Critical Thinking

critical-thinkingCritical thinking is an important part of essay writing. When you’re writing an essay, you’re talking critically about a subject–which doesn’t mean you’re criticizing something or someone; rather, it means that you’re questioning, discussing, and analyzing from different angles.

You need to think critically about your own position, as well as the positions others take–you need to have a reason for writing. It’s not enough to simply have an opinion, you need to be able to explain why your opinion matters. That’s a big step in going from adequate essays to really sparkling ones.

One way to practice this is to read other works critically; ask questions as you’re reading. The next time you have a text you need to respond to, read it closely. Read it more than once. Write notes in the margins that let you remember your reactions after the fact. Read it carefully, the writer had a reason for writing this, try to figure it out. Look for common ground–where do you agree with the writer? These can be good jumping-off points for your response it’s rare that two people are entirely, 100%, in opposition.

Once you’ve found the common ground, use your critical thinking to start questioning and challenging what the author wrote. Debate the author. Figure out where the idea came from, and what biases the author is showing by backing a certain position. Is there interesting information–anything new you weren’t aware of presented? Is the argument convincing? Is the logic the author uses sound, or does the author make leaps of assumptions that don’t hold up? Does the author consider opposing views? If so, is the author’s perspective fair to those opposing views, or dismissive?

Then, start writing as you read. If your notes or text look clean after you’re done reading, go back and do it again! Use post-it notes if you can’t write in the book itself this allows you to write comments and questions down immediately. Often, when I’m reading, I’m sure I have a good topic for an essay. But then I go to write it down and it’s all left my head! By having these notes everywhere, I’m able to better recollect my thoughts when I sit down to write later. Remember that other readers will use their critical thinking skills when they read what you turn in as a final draft. Maybe it’s just your professor, or maybe it’s a wider audience.

One way or another, those same critical thinking steps you took–the searching for common ground, for bias, for new information will be applied to your own text. Knowing that beforehand, you can take steps accordingly. If you can’t figure out why you chose a certain topic, or if you can’t see the steps between point A and point B in your argument, you can go back and help change these things before you turn in your final draft.

Using critical thinking while you are preparing for and writing your essays will really help your writing in the long run.

photo credit: jean-louis zimmermann via photopin cc

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