Critical thinking is an essential skill at university. It includes making judgements, forming your own opinions and developing your own arguments in response to classes and seminars, and during the reading and writing process. It involves 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:
- an awareness of a set of interrelated critical questions
- the ability to ask and answer critical questions at appropriate times
- the desire to actively use the critical questions.
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 seminars, in your thinking and decision making and in your academic writing.
Asking questions – and then answering them – is the foundation of critical analysis. Start by asking questions that relate to the context 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.
When we think critically, 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. Although critical thinking involves asking questions and identifying problems in all disciplines, there are different processes associated with science and the arts.
Understanding the terminology, which describes how we think critically, can help you to formulate arguments and organise your ideas in preparation for assignments.
|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 also likely to be incorrect.|
|Premise||A beginning statement of an argument.|
|Deductive argument||One that arrives at a conclusion that is inherent in the premise. 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)
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.