The critical thinking process is a phrase that we hear a lot these days, but what actually is it? It is about analysing and evaluating information from what we observe, read or experience. It guides further action and study, allowing us to progress further in our fields of expertise.
Work and academics expect us to think critically in all areas of our knowledge. We are constantly consuming information and are expected to use critical thinking skills to prioritise what’s important. It can be hard, though, to know exactly how to think critically. It can be daunting when we aren’t entirely sure what it is we need to do when thinking critically.
Once you have developed the habit, it is much easier to apply it in further analysis.
But first, you need to know the six steps of the critical thinking process.
Organise the information
When you have a lot of information in front of you, finding the important parts is all the more difficult. By organising the information into themes, groups and sources, you will be able to structure your thinking much more effectively.
Thinking thematically will allow you to structure your argument and conclusion. By visualising information in this way, you will see connections between information and sources to develop your thinking.
Evaluate Your Evidence
The key to a solid argument is solid evidence. A piece of evidence may seem key, but if the source is shaky then so is the argument.
Rank each piece of evidence by its defensibility and reliability of its source. Then, rank your evidence from most reputable to the least and then build your argument upon this basis.
Colour code the pieces of evidence you have with a traffic light system for how strong it is and what it offers your argument. Build your arguments around the strongest pieces of evidence and it will be both strong and professional.
What are the assumptions?
When reading through your evidence, analyse what the assumptions of the arguments are and their conclusions. Once you understand what each piece of evidence has to offer, you can then start building either side of your argument. Keep an eye out for inconsistencies in the argument which may weaken it, or become points to mention in your final communication.
The key to a strong argument is arguments which support your conclusions, as well as arguments which support your arguments.
Most conclusions will have a balanced argument with equal weight of evidence on either side, but your conclusion should have the strongest support.
Structure Your Reasoning
When you have a lot of information to present, it can be easy to throw everything together without a real structure. This can leave your final argument feeling unstructured and unprofessional. The way to avoid this is to properly structure your reasoning from your evidence and the conclusions you have drawn from it.
Map out your thoughts and reasoning, and how they connect to the final conclusion of your piece. Creating a flow of thought and argument toward the final conclusion will make it much easier to develop and argument and make your final piece much clearer.
Evaluate Your Arguments
Once you have evaluated other peoples’ arguments, it’s time to evaluate your own. Each line of argument you create will have a different strength to it. The strongest arguments should influence your conclusion the most and be the focal point of your piece. The weaker arguments should be mentioned, but do not require as much attention in your final communication.
As you develop your understanding, you may determine that some arguments should not be used in your final communication, but this is all a part of the critical thinking process.
Communicate Your Conclusion
The final step of the critical thinking process is to gather your arguments into a conclusive communication. Presenting your ideas in writing or as a verbal presentation is the crucial skill required of us by work or in academics.
When communicating your conclusion as an essay, ensure that it is properly structured and your arguments are organised in a clear and strategic way. Plan which arguments will come first and then follow with the strongest supporting arguments. Your conclusion should be clear and summarise the arguments you have made reference to.
If you are communicating your conclusion as a verbal presentation, be wary of how much time you have to present. Spend more time on the strongest arguments and give yourself plenty of time to practice the presentation beforehand.
During the process of critical thinking, it is essential to take your time and think your question through as fully as possible. Chances are, your conclusion may change as you go through the critical thinking process. So don’t be afraid to be a little flexible and creative with your thoughts.
There are a number of apps that can help you with critical thinking, but it is an essential skill to learn in our academic and professional lives. We hope that this structure will aid you in your critical thinking and make the process much less intimidating.
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