Let’s get critical
During my undergraduate, my essays usually followed a similar structure:
First, find a subject that I was passionate enough to write 2,000 plus words on, then hunt a sufficient number of quotes or references, to support my main points.
Finally, tidy it all up into a nice conclusion that relates back to the main argument.
Surely this simple formula would be sufficient enough for my Masters degree right?
Yet only a few days into my course, I realised that my old approach just wouldn’t make the grade. My tutors emphasised the need to critically read and appraise work. What did this even mean – did they just want me to be super negative about everything?!
Gradually, I am beginning to learn that critical thinking is far from that – it is a rich, complex and satisfying process.
Being critical does not mean pointing out the pitfalls of a study. Instead, critical thinking and writing means being fully informed; carrying out in-depth analysis and assessments; seeing how things could be further researched or improved and also praising work that inspires.
It’s been a shock to the system, and has challenged my sloppy academic practices, but I am discovering how rewarding critical writing can be. Did I just admit to that?! It’s encouraging me not to accept everything I read on face value, and instead, to critique, evaluate and judge work from an objective point of view. A questioning ‘critical’ approach is fundamental to everything you do. Remember you’re not simply a sponge, soaking up information, and regurgitating back facts to prove to your tutors that you’ve got this.
Critical thinking and writing doesn’t just help boost grades, it can also be beneficial for other things, such as…
Improving future prospects
Critical level thinking and reasoning isn’t just for university; much of your learning at university is designed to enable you to develop the skills you need for life and work would you believe it?! Strategic planning, problem solving, weighing up the pros and cons of a project and evaluating processes, all require that critical level of judgement. Critical thinking now will benefit your future!
Not believing everything you read
I am also learning that a piece of published work, no matter how many impressive references it has woven into it, or a study that has over a 1000 participants, isn’t always reputable. Don’t always believe everything you read in the news, or even in a journal from your favourite writer! There are always differing viewpoints to consider, another perspective to challenge your own beliefs and preconceived ideas. So next time you watch the news, or read the headlines of The Daily Mail – ask yourself is this accurate? Is there another side to the story?
Being critical keeps me inquisitive. The further I delve into texts and studies, the more I genuinely want to find out. Research should end with more questions than it does answer; research is constantly evolving and developing. Being critical will leave you burning with questions, and keep you asking questions of yourself, the world around you and others. To become an effective researcher, you also need to be able to find information that is relevant to your topic, and that you judge to be of sufficient quality to help you build your argument. To do this, you will need to go beyond the reading list provided by your tutors, and look for other sources of information yourself.
Being critical looks for gaps in research, and helps me to look outside of the box, not just relying on someone else’s facts and figures. It suggests different ideas or approaches, and encourages me to consider my own unique way of doing things, and how I could adapt my way of thinking or even contribute to research in the future!
Appreciates others opinions
Critical thinking enables me to appreciate and understand the values and opinions of others without judgement or subjectivity. Viewpoints and meanings that had never occurred to me come alive when I see through a critical lens.
To summarise, critical analysis is not just for academic studies or throw away terminology. It is incredibly beneficial and rewarding for both professional and personal growth.