Critical thinking

The following guide has been created for you by the Student Learning Advisory Service, for more detailed guidance and to speak to one of our advisers, please book an appointment or join one of our online workshops.   

What is critical thinking?

  • Examining ideas objectively and evaluating their merits.
  • Challenging information you are given in a constructive manner (within the limits of your expected knowledge and research).

Why is critical thinking important?

  • The process of thinking critically allows you to breakdown, understand and synthesize information from a variety of sources, enabling you to formulate your own ideas about a topic, and present them convincingly supported by the evidence you have gathered.
  • It helps you make informed judgments and create strong arguments of your own. You will be able to justify any claims you make based on evidence you have critically evaluated.    
  • It demonstrates that you can learn and think independently, which is central central to studying at higher or degree level. 
  • What does critical thinking involve?

    Critical thinking is when you analyse, evaluate and synthesise (combine and integrate) information from a variety of sources. This involves:   

    • Asking questions to explore views points and ideas.
    • Actively seeking all sides of an argument, examining topics and questions from different perspectives.
    • Maintaining an “objective position”, which means trying to be aware of any preconceptions you have that might limit the way you think about an issue or argument. If in doubt, research other points of views to inform your judgement.
    • Weighing up evidence for and against ideas.
    • Checking the logic of arguments, the validity of evidence used to support claims, looking for flaws in reasoning or bias.
    • Presenting your own justified and supported interpretation.  

    How does critical thinking apply to academic work?

    Your research: Critical thinking asks why and how it was conducted, and considers its limits

    A journal article: Critical thinking identifies key issues, and explores its reasoning and accuracy

    Survey results: Critical thinking asks what they show or suggest, whilst challenging methods

    An idea: Critical thinking asks why it is important, whilst identifying its flaws or contradictions

    The language of critical thinking:

    As you write your assignments, indicate clearly that you have critically assessed the evidence it contains by using appropriate language, for example:

    • This appears to imply...
    • The main weakness of this…
    • The main strength of this...
    • This does not fully explain… because ...
    • This explains fully the .... because ...
    • This does not take account of… because ...
    • This takes full account of... because...
    • This method has several limitations… 
    • This method is the best approach for... because...
    • Newer studies contradict… because...
    • Newer studies fail to take into account...
    • This seems to be the most appropriate solution to... because...
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