Chapter 42: Critical Thinking in Research
What are some critical thinking qualities to
identify or add?
A Toolbox of
Checklist of Critical Thinking Tools in
Recall, Comprehension, and
Analysis and Synthesis
Additional Resources and Activities
A range of good critical thinking skills are
important in research papers. "Critical thinking" is not negative
thinking; rather, it can be defined as a variety of thinking tools used to
thoroughly, logically, and creatively examine subjects. Below is a list of
critical thinking tools or skills found in most good research papers. They
are based on a very famous document, "Taxonomy of Thinking Skills" by Benjamin
Bloom. Can you identify by name what thinking tools and skills you are
already using? Can you see how you might add some of the ones you are not
using, or add more of the ones you aren't using very much?
A Toolbox of
What you need to develop as a good critical thinker
is your own "toolbox" of thinking tools. Try to imagine critical thinking
not just as something that is completed, like a final great idea or a finished
project. Instead, try to see critical thinking as a
series of tools that you collect and add to your toolbox of thinking
tools. These thinking tools are different methods you can take out of your
toolbox and use in many different situations and needs.
For example, when you hear the word "box," do you
imagine some kind of already boxed goods--a box with something in it? Or
do you picture yourself boxing something--making a box? Can you
picture yourself using basic steps of making a box, and applying this to a
number of situations? Once you can do this, you have changed from seeing
just one box to boxing things in general--boxing as a tool.
A similar example would be when you hear the word "analysis."
Do you imagine an analysis paper or analytical speech? Or do you
picture yourself analyzing something--making an
analysis? Can you picture yourself using basic steps of making an
analysis, and applying these steps to a number of situations? Once you can
do this, you have changed from seeing just one analysis to analyzing
things in general--analyzing as a tool.
In both of these examples, the more common way of
seeing--one final box or one final analysis--is just seeing a final result. But
seeing the process you can use in a number of situations is your thinking
tool: you can take out this process, or tool, and apply it anytime to a number
of potential situations.
When you have a thinking tool like this, it not only
can help you create results or products. It also can act as a means of
discovery. For example, you can apply the thinking tool of analysis to
figure out what a book, an article, a speech, or someone's complex action might
really mean. When you do this, you are thinking "heuristically." A
"heuristic" is a thinking tool that helps you discover or learn something.
In this way it is much like a screwdriver that you use to take something apart
to see how it works, or a knife that you use to cut into something to see what
is inside. This kind of thinking is "heuristic thinking." Your goal
in good critical thinking is to develop your own toolbox of heuristics--heuristic heuristic
tools--to help you find new ways to explore ideas, events, and people.
Below are some examples of common heuristic thinking tools.
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Checklist of Critical Thinking Tools in Good Research
Which of these ten types of heuristic thinking--from Bloom's six-point
"Taxonomy of Thinking Skills"--do you use in your paper?
How often do you use them: once in your paper, once every 2-3 pp., or on every page?
Comprehension, and Application":
Do you provide backgrounds,
summaries, or definitions of main ideas or subjects? (You may use
historical, cultural, social, intellectual, statistical, graphed, or other
explanations.) For example, write a summary
or background of an issue or book.
Do you use thorough, consistent
logic to prove your viewpoints? [You may use “induction” (use
specific facts to create a general idea) or “deduction” (use a general
idea to predict specific results).]
E.g., offer clear, logical steps for a cause,
effect, or conclusion.
Do you clarify the difference
between fact vs. opinion in main ideas? (You may use fact vs.
hypothesis, known/expected vs. unknown/unexpected, common knowledge vs.
E.g., differentiate the facts and the opinions
supporting an idea.
Do you clarify differences
between causal vs. correlational or parallel relationships? (You may
use cause-and-effect to explain one, and simple connection or parallelism
to explain the other.) E.g., describe
cause/effect, connection, or accident in two ideas’/subjects’
Do you consistently relate or
connect your points? (You may use comparison, connection, or
similarity, or show how they function or occur similarly.)
E.g., use transition words well to connect
Bloom's "Analysis and Synthesis":
Do you show clearly how ideas may
be opposite or different? (You may use contrast, dissimilarity,
limits, opposition, or other difference.)
E.g., use transition words well to show/explain differences between ideas.
Do you explain important
exceptions or alternatives to your ideas? (You may use realistic
exceptions/alternatives, or unrealistic ones that some may mistakenly
assume are true.) E.g., show a good or bad
way of believing or acting that some people use (and explain whether it
Do you synthesize or suggest
original, unique, or unusual ideas? (You may offer completely new,
little known, unusual, or revised ideas.)
E.g., show a new possible result at the end of the paper or a body
Do you use supporting proofs
for your ideas? (For proofs you may use physical fact, sufficient
circumstantial evidence, deductive probabilities, inductive possibilities,
and/or experiences.) E.g., use quotations,
charts, or personal experiences to prove an idea may be true.
Do you evaluate differences of opinion about ideas? (You may offer
offer +'s and –'s; explain competing alternatives; or use phrases like
"the other side of," "on the other hand," "it may be possible," etc.)
E.g., show the thinking of two opposing sides.
Do you evaluate your own thinking or conclusions? (You may state
the +’s and –‘s, quality or lack of it, or good and bad points of your
own thinking or results. E.g., evaluate your
thinking/conclusions and/or offer differing possibilities or outcomes at
the end of the paper or each section.
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Additional Resources & Activities
Critical Thinking in General:
Individual Types of Critical Thinking:
"Providing Deeper Explanation," "Offering
New Evidence," and "Working with Audience Bias": See
Processes" in the "Advanced" part of the chapter called "Disagreeing with a Reading."
"Types of Analysis": See "Types
of Analysis" in the "Basics" part and "Advanced
Types of Analysis" in the "Advanced" part of the chapter
"Analyzing a Reading."
Thinking Activities & Exercises:
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