Critical thinking is the basis of academic study at university level. To be critical in this context is not to be negative, but rather is to be investigative. Critical thinking is about the analysis and evaluation of information, i.e. moving from passive acceptance to asking questions of the information you are receiving, whether you are reading a book, journal article or sitting in a lecture.
Typical questions you need to ask should include:
Developing your critical thinking skills enables you to evaluate information. You can then compare and contrast various work published on a particular topic and develop your own academic argument to answer the assignments that you have.
After critically evaluating the literature on your chosen topic, you should apply critical thinking to your academic writing by asking similar questions of your own work.
Typical questions should include:
- Have I included all relevant points to answer the question set?
- Have I included examples and evidence for the arguments that I’m making?
- Am I presenting a logical, well-balanced argument based on the evidence described?
- Have I been able to identify gaps or weaknesses in the research?
- Have I concluded my arguments with a sensible and well-supported conclusion?
- Have I included suggestions for further research?
Remember that the person marking your work will be asking these questions!
All academic disciplines require students to think critically, but there may be variation in the style of analysis and evaluation that is required between different academic disciplines. Be guided by your tutors.
There is an excellent online resource regarding critical thinking developed by staff at Plymouth University as part of their online study skills tutorial Learning Development. Click here to view the critical thinking guide [PDF].
The Student Liaison Officers have produced a short handout regarding critical writing:
A selection of books available in the Library
By Sheila Cooper
By Stella Cottrell
By Roy van den Brink-Budgen
By Mike Metcalfe