Academic Integrity - Referencing, Citation & Avoiding Plagiarism: Critical Thinking
Critical thinking is about keeping an open mind when reading, listening or writing about something. It is about carefully examining a piece of knowledge by questioning the surface appearance of material, identifying assumptions, assessing the evidence and coming to conclusions using a variety of sources.
When being critical in an academic sense, we question whether there are other ways of interpreting evidence and identify the validity or flaws in a line of argument.
Top Tips on Critical Thinking
Identify the argument
In order to critically evaluate a piece, you need to identify the argument. What are the statements used to justify a position in the writing?
If you are writing a piece, outline in draft form a summary of the key statements you plan on using to argue your point, including the conclusion. Think about whether your argument is logical and valid. Ensure the person reading your final piece can easily identify the line of argument.
Read your piece again and identify each piece of evidence presented to support the conclusion. Here are some questions to ask of your evidence
- Is it reliable and valid?
- If there is research presented, is it recent?
- Were the numbers of people studied large enough to have a broader application?
- Were there comparison groups?
- Were the populations studied biased in any way like using everyone from the same area/age group/gender?
These questions can be applied to the work of others, or our own writing. Depending on your discipline, some questions will have more or less relevance. Read around the topic in your discipline to see how others have approached the area.
Opinion versus Fact
When reading, you need to identify which parts are opinion and which parts are fact. You must spot any assumptions, assertions or statements that might not be correct.
When writing, review your draft and do the same. Identify what is opinion and what is fact, supported by evidence from academic or other reliable sources. Read around your subject at this stage to help identify opinion from fact.
Look again at the piece you are reading. Who is the author? Is it possible she or he may have a reason for thinking the way they do? Is the author sponsored by a company. Does she or he have some other personal characteristic that may compromise the research?
When writing about something, it can be hard to identify your own biases. Reading widely will help this. Ensure your piece evaluates the evidence for and against your point of view. Does your argument make sense or is there research you are over-looking? If there is an area of uncertainty in the literature, acknowledge this. Ask another person to review your work to help see a different point of view or check for bias.
Consider whether the conclusion follows logically from the premises and evidence outlined. Ask yourself
- Does the evidence actually support the conclusion?
- Does each piece of evidence logically lead to the conclusion the author has made.
- Are they stretching the impact of the evidence?
- Are there any alternative conclusions the evidence could point to?
- What further impact will this conclusion have on the wider discipline or society?
These questions apply to both the work of others and any work you are creating yourself.
Core concepts of Critical Thinking
A premise is a statement used to support an argument, line of reasoning, theory or position.
An argument is made up of a set of statements used to justify a position, point of view or theory. It generally includes at least one statement and a conclusion.
An assumption is presenting a statement as fact or truth in order to build an argument.
A conclusion is the final point or summary set out by an author to prove his or her argument. It should follow logically from all previous premises and evidence.