Key Critical Thinking Skills for Great Essay-Writing

Part of the Study Skills For Dummies Cheat Sheet (UK Edition)

Changing the way you consider and process information can help you to improve the structure and clarity of your arguments and conclusions. This list gives a few tips you can use to boost your critical thinking. You’re well on your way to being a genius at essay-writing.

  • Reflecting on what you’re told. Take time out to consider your reaction to information. Do you agree with it? Are you surprised or excited by it? Do you think it links to other information you have? If you disagree or disbelieve it, why? What would convince you to agree with or believe in it?

  • Observing how information is presented. Is it in a paragraph, a table, an illustration, a graph, map or chart? Can you think better ways to improve how you present information you have read about? Which formats would and wouldn’t be appropriate for the content?

  • Comparing new information with previous knowledge. Does the new information extend or confirm your previous knowledge, and how does it do this? Does it add more instances, or contradict it with results that are different?

  • Considering the status or reputation, skills and abilities of who is giving you information. Always ask what the possible bias of any information source might be: What’s in it for them? Is the information source reliable, and how can you be sure of this?

  • Distinguishing between fact, hypothesis and opinion. Facts are truths and realities, and what evidence exists to prove. Hypotheses are theories or ideas which need to be tested by academic enquiry. Opinion is personal, based on impressions, experience and perhaps limited research – you can’t demonstrate opinions objectively.

  • Identifying the conclusion of an argument. Conclusions are what you’re left with after a discussion or argument. Conclusions, like the truth, aren’t always simple.

  • Identifying the stages in an argument. The stages in an argument show the links and thought process between the information given and the conclusion.

  • Evaluating the quality of the evidence presented. How good is the evidence? Where and who did it come from? How was it acquired? Always ask who gains and who loses.

  • Being aware of what hasn’t been discussed and wondering why not. Sometimes data or key points of information are missing from a data set. Always ask yourself what the data isn’t telling you, as well as what it is.

  • Analysing and evaluating the argument. Evaluating data means giving it a value – not quite marks out of ten but sufficient to answer these questions: Is the argument or conclusion good? Does it explain all the circumstances or only some? Does it have flaws, or leave awkward examples out? How could I make it better?

  • Making inferences, decisions and judgements. Making an inference is when you draw a conclusion from what’s suggested but not explicitly stated. Decisions usually involve choices, and come after you’ve evaluated the different possibilities. Judgements, similarly, come after evaluations and usually state a preference for one thing over another after you’ve investigated both.

  • Weighing up the evidence and presenting your own argument. Weighing up the evidence includes evaluating and judging it – it could be that none of the theories or arguments given seem to work in all cases, so you may have to propose an argument of your own.

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