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Critical thinking

Critical thinking is one of the cornerstones of Higher Education. So what is it?  It's not just an academic exercise, it's something we do in everyday life.  For example, when shopping we compare products for quality and price before making our choice.  But are we aware of the impact advertising and our background (e.g. my mother has always bought that brand) have on our decision making, or do we take ethical and environmental issues into account?  The ability to take a step back and question every aspect underpins academic critical thinking.

Our What is Critical? tutorial introduced you to some of the key features of critical analysis and will help you think about how you can transfer everyday critical thinking to your academic work. 

What is critical resource

For more details check out some of the books on the Critical thinking reading list.

 

  • Critical reading and notetaking

    The basis of any essay is the reading you have done.  There is no shortcut; the more knowledge you have, the better.  A critical approach starts with active rather than passive reading.  A statement in a book or article is not necessarily a "fact", just the argument of that writer.  Make your reading an active process: question everything, compare and contrast with other authors/views, link to your own experience.  Try to capture this process in your notetaking, whatever your style, identifying your thoughts and questions as you go along;  these will inform your essay.

    Critical questions

    There are numerous suggestions for critical questions you can use to analyse the literature but they depend on the type of information you are reading. This Critical reading grid is a generic set of questions to encourage critical enqagement with your reading.  The Critical notetaking form accompaines it to record your answers.

    For alternatives try Stella Cottrell who gives 3 templates for: argument, books and articles.  The CASP Critical Apraisal checklists is used to evaluate specific types of research.

    Additional resources

    The Reading page has some basic tips to develop your reading skills and Leicester University has a good overview of critical reading.

     

  • Critical writing

    How do you get all of your critical reading and thinking onto paper in a coherent way?  Hopefully the process of actively engaging with the literature has clarified "what you want to say", which will help you to write a focused essay.  Use this focus to plan your key points and identify the evidence you will bring in to support your argument. Structure and paragraphing are your friends, use them to build a logical progression or case.  The Writing at University page has more information on planning, structure and argument.

    Try to keep descriptive writing to a minimum, don't just say WHAT an author said or WHAT happened, this is descriptive. Discuss WHY it is significant, HOW it compares to other views and HOW it applies to your point.  

    Develop your voice by using different verbs to indicate your assessment of the literature.  For example, shows is seen as positive as it reports an observation or finding as a proven fact. The use of concludes or states is seen as neutral. However, claims or presumes disassociates the writer from the position of the author cited. The writer's choice of verb shows their distance from the author's perspective and that the writer is questioning the author's approach.  This allows the writer to establish a critical perspective and follow with an evaluation of the author's point that may well include counter argument.

    Useful verbs for reporting other writers' findings

    Acknowledges
    Admits
    Agrees
    Alleges
    Argues
    Assumes
    Believes
    Challenges
    Claims
    Classifies
    Comments

    Concentrates on
    Concludes
    Considers
    Criticises
    Defines
    Demonstrates
    Depicts
    Determines
    Discovers
    Emphasises
    Establishes

    Explains
    Explores
    Expresses
    Finds
    Focuses
    Highlights
    Hypothesises
    Identifies
    Implies
    Indicates
    Interprets 
    Makes the point
    Maintains
    Notes
    Observes
    Predicts
    Presumes
    Proves
    Proposes
    Provides evidence for
    Questions
    Recognises
    Reports 
    Seeks to explain
    Seeks to identify
    Shows
    Signals
    States
    Studies
    Suggests
    Tries to identify
    Sums up
    Underlines
    Views
    Wonders

    There are many more examples of this type at Academic Phrasebank to help you develop your writing.

    This is an example of critical writing which illustates some of these techniques such as paragraphing, developing an argument and the authors voice.

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