Developing Critical Thinking, Reading and Writing for Your Research Project

Critical Thinking, Reading and Writing

Criticality is vital to producing high quality work at university, combining critical thinking, reading and writing. Many final year research projects explicitly specify criticality. You should assume all such work implicitly requires criticality, even where it is not directly requested. Criticality is: “Active, persistent and careful consideration of a belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the grounds which support it and the further conclusions to which it tends”. Dewey, 1909.

Developing Critical Thinking, Reading and Writing for Your Research Project

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This requires both the:

(1) Understanding of what is required and skills to do this. These can be taught.

(2) Personal attitude, disposition, willingness… which may be hard to teach.

Core characteristics of criticality

1. Identify elements in a reasoned case.
2. Identify and evaluate assumptions, bias, point of view.
3. Clarify and interpret ideas, paradigms, concepts, observations, information.
4. Judge the credibility of claims and evidence.
5. Analyse, evaluate and create explanations.
6. Draw inferences and consequences, implications, options, risks.
7. Evaluate the arguments and reach a judgement.

Advice on writing critically.

• Intro: Scope and stakes. How big an issue is it and why does it matter?

• Bullet proof evidence for main claims, in logical sequence.

• Build arguments, with a visible structure, rock solid links (rather than separate literature leaving the reader to join the dots).

• Diverse, contested, nuanced argument, understanding contradictory points of view.

• Distinguish fact and opinion.

• Contemporary literature. Likely to include “early view” type journal publication.,(don’t forget classic papers and history of ideas too).

• Critique knowledge, unveil new approaches, follow up with suggestions of new developments.

• Be reflexive, aware of your opinions and assumptions. Include them, rooted firmly in wider evidence.

• Reach a conclusion, based on the evidence.

Summary of critical thinking exploration from geography & environment staff, differentiating critical skills from personal attributes and qualities.

Personal Attitude

Critical

Balanced strengths/weaknesses, deep learning, thinking outside the box, lateral thinking, opinions expressed, depth linked to breadth, wide reading, facts vs the claim to truth, engagement, persistent, discursive, inquisitive, questioning, “but why?”, novel , original, considered, unaccepting, self-confident, confident to fail/try, bravery, risk taking, opinionated, assertive, autonomy, personal and political, maturity, motivation.

Uncritical

Keeping it safe, the whisper net, copy cat, accepting of everything that is written, being unsure/lacking confidence in own opinions, not interested, acceptance of lecture notes, superficial, surface learning, reliance on description

Critical Skills

Critical

Critical reading, evidence, debate, confidence to challenge, fit for purpose, engage with current affairs, literature based, argument not solely based on facts, good quality sources, making connections, multiple positions, synthesis , widely read, transfer of knowledge, challenging convention, review, assimilate, evaluate, contextualise, analysis, thesis, antithesis, reflection, challenging the evidence.

Uncritical

Following lab scripts, poor time management, arguments unresolved, pigeon-holing knowledge, use of abstracts not whole paper, descriptive, waffle, poor contextualisation, out dated text books dominate, one dimensional, rote learning, passengers, school spoon feed, regurgitating notes, facts, lists

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