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Critical analysis is a central process in all academic work. It involves thinking critically, which is applying rational and logical thinking while deconstructing the texts you read (and write) at university.
Browne and Keeley (2001, p. 2) define critical thinking as:
When we think critically we are being active; we are not passively accepting everything we read and hear, but questioning, evaluating, making judgements, finding connections and categorising. It means being open to other points of view and not being blinded by our own biases.
Critical thinking is useful for most activities associated with tertiary study, such as forming judgements in lectures and tutorials, and when reading, writing essays and assignments, making decisions and developing arguments.
Critical thinking involves various processes in the disciplines.
In science and technology it can include asking questions, identifying problems, describing, predicting, analysing, categorising and establishing cause and effect.
In the arts, social sciences and commerce it can include asking questions, identifying problems and solutions, relating theory to practice, stating an argument and supporting it with evidence, making comparisons and evaluating.
Logic: the study of correct and incorrect reasoning and the application of correct reasoning.
Argument: a group of statements or premises leading to a conclusion. If the premises are false or if the argument is invalid, the conclusion is likely to be incorrect
Premise: a beginning statement of an argument.
Deductive argument: one that arrives at a conclusion that is inherent in the premises. These arguments are either valid or invalid according to the correctness of the logic.
Inductive argument: one that examines the real world to find evidence towards a conclusion. (These are what are mostly used in writing essays in the arts and social sciences). Such arguments should be assessed according to whether they are weak or strong.
(Windschuttle & Elliot 1999)
Asking questions - and then answering them - is a central skill for critical analysis.
Start firstly by asking questions that relate to the context and the big picture of a text. Then ask questions about the author's argument and the evidence provided to support it. You should also consider the style of writing and how it affects the clarity with which the author's argument is presented.
These questions help to you identify the significance of a text:
These questions help you to judge the validity of the argument or the author's point of view:
These questions help you to examine how the language and the style of writing used can contribute to how clearly (or not) the author conveys the argument/point of view in a text:
In answering the questions you have posed about a text you will develop a body of useful insights and knowledge about it. You can then use this information in discussions, in tutorials, in your thinking and decision making, and in your academic writing.
Browne, M & Keeley, S 2001, Asking the right questions: a guide to critical thinking, 6th edn, Prentice-Hall, Upper Saddle River, N.J.
Windschuttle, K & Elliot, E 1999, Writing, researching, communicating: communication skills for the information age, 3rd edn, McGraw-Hill, Sydney.