If there is one thing professors like to see in student essays,
it is evidence of critical thinking. Students, however, often do
not know what critical thinking is, or what it looks like, or how
to do it, and so their essays are a form of learning by trial and
To be able to think critically about a topic, you must have
something to think about. Since critical thinking
requires a reasonable level of content knowledge, and since we
don't know specifically what you are working on, we can only
provide very general guidelines here.
The critical thinking process is a question-guided process.
Students often have difficulty in: asking appropriate question
about their topic; finding and/or developing appropriate answers
to those questions, and; presenting their findings in appropriate
Critical Thinking Guidelines
The following general procedure may help you ask and answer
questions about your material:
- Write down everything you know about the topic (a concept map is a useful format for
this). When you can't think of anything more, give yourself a few
minutes to look for details that you may have missed. Ask
yourself, "Is there anything else?" Be as inclusive as you can at
- Re-organize the material into categories or groupings, by
asking, "How do these things fit together? What elements are
related and how are they related? What general groupings are
- Ask, "What is the significance of all this? What can it be
used for? What are its implications? Is there anything that
doesn't fit, or that doesn't agree with the facts, or with other
theories on the topic, or with my personal experience?" You may
want to write an explanation of your answers in a paragraph.
Push Past Your Limits
Remember, when you are doing these activities, that the
interesting ideas are the ones you haven't thought of yet. Always
push yourself past the point at which you think you have said
everything that needs to be said. Always ask questions that you
can't answer, and always ask more questions than you can answer.
Don't Just Think -- Write
Write down every thought you have. There are a number of reasons
for this: you don't want to forget what you thought; you will be
able to retrace the steps you took to get an idea, so you can
learn to deliberately apply the same steps in the future when you
are faced with a similar problem; you will have a pile of raw
material with which to work -- good ideas often come from
apparently trivial or insignificant ideas. Also, you will find
that writing down ideas will encourage you to think more.
The strategies above might help you get started, but, as we
mentioned, critical thinking is one of those things that may be
most effectively addressed through individual help. If you get
stuck while you are working on an essay, for example, be sure to
appointment with David
Palmer-Stone. We can help you work through your difficulty,
then discuss the strategies we have used, with specific reference
to your own concerns.
We offer a free Essay Writing workshop periodically, which
presents strategies to foster critical thinking (an important
component of essay writing). Check our schedule for this term.
The Modular Learning Skills
Course contains information related to critical thinking,
particularly in the sections on reading, and essay writing. Four
modules cover the essay writing process.
Handouts and Books
In our Learning Library we have an excellent article by B.F.
Skinner entitled, How to Discover What You Have to Say
that many students have found helpful.
Also check out our library books on Concept