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WHAT IS CRITICAL THINKING?
Before beginning a critical thinking essay it’s a good idea to come up to speed on critical thinking and what it is. The process of thinking critically begins with an open mind. It’s quite alright to already have an opinion on an issue but you must be willing to at least consider objectively ideas that differ from your own.
o I hate talk shows where people shout their opinions but never give any reasons at all.
o Figuring out what people really mean by what they say is important to me.
o I always do better in jobs where I'm expected to think things out for myself.
o I hold off making decisions until I have thought through my options.
o Rather than relying on someone else's ideas, I prefer to read the material myself.
o I try to see the merit in another’s opinion, even if I reject it later.
o Even if a problem is tougher than I expected, I will keep working on it.
o Making intelligent decisions is more important than winning arguments.
o I prefer jobs where the supervisor says exactly what to do and exactly how to do it.
o No matter how complex the problem, you can bet there will be a simple solution.
o I don't waste time looking things up.
o I hate when teachers discuss problems instead of just giving the answers.
o If my belief is truly sincere, evidence to the contrary is irrelevant.
o Selling an idea is like selling cars, you say whatever works.
Read Peter Facione's Critical Thinking: What It Is and Why It Counts, especially pages 4-6. [It's a PDF and loads slowly.]
Developing the ability to think critically can be difficult because it is easier to make hasty judgments based on opinions and biases than it is to evaluate facts and arguments. For example, your friends might think that the death penalty is just, and you might also think so just because your friends do. Without hearing any arguments to the contrary, your viewpoint, based solely on the opinions of others, would be weak.
The approaches to life and living which characterize critical thinking include the following.
The best way to develop critical thinking is to write. Writing forces you to organize your thoughts, contemplate your topic, evaluate your data in a logical fashion and present your conclusions in a persuasive manner. Good writing is the epitome of good critical thinking. Writing promotes critical thinking by requiring you to acquire, synthesize and logically analyze information, and then present this information and your conclusions in written form.
WHAT IS A CRITICAL THINKING ESSAY?
Many college assignments require you to support a thesis. The concept of a critical thinking essay is that you start without an end in mind. You don't necessarily know how you feel about a subject or what you want to say about the subject … you allow the research and your own thinking to determine the outcome. This is writing to learn rather than writing to prove what you know.
The critical thinking essay has you look at and contribute to a range of arguments rather than just one at a time. Critical thinking essays consider the strengths and weaknesses of various solutions to a problem or various answers to a question. It requires thinking ... not information reporting.
The critical thinking essay starts with a question, not a thesis. Your essay shows how your thinking changes as you research a topic. For example, when you begin researching capital punishment, you may be in favor of the death penalty because it is a deterrent. Then you may find some studies that question whether it has a deterrent effect and that may influence your thinking. You don't have to know what you think about your topic when you start writing your critical thinking essay.
CRITICAL THINKING ESSAY FORMAT
Essays are shorter pieces of writing. Therefore, essays are (by nature) concise and require you to be clear and to the point. This means that there is no room for your thoughts to wander or stray … you must be deliberate and stay on topic.
Perhaps it is helpful to think of an essay in terms of a conversation or debate with a classmate. If you and I were discussing whether or not there should be a death penalty in the US, there would be a beginning, middle and end to our conversation. As with a conversation, your essay must be complete, and logically so, leaving no doubt as to your intent or argument. However - again, think of this as a conversation - your essay shouldn't be formal. Remember, you're talking about your ideas and thought processes ... don't try to do that in third person!
To help you stay on topic, your critical thinking essay should be organized in keeping with the outline below.
ADDITIONAL WRITING AND INFORMATION RESOURCES