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Critical thinking

guidance on critical thinking for researchers

Research Cycle - Gather & Analyse

Something missing?

Man standing on a beach thinking -Sometimes when you look at all the things that researchers should be doing it seems as if something important at the heart of it all might be missing.  There are so many activities to be performed, and yet surely a lot of the time researchers ought to spend time just   -


Thinking and reflection are of course integral components of all the ongoing activities, such as evaluation, research data collection and statistical analysis.  But perhaps there is a danger they can get buried under all the advice on methods and scientific techniques that can be used; and yet reading and thinking may be the major part of what some researchers actually do.

Perhaps there could be benefit in stopping to take stock of your position every now and then to check that your thinking is on target.  Critical thinking techniques may be able to help you with this.

Critical thinking

Critical thinking as a term is all about applying reasoning and judgement to your arguments.  It's about making sure you've asked yourself all the the possible awkward questions, so that you can be sure your reasoning is watertight, and that you have not allowed any personal bias or mistaken thinking to creep in.  It can help you decide what is relevant to your study, and what can safely be left out, and help you decide whether your ideas are valid. It's important to collect enough suitable material to provide good evidence to allow you to make a reliable evalution.

At the simplest level it's a matter of using your common sense and being objective, but it might be something you want to pursue further, depending on your subject area.  If your arguments are complex or radical, you might want to learn more about logic to make sure you are not going astray.  There are various tools you can use for reasoning and presenting your arguments, e.g. inductive or deductive reasoning.

And of course it's about developing good habits as well  -  patience and thoroughness are essential, but you also need to cultivate a critical, inquiring mind and a sense for new avenues that might be worth exploring.

Here are some views on what Critical thinking is:

Clickable Link to a YouTube video by Gary Meegan on What is Critical Thinking  Gary Meegan: What is Critical Thinking? A Definition (YouTube)


Clickable Link to a YouTube video by Geoff Pynn, Critical Thinking fundumentals introduction to critical thinking  Geoff Pynn: CRITICAL THINKING - Fundamentals: Introduction to Critical Thinking (YouTube)

Ideas for improving your critical thinking

  • Keep notes on the development of your thought and arguments as your research progresses.
  • Keep critical thinking in mind in your Personal Development Plan and reflective processes.
  • Read some books on the theory of your subject.
  • Find some textbooks via LibrarySearch on some of the following - there are e-books available, or you can try these areas in the library
    • Critical thinking   - try looking for books around 160 and 153
    • Logic  - try books around 160
    • Presenting academic arguments  -  try books around 808.02 or 808.042
    • Reflective practice -  try 808.066

The Vitae website section on Knowledge and intellectual abilities contains a number of resources that can help with all of this– check out these sections:

Cognitive abilities    –    analysing / synthesising / critical thinking / evaluating / problem solving

Creativity  -  Inquiring mind / Intellectual insight / Innovation / Argument construction / Intellectual risk