thinking: