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Critical thinking vs analytical thinking:

Critical thinking vs analytical thinking: The differences and similarities

The ability to think clearly and make informed decisions is paramount to life. This article delves deep into the realms of analytical thinking and critical thinking, shedding light on their differences and how they complement each other. By understanding these thinking styles, you’ll be better equipped to tackle complex problems, evaluate information, and make well-informed decisions. Let’s dive in!

Introduction to Analytical and Critical Thinking

Analytical and critical thinking are two skills essential for solving problems and making decisions in various aspects of life. While both involve the use of logic and reasoning, they differ in their approach and outcomes. Analytical thinking involves breaking down complex information into smaller parts, while critical thinking involves taking a holistic view and evaluating information from different angles. Analytical thinking involves the ability to dissect a problem or situation into its individual components and examining each part separately. It requires careful observation and the ability to identify patterns and relationships. This type of thinking is essential for tasks such as data analysis, problem-solving, and troubleshooting.

Critical thinking vs analytical thinking:

Critical thinking, on the other hand, involves the ability to assess information objectively, evaluate its credibility, and make logical judgments. It involves questioning assumptions, examining evidence, and considering different perspectives. Critical thinking is crucial for making informed decisions, weighing pros and cons, and avoiding biases and fallacies.

Both analytical and critical thinking complement each other and are necessary for effective problem-solving and decision-making. Analytical thinking provides a structured and systematic approach to understanding complex problems , while critical thinking helps evaluate different options and make sound judgments.

Developing analytical and critical thinking skills can greatly benefit individuals in various aspects of life. In academia, these skills are necessary for understanding and interpreting complex subjects, conducting research, and writing analytical essays. In the workplace, analytical and critical thinking skills are highly valued by employers as they enable employees to solve problems efficiently and make informed decisions. In daily life, these skills are essential for evaluating information, distinguishing between fact and opinion, and making rational choices.

There are various ways to improve analytical and critical thinking skills. Engaging in activities that require logical reasoning, such as puzzles, brain teasers, and mathematical problems, can help develop analytical thinking abilities. Reading diverse sources of information, questioning assumptions, and actively seeking different perspectives can enhance critical thinking skills . Additionally, engaging in debates, discussions, and problem-solving exercises can promote both analytical and critical thinking.

Analytical and critical thinking skills are essential for problem-solving and decision-making in various aspects of life. They involve breaking down complex information and evaluating it from different angles. Developing these skills can lead to more effective problem-solving, informed decision-making, and overall improved cognitive abilities. 

Traits of an Analytical Thinker

An analytical thinker is one who is adept at breaking down complex problems into smaller parts. This type of thinking is linear and involves analyzing cause and effect relationships. Analytical thinking uses logic and reasoning to come to a conclusion, often relying on data and facts. Some key traits of an analytical thinker include:

  • The ability to dissect complex information into smaller pieces.
  • A knack for recognizing patterns and relationships.
  • A methodical approach to problem-solving.

What Does It Mean to Think Critically?

Critical thinking, on the other hand, is a type of higher-order thinking that requires a more holistic approach. Critical thinkers are often skeptical, questioning the validity of information before accepting it. They are adept at evaluating information from various sources and are not easily swayed by outside information. Key aspects of critical thinking include :

  • The ability to form an opinion based on evidence.
  • Considering multiple perspectives before making a decision.
  • Recognizing biases and challenging one’s own assumptions.

Analytical Thinking vs Critical Thinking: The Major Differences

While both analytical and critical thinking are essential for solving problems, they differ in several key ways:

  • Approach : Analytical thinking is more linear and focuses on breaking down complex information into smaller parts. Critical thinking, however, is holistic and looks at the bigger picture.
  • Use of Information : Analytical thinkers rely heavily on facts and data, while critical thinkers use facts in conjunction with other pieces of information and perspectives.
  • Outcome : Analytical thinking often leads to a single logical conclusion, whereas critical thinking might result in multiple potential solutions or outcomes.

analytical vs critical thinking examples

The Processes: Analytical Thinking Process vs Critical Thinking Process

Both styles of thinking have distinct processes:

  • Analytical Thinking Process : Starts with gathering data, followed by breaking down complex problems, analyzing the cause and effect relationships, and finally drawing a conclusion.
  • Critical Thinking Process : Begins with gathering diverse pieces of information, evaluating their validity, considering various perspectives, and finally forming an opinion or decision.

Using Analytical and Critical Thinking in Real Life Scenarios

In real-life scenarios, these thinking styles can be applied in various ways. For instance, when faced with a business decision, an analytical thinker might focus on the numbers and statistics, while a critical thinker might consider the potential impact on employees, company culture, and external stakeholders.

Analytical thinking can be particularly useful when analyzing financial data and making data-driven decisions. For example, a business owner might use analytical thinking to analyze the company’s financial statements and determine the profitability and financial health of the business. They might examine key financial ratios, such as return on investment or gross profit margin, to assess the efficiency and effectiveness of various business operations.

On the other hand, critical thinking can be applied when evaluating different options and considering the potential consequences of each option. For example, when considering a potential business expansion, a critical thinker may explore the potential impact on existing employees, the company’s culture, and the external stakeholders. They may assess the potential risks and benefits of the expansion, considering factors such as increased competition, resource allocation, and market demand.

Analytical and critical thinking can also be applied in personal decision-making. For example, when considering a major life decision such as buying a house or changing careers, analytical thinking can help weigh the financial implications, such as the monthly mortgage payments or future earning potential. Critical thinking can help evaluate the potential impact on personal goals, values, and overall satisfaction.

In everyday life, analytical thinking can be useful when evaluating product options or making purchasing decisions. For example, comparing different phone models based on features, specifications, and customer reviews can help individuals make an informed choice. Critical thinking can be applied when assessing the potential consequences of a decision, such as considering the long-term environmental impact of a product or the ethical practices of a particular company.

Both analytical and critical thinking are valuable skills in problem-solving. They can help individuals identify the root causes of a problem, analyze potential solutions, and evaluate their effectiveness. Whether it’s troubleshooting a technical issue, resolving a conflict, or devising strategies to improve personal or professional performance, these thinking styles can be instrumental in finding effective solutions. 

Analytical and Critical Thinking in Problem-Solving

Problem-solving requires a combination of both analytical and critical thinking. Analytical thinking helps break the problem into manageable parts, while critical thinking helps in evaluating potential solutions and considering their implications.

The Importance of Combining Both Thinking Styles

While both styles are powerful on their own, combining analytical and critical thinking skills can lead to more robust solutions. This combination allows for a thorough analysis of a problem while also considering the broader implications and potential consequences of a decision.

Mistakes to Avoid: Misconceptions about Analytical and Critical Thinking

Many assume that analytical thinking and critical thinking are one and the same, but this is a misconception. It’s important to recognize their distinct differences and strengths. Another common mistake is over-relying on one style and neglecting the other, leading to potential oversights in decision-making.

analytical vs critical thinking examples

Key Takeaways: The Future of Analytical and Critical Thinking

In summary, here are the most important things to remember:

  • Distinct yet Complementary : While analytical and critical thinking have distinct processes and outcomes, they are complementary and can be used together for more effective decision-making.
  • Real-world Applications : Both styles are essential in various aspects of life, from business decisions to personal choices.
  • Continuous Learning : As the world becomes more complex, honing both analytical and critical thinking skills will be crucial for success.

Embrace both styles of thinking and watch as your decision-making skills, problem-solving abilities, and overall understanding of complex situations improve dramatically.

Q: What is the difference between critical thinking and analytical thinking?

A: Critical thinking and analytical thinking are similar thinking skills, but there are some differences between the two. Critical thinking involves gathering information, evaluating and interpreting it, and then making a judgment or decision based on that information. Analytical thinking, on the other hand, focuses more on breaking down complex problems into smaller components, analyzing the relationships between these components, and coming up with solutions based on this analysis. So while both skills involve a logical and systematic approach to thinking, critical thinking is more focused on making judgments and decisions, whereas analytical thinking is more focused on problem-solving and analysis.

Q: How do I use critical thinking in everyday life?

A: Critical thinking is a valuable skill that can be applied in various aspects of everyday life. To use critical thinking, you need to approach situations and problems with an open and questioning mind. This involves challenging your own assumptions and beliefs, gathering and evaluating information from different sources, considering alternative perspectives, and making informed decisions based on evidence and logical reasoning. By using critical thinking, you can enhance your problem-solving skills, improve your decision-making abilities , and think more creatively and independently.

Q: How do I use analytical thinking in my professional life?

A: Analytical thinking is an important skill in many professional fields. To use analytical thinking, you need to be able to break down complex problems or tasks into smaller parts, analyze the relationships between these parts, and come up with logical and well-reasoned solutions. This involves gathering and evaluating relevant data, identifying patterns or trends, and using logical reasoning to draw conclusions. By using analytical thinking, you can improve your problem-solving and decision-making abilities, demonstrate a logical and organized approach to your work, and effectively communicate your analysis and solutions to others.

Q: Can critical thinking and analytical thinking be used together?

A: Yes, critical thinking and analytical thinking are complementary skills that can be used together. Both skills involve a systematic and logical approach to thinking, and they can reinforce each other in problem-solving and decision-making processes. Critical thinking provides the framework for evaluating and interpreting information, while analytical thinking provides the tools for breaking down complex problems and finding solutions. By using both skills together, you can enhance your ability to think critically and analytically, make more informed decisions, and solve problems more effectively.

Q: What are the differences between analytical reasoning and critical thinking?

A: Analytical reasoning and critical thinking are related skills that involve a logical and systematic approach to thinking. However, there are some differences between the two. Analytical reasoning is more focused on the process of breaking down complex problems or arguments, identifying logical relationships between different elements, and drawing conclusions based on this analysis. Critical thinking, on the other hand, is a broader skill that involves evaluating and interpreting information, questioning assumptions and biases, and making judgments or decisions based on evidence and logical reasoning. While analytical reasoning is an important part of critical thinking, critical thinking encompasses a wider range of cognitive processes and skills.

Q: How can I develop and improve my analytical thinking skills?

A: To develop and improve your analytical thinking skills, you can engage in activities that stimulate your logical and problem-solving abilities. This may involve practicing with puzzles and brainteasers, analyzing case studies or real-life scenarios, participating in debates or discussions, learning and applying different analytical frameworks or models, and seeking feedback on your analytical thinking from others. Additionally, you can also cultivate your analytical thinking skills by staying curious, asking thoughtful questions, and continuously seeking new knowledge and perspectives. With practice and perseverance, you can enhance your analytical thinking abilities and become a more effective problem solver and decision maker.

Q: How can I become a critical thinker?

A: Becoming a critical thinker requires a conscious effort to develop and refine your thinking skills. Here are some steps you can take to become a critical thinker : 1. Cultivate intellectual humility and open-mindedness: Be willing to consider alternative viewpoints and challenge your own assumptions and beliefs. 2. Develop strong analytical and reasoning skills: Learn to gather and evaluate evidence, identify logical fallacies, and draw logical and well-supported conclusions. 3. Practice active listening and effective communication: Listen attentively to others’ perspectives, ask thoughtful questions, and communicate your own ideas clearly and persuasively. 4. Seek out diverse sources of information: Expose yourself to different perspectives and viewpoints to broaden your understanding and avoid bias. 5. Reflect and evaluate your own thinking: Regularly reflect on your own thinking processes, identify any biases or logical gaps, and work on improving your critical thinking skills.

Q: What role does critical thinking play in problem-solving?

A: Critical thinking is a fundamental skill in problem-solving. It helps you approach problems with a logical and systematic mindset, evaluate potential solutions, and make informed decisions. Critical thinking allows you to gather and analyze relevant information, identify patterns or trends, consider different perspectives or alternatives, weigh the pros and cons, and choose the most effective solution. By using critical thinking in problem-solving, you can enhance your ability to find creative and innovative solutions, overcome obstacles, and make well-informed decisions that are based on sound reasoning and evidence.

Q: Why is critical thinking important?

A: Critical thinking is important because it enables you to think independently, make informed decisions, solve problems effectively, and evaluate information and arguments critically. In a rapidly changing and complex world, critical thinking allows you to navigate through information overload, identify biases or misinformation, and make sense of a wide range of conflicting information. It also helps you develop a deep understanding of concepts and ideas, construct well-reasoned arguments, and communicate your thoughts effectively. In both personal and professional contexts, critical thinking is a valuable skill that empowers you to be a more effective and successful individual.

Q: How does analytical thinking contribute to problem-solving?

A: Analytical thinking is a key component of problem-solving. It involves breaking down complex problems into smaller components, analyzing the relationships between these components, and identifying patterns or trends. Analytical thinking helps you understand the underlying causes of problems, explore different possible solutions, and evaluate their feasibility and effectiveness. By using analytical thinking, you can approach problems in a structured and systematic way, make well-informed decisions, and find creative and innovative solutions. Analytical thinking provides a solid foundation for problem-solving, enabling you to effectively address challenges and find solutions in various domains.

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analytical vs critical thinking examples

Critical Thinking vs Analytical Thinking: What’s the Difference?

What is critical thinking, what is analytical thinking, traits of critical thinkers, traits of analytical thinkers, for example, why are critical thinking and analytical skills important, how to develop a critical thinking and analytical mind , critical thinking vs analytical thinking faqs.

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  • Curious:  They possess a natural curiosity and an insatiable desire to learn and understand. They constantly ask questions and seek deeper knowledge.
  • Structured Problem-Solving :  Analytical thinkers approach problems systematically. They break down complex issues into smaller, manageable components for thorough analysis.
  • Data-driven:  They rely on data and evidence to support their conclusions. Data analysis is a key aspect of their decision-making process.
  • Critical Evaluation:  They critically assess the quality and reliability of information sources. They are discerning about the credibility of data.
  • Logical Reasoning:  They employ logical reasoning to connect facts and deduce insights. Their arguments are based on sound logic.

analytical vs critical thinking examples

  • Questioning Attitude:  Critical thinkers question assumptions, statements, and conventional wisdom. They challenge ideas to seek deeper understanding.
  • Open-Minded:  They maintain an open mind, considering multiple perspectives and being receptive to new information.
  • Problem-Solving:  Critical thinkers approach problems by examining all angles, evaluating evidence, and identifying the best possible solutions.
  • Inquisitive:  They have a natural curiosity and an appetite for knowledge. They are motivated to dig deeper into subjects.
  • Emotional Intelligence :  They are attuned to emotions, both their own and those of others. This awareness helps them understand human behavior and reactions.

Critical Thinking vs Analytical Thinking for Managers

  • A retail store manager might use analytical thinking skills to analyze sales data to identify patterns and trends. For example, they might examine sales data to determine which products are selling well and at what times of day or year. They might then use this information to adjust inventory levels, schedule staff, or develop marketing campaigns to capitalize on trends. 
  • A manager might use analytical thinking skills to analyze financial data to identify cost savings or revenue growth opportunities. For example, they might analyze expense data to identify areas where costs are higher than expected and develop strategies to reduce them. They might also analyze sales data to identify opportunities to expand into new markets or increase revenue from existing customers. 
  • A manager might use critical thinking skills to evaluate competing proposals for a new project. For example, they might consider each proposal based on feasibility, cost, the potential impact on the organization, and alignment with its strategic goals. They might then use this evaluation to make an informed decision about which proposal to pursue. 
  • A manager might use critical thinking skills to evaluate the performance of individual employees or teams. For example, they might evaluate employee performance based on factors such as productivity, quality of work, and adherence to company policies and procedures. They might then use this evaluation to decide on promotions, training, development, or disciplinary action. 
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  • Effective problem-solving: Critical thinking and analytical skills are essential for identifying, analyzing, and solving complex problems. By breaking down problems into smaller parts and evaluating each part objectively, individuals can develop effective solutions to complex problems .
  • Improved decision-making: Critical thinking and analytical skills help individuals make well-informed decisions by evaluating and synthesizing information from multiple sources. By objectively assessing information, individuals can make decisions based on evidence rather than biases or emotions.
  • Increased creativity: Analytical thinking skills can help individuals identify patterns and connections between seemingly unrelated pieces of information, leading to creative problem-solving and innovative solutions.
  • Better communication: Critical thinking skills help individuals evaluate the quality of arguments and evidence presented by others, leading to more transparent and effective communication .
  • Success in the workplace: Employers value critical thinking and analytical skills because they enable individuals to be more effective problem-solvers and decision-makers, leading to better business outcomes and increased success.

analytical vs critical thinking examples

  • Ask questions: Ask questions to clarify information, evaluate evidence, and challenge assumptions. This helps you better understand the information and think more critically about it.
  • Seek out diverse perspectives: Engage with people who have different backgrounds and experiences from your own. This helps you to see problems from different angles and gain new insights.
  • Evaluate sources: Practice evaluating the credibility of sources, such as news articles or research studies. This helps you develop a critical eye and avoid being swayed by false information.
  • Practice active listening: When engaging in conversation, try to listen to others and truly understand their perspectives. This helps you to evaluate information objectively and avoid making assumptions.
  • Practice problem-solving: Regularly engage in problem-solving activities like puzzles or brain teasers. This helps you to develop your analytical skills and practice thinking creatively.
  • Practice analyzing data: Analyze data from different sources and identify patterns or trends. This helps you to develop your analytical skills and practice thinking critically about information.
  • Reflect on your thinking: Regularly reflect on your thinking processes and evaluate how you approach problems or make decisions. This helps you identify improvement areas and develop better critical thinking habits.
  • Seek feedback: Ask for feedback from others on your critical thinking and analytical skills. This helps you to identify areas where you can improve and develop new strategies for thinking more critically.
  • Practice decision-making: Practice decision making based on evidence and logical reasoning rather than emotions or biases. This helps you to develop more effective decision-making skills.
  • Engage in a debate: Participate in debates or discussions where you are challenged to defend your position and evaluate opposing arguments. This helps you to practice critical thinking and develop more effective communication skills.

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analytical vs critical thinking examples

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Analytical thinking: what it is and why it matters more than ever

January 30, 2024

analytical vs critical thinking examples

Welcome back to our high-impact workplace skills series. We really enjoyed the conversations happening in the comments section of last week’s top skills of 2023 issue, so be sure to check those out for perspectives and insights from fellow members of our Career Chat community.

One comment that’s been on our mind came from Kendra Vivian Lewis , who asked some thoughtful questions about the comparative importance of workplace and technical skills and if there’s a way to forecast which skills will be important in the coming years. This week’s topic—analytical thinking, the number one skill on the list—is a great example as we explore both questions. Be sure to read to the end to discover a special offer that we’re running on Coursera Plus subscriptions through September 21.

What it means to think analytically

Analytical thinking involves using data to understand problems, identify potential solutions, and suggest the solution that’s most likely to have the desired impact. It’s similar to critical thinking skills , which are the skills you use to interpret information and make decisions.

In order to succeed as a strong analytical thinker, you also need to have strong technical skills in your field. Remember: technical skills describe the things you do, while workplace skills describe how you do them. So your workplace skills, used effectively, enhance your technical skills. That’s why we consider them to be high-impact—they stand to make your work more impactful than it would have been had you only used your technical skills.

To illustrate, suppose you just started a job as a data analyst for a think tank focused on climate change, and you’ve been tasked with raising community engagement in future climate action efforts.

You might start with your technical data analysis skills as you gather data from a few sources. Then, you’ll use your analytical thinking skills to determine the validity of each data source. Perhaps you’ll discard one source when you learn the research was funded by a firm with a financial stake in fossil fuel consumption. Your technical skills lead again as you clean data, and then you’ll return to your analytical thinking skills to analyze and interpret your findings, ultimately leading to your recommendation to start a transparency campaign to display water and energy use in the community.

Tell us in the comments: How do you use your analytical skills alongside your technical skills in your day-to-day work?

Why analytical skills top the list

To develop the skills list, the World Economic Forum surveyed 800+ global employers on their views of skills and jobs over the next five years, so this list is forward-looking. According to the Future of Jobs Report , employers believe analytical thinking skills will grow in importance by 72 percent in this timeframe.

The reason employers are keen to hire employees with strong analytical thinking skills is informed by trends in automation and technological advancements. While technical data analysis becomes easier with automation, reasoning and decision-making automation is advancing at a much slower pace—meaning employers anticipate that, within the next five years, we’ll have a wealth of data at our fingertips and too few people to interpret what that data means.

Where to begin

For a crash course in critical thinking, try the University of California, Davis’s Critical Thinking Skills for the Professional course. You can finish this beginner-level course in about 7 hours.

For a more comprehensive exploration into analytical thinking , try Duke University’s Introduction to Logic and Critical Thinking Specialization . Over four courses, you’ll learn how to effectively argue and reason using logic.

For a technical process to guide your analytical thinking, try Google’s Data Analytics Professional Certificate . Ground your analytical thinking skills in technical know-how in this eight-course series.

Interested in multiple programs? Don’t miss this special offer!

Through September 21, we’re offering $100 off annual Coursera Plus subscriptions for new subscribers. With this offer, you’ll pay less than $25 per month for one year of access to 6,100 courses, Specializations, and Professional Certificates with flexibility to start new courses and move between programs at your pace.

This offer is a great choice if you are frequently tempted to enroll in multiple courses at once or plan to complete a Specialization or Professional Certificate within the next year. If that sounds like you, take a closer look at the offer and the Coursera Plus course catalog.

That’s all for this week! Join us next week to talk about motivation and self-awareness skills.

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What Is Analytical Thinking and How Can You Improve Your Analytical Thinking Skills?

Learn why analytical thinking is important and how it differs from critical and creative thinking. Explore some good-paying jobs for analytical thinkers, and find out how you can improve your analytical thinking skills.

analytical vs critical thinking examples

When processing a lot of information or facing challenging problems, it often helps to take an analytical approach. Analytical thinking helps you determine the validity of information and allows you to carefully consider problems and arrive at the best solutions.

What is analytical thinking? 

Analytical thinking involves using a systemic approach to make decisions or solve problems. Analytical thinkers can better understand information and come to a sensible conclusion by breaking it into parts. 

For instance, once analytical thinkers identify a problem, they typically gather more information, develop possible solutions, test them, and analyze which works best. Solving complex problems often requires analytical reasoning, which may involve:

Determining causation (if and how one event causes another)

Examining similarities, differences, and relationships

Predicting the next event by following a sequence

Recognizing patterns or trends

Using conditional and converse (if-then) statements 

Why is analytical thinking important?

In daily life, analytical thinking allows you to sift through a steady barrage of information from the news, social media, and accounts from friends and family to get to the truth. Analytical thinking also offers professional value. Employers look for candidates with good analytical skills to help solve problems and make sound decisions in the workplace. 

How is analytical thinking different from creative and critical thinking?

To better understand analytical thinking, it helps to learn how it's different from other types of thinking. For instance, when solving a problem, analytical thinkers take a methodical approach, breaking up information and analyzing each part until they form a conclusion. 

Creative thinkers take a less organized approach to problem-solving. They examine a problem from many angles and welcome new information to come up with a creative solution.  

Critical thinkers are open-minded and have superior evaluative skills. To develop a logical solution to a problem, a critical thinker studies evidence, asks questions, assesses other points of view, and explores any relative assumptions or biases. 

4 good-paying careers for analytical thinkers 

If you can think analytically, it can benefit you in a variety of careers. Explore four good-paying careers for analytical thinkers. 

1. Business analyst

Median annual US salary (BLS): $95,290 [ 1 ]

Job outlook: 10 percent job growth [ 1 ]

Job requirements: A business analyst often holds a bachelor's or master's degree in business administration . Skills that benefit a business analyst include analytical skills, communication, problem-solving, and time management. 

Tasks and responsibilities: As a business analyst, you'll gather information about a company by observing business practices and procedures, examining financial data, and conducting employee interviews. Then, you'll study and evaluate the information and make recommendations to help the company run more effectively.  

Read more: What Is a Business Analyst? Career Guide

2. Cybersecurity analyst

Median annual US salary (BLS): $112,000 [ 2 ]

Job outlook: 32 percent job growth [ 2 ]

Job requirements: A cybersecurity analyst often holds a bachelor's degree in cybersecurity or computer and information technology. Skills that benefit a cybersecurity analyst include analytical skills, attention to detail, communication, computer skills, and problem-solving.

Tasks and responsibilities: A cybersecurity analyst develops and monitors methods for safeguarding computer networks and systems within an organization. Additional tasks involve creating security standards and procedures, writing security reports, and providing tech support for employees installing or learning new security software.

3. Data scientist

Median annual US salary (BLS): $103,500 [ 3 ]

Job outlook: 35 percent job growth [ 3 ]

Job requirements: A data scientist usually holds a bachelor's degree but may hold a master's or PhD in data science, computer science, mathematics, or statistics. Skills that benefit a data scientist include analytical skills, logical reasoning, communication, computer skills, and proficiency in math.  

Tasks and responsibilities: A data scientist gathers, analyzes, and interprets data. Your additional duties in this role include presenting findings of data analysis and making recommendations based on findings. Types of industries that use data scientists include business, education, government, health care, and professional sports.

4. Financial analyst 

Median annual US salary (BLS): $96,220 [ 4 ]

Job outlook: 8 percent job growth [ 4 ]

Job requirements: A financial analyst commonly holds a bachelor's degree in finance, business, or a related field like accounting, economics, or statistics. Skills that benefit a financial analyst include analytical skills, attention to detail, communication, computer skills, decision-making, and proficiency in math. 

Tasks and responsibilities: Generally, a financial analyst offers guidance to individuals or businesses regarding finances and investments. Different types of financial analysts include financial risk analysts, fund managers, portfolio managers, and ratings analysts. 

Read more: What Is a Financial Analyst? (+ How to Become One)

Tips for improving your analytical thinking skills 

The ability to think analytically offers benefits in your professional and personal life. To improve your analytical thinking skills, go through some key steps when problem-solving or decision-making:

Do your research.

Gather information.

Think of several ideas or solutions.

Analyze your ideas or solutions and choose the best one.

Evaluate the success of the idea or solution. 

Consider these additional tips for becoming a more analytical thinker:

Take an analytics class or classes.

Boost analytical skills with riddles, crossword puzzles, jigsaw puzzles, or strategic board games like chess or checkers.

Enhance your ability to analyze a problem and break it into steps by taking a math class. Equations and world problems require careful examination, and you may have to engage in trial and error before solving them. 

Read books about data analytics or other types of analytics that interest you.

Network with analytics professionals.

Next steps on Coursera

To determine if you would enjoy a career in analytics, consider the Google Data Analytics Professional Certificate on Coursera. You'll have the opportunity to learn how to gather data, clean and organize it for analysis, and conduct analysis using various computer programs. 

When you finish this eight-course series, you may have as much knowledge as many junior-level data analysts. You'll also receive a Professional Certificate highlighting your data analytics expertise.

Article sources

US Bureau of Labor Statistics. " Occupational Outlook Handbook: Management Analysts , https://www.bls.gov/OOH/business-and-financial/management-analysts.htm?utm_source=fit/programs/8422/ms-information-technology-database-administration/classesutm_medium." Accessed February 23, 2024.

US Bureau of Labor Statistics. " Occupational Outlook Handbook: Information Security Analysts , https://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/information-security-analysts.htm." Accessed February 23, 2024.

US Bureau of Labor Statistics. " Occupational Outlook Handbook: Data Scientists , https://www.bls.gov/ooh/math/data-scientists.htm." Accessed February 23, 2024.

US Bureau of Labor Statistics. " Occupational Outlook Handbook: Financial Analysts , https://www.bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/financial-analysts.htm." Accessed February 23, 2024.

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Critical Thinking Definition, Skills, and Examples

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Critical thinking refers to the ability to analyze information objectively and make a reasoned judgment. It involves the evaluation of sources, such as data, facts, observable phenomena, and research findings.

Good critical thinkers can draw reasonable conclusions from a set of information, and discriminate between useful and less useful details to solve problems or make decisions. Employers prioritize the ability to think critically—find out why, plus see how you can demonstrate that you have this ability throughout the job application process. 

Why Do Employers Value Critical Thinking Skills?

Employers want job candidates who can evaluate a situation using logical thought and offer the best solution.

 Someone with critical thinking skills can be trusted to make decisions independently, and will not need constant handholding.

Hiring a critical thinker means that micromanaging won't be required. Critical thinking abilities are among the most sought-after skills in almost every industry and workplace. You can demonstrate critical thinking by using related keywords in your resume and cover letter, and during your interview.

Examples of Critical Thinking

The circumstances that demand critical thinking vary from industry to industry. Some examples include:

  • A triage nurse analyzes the cases at hand and decides the order by which the patients should be treated.
  • A plumber evaluates the materials that would best suit a particular job.
  • An attorney reviews evidence and devises a strategy to win a case or to decide whether to settle out of court.
  • A manager analyzes customer feedback forms and uses this information to develop a customer service training session for employees.

Promote Your Skills in Your Job Search

If critical thinking is a key phrase in the job listings you are applying for, be sure to emphasize your critical thinking skills throughout your job search.

Add Keywords to Your Resume

You can use critical thinking keywords (analytical, problem solving, creativity, etc.) in your resume. When describing your  work history , include top critical thinking skills that accurately describe you. You can also include them in your  resume summary , if you have one.

For example, your summary might read, “Marketing Associate with five years of experience in project management. Skilled in conducting thorough market research and competitor analysis to assess market trends and client needs, and to develop appropriate acquisition tactics.”

Mention Skills in Your Cover Letter

Include these critical thinking skills in your cover letter. In the body of your letter, mention one or two of these skills, and give specific examples of times when you have demonstrated them at work. Think about times when you had to analyze or evaluate materials to solve a problem.

Show the Interviewer Your Skills

You can use these skill words in an interview. Discuss a time when you were faced with a particular problem or challenge at work and explain how you applied critical thinking to solve it.

Some interviewers will give you a hypothetical scenario or problem, and ask you to use critical thinking skills to solve it. In this case, explain your thought process thoroughly to the interviewer. He or she is typically more focused on how you arrive at your solution rather than the solution itself. The interviewer wants to see you analyze and evaluate (key parts of critical thinking) the given scenario or problem.

Of course, each job will require different skills and experiences, so make sure you read the job description carefully and focus on the skills listed by the employer.

Top Critical Thinking Skills

Keep these in-demand critical thinking skills in mind as you update your resume and write your cover letter. As you've seen, you can also emphasize them at other points throughout the application process, such as your interview. 

Part of critical thinking is the ability to carefully examine something, whether it is a problem, a set of data, or a text. People with  analytical skills  can examine information, understand what it means, and properly explain to others the implications of that information.

  • Asking Thoughtful Questions
  • Data Analysis
  • Interpretation
  • Questioning Evidence
  • Recognizing Patterns


Often, you will need to share your conclusions with your employers or with a group of colleagues. You need to be able to  communicate with others  to share your ideas effectively. You might also need to engage in critical thinking in a group. In this case, you will need to work with others and communicate effectively to figure out solutions to complex problems.

  • Active Listening
  • Collaboration
  • Explanation
  • Interpersonal
  • Presentation
  • Verbal Communication
  • Written Communication

Critical thinking often involves creativity and innovation. You might need to spot patterns in the information you are looking at or come up with a solution that no one else has thought of before. All of this involves a creative eye that can take a different approach from all other approaches.

  • Flexibility
  • Conceptualization
  • Imagination
  • Drawing Connections
  • Synthesizing


To think critically, you need to be able to put aside any assumptions or judgments and merely analyze the information you receive. You need to be objective, evaluating ideas without bias.

  • Objectivity
  • Observation

Problem Solving

Problem-solving is another critical thinking skill that involves analyzing a problem, generating and implementing a solution, and assessing the success of the plan. Employers don’t simply want employees who can think about information critically. They also need to be able to come up with practical solutions.

  • Attention to Detail
  • Clarification
  • Decision Making
  • Groundedness
  • Identifying Patterns

More Critical Thinking Skills

  • Inductive Reasoning
  • Deductive Reasoning
  • Noticing Outliers
  • Adaptability
  • Emotional Intelligence
  • Brainstorming
  • Optimization
  • Restructuring
  • Integration
  • Strategic Planning
  • Project Management
  • Ongoing Improvement
  • Causal Relationships
  • Case Analysis
  • Diagnostics
  • SWOT Analysis
  • Business Intelligence
  • Quantitative Data Management
  • Qualitative Data Management
  • Risk Management
  • Scientific Method
  • Consumer Behavior

Key Takeaways

  • Demonstrate that you have critical thinking skills by adding relevant keywords to your resume.
  • Mention pertinent critical thinking skills in your cover letter, too, and include an example of a time when you demonstrated them at work.
  • Finally, highlight critical thinking skills during your interview. For instance, you might discuss a time when you were faced with a challenge at work and explain how you applied critical thinking skills to solve it.

University of Louisville. " What is Critical Thinking ."

American Management Association. " AMA Critical Skills Survey: Workers Need Higher Level Skills to Succeed in the 21st Century ."

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Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is a widely accepted educational goal. Its definition is contested, but the competing definitions can be understood as differing conceptions of the same basic concept: careful thinking directed to a goal. Conceptions differ with respect to the scope of such thinking, the type of goal, the criteria and norms for thinking carefully, and the thinking components on which they focus. Its adoption as an educational goal has been recommended on the basis of respect for students’ autonomy and preparing students for success in life and for democratic citizenship. “Critical thinkers” have the dispositions and abilities that lead them to think critically when appropriate. The abilities can be identified directly; the dispositions indirectly, by considering what factors contribute to or impede exercise of the abilities. Standardized tests have been developed to assess the degree to which a person possesses such dispositions and abilities. Educational intervention has been shown experimentally to improve them, particularly when it includes dialogue, anchored instruction, and mentoring. Controversies have arisen over the generalizability of critical thinking across domains, over alleged bias in critical thinking theories and instruction, and over the relationship of critical thinking to other types of thinking.

2.1 Dewey’s Three Main Examples

2.2 dewey’s other examples, 2.3 further examples, 2.4 non-examples, 3. the definition of critical thinking, 4. its value, 5. the process of thinking critically, 6. components of the process, 7. contributory dispositions and abilities, 8.1 initiating dispositions, 8.2 internal dispositions, 9. critical thinking abilities, 10. required knowledge, 11. educational methods, 12.1 the generalizability of critical thinking, 12.2 bias in critical thinking theory and pedagogy, 12.3 relationship of critical thinking to other types of thinking, other internet resources, related entries.

Use of the term ‘critical thinking’ to describe an educational goal goes back to the American philosopher John Dewey (1910), who more commonly called it ‘reflective thinking’. He defined it as

active, persistent and careful consideration of any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the grounds that support it, and the further conclusions to which it tends. (Dewey 1910: 6; 1933: 9)

and identified a habit of such consideration with a scientific attitude of mind. His lengthy quotations of Francis Bacon, John Locke, and John Stuart Mill indicate that he was not the first person to propose development of a scientific attitude of mind as an educational goal.

In the 1930s, many of the schools that participated in the Eight-Year Study of the Progressive Education Association (Aikin 1942) adopted critical thinking as an educational goal, for whose achievement the study’s Evaluation Staff developed tests (Smith, Tyler, & Evaluation Staff 1942). Glaser (1941) showed experimentally that it was possible to improve the critical thinking of high school students. Bloom’s influential taxonomy of cognitive educational objectives (Bloom et al. 1956) incorporated critical thinking abilities. Ennis (1962) proposed 12 aspects of critical thinking as a basis for research on the teaching and evaluation of critical thinking ability.

Since 1980, an annual international conference in California on critical thinking and educational reform has attracted tens of thousands of educators from all levels of education and from many parts of the world. Also since 1980, the state university system in California has required all undergraduate students to take a critical thinking course. Since 1983, the Association for Informal Logic and Critical Thinking has sponsored sessions in conjunction with the divisional meetings of the American Philosophical Association (APA). In 1987, the APA’s Committee on Pre-College Philosophy commissioned a consensus statement on critical thinking for purposes of educational assessment and instruction (Facione 1990a). Researchers have developed standardized tests of critical thinking abilities and dispositions; for details, see the Supplement on Assessment . Educational jurisdictions around the world now include critical thinking in guidelines for curriculum and assessment.

For details on this history, see the Supplement on History .

2. Examples and Non-Examples

Before considering the definition of critical thinking, it will be helpful to have in mind some examples of critical thinking, as well as some examples of kinds of thinking that would apparently not count as critical thinking.

Dewey (1910: 68–71; 1933: 91–94) takes as paradigms of reflective thinking three class papers of students in which they describe their thinking. The examples range from the everyday to the scientific.

Transit : “The other day, when I was down town on 16th Street, a clock caught my eye. I saw that the hands pointed to 12:20. This suggested that I had an engagement at 124th Street, at one o’clock. I reasoned that as it had taken me an hour to come down on a surface car, I should probably be twenty minutes late if I returned the same way. I might save twenty minutes by a subway express. But was there a station near? If not, I might lose more than twenty minutes in looking for one. Then I thought of the elevated, and I saw there was such a line within two blocks. But where was the station? If it were several blocks above or below the street I was on, I should lose time instead of gaining it. My mind went back to the subway express as quicker than the elevated; furthermore, I remembered that it went nearer than the elevated to the part of 124th Street I wished to reach, so that time would be saved at the end of the journey. I concluded in favor of the subway, and reached my destination by one o’clock.” (Dewey 1910: 68–69; 1933: 91–92)

Ferryboat : “Projecting nearly horizontally from the upper deck of the ferryboat on which I daily cross the river is a long white pole, having a gilded ball at its tip. It suggested a flagpole when I first saw it; its color, shape, and gilded ball agreed with this idea, and these reasons seemed to justify me in this belief. But soon difficulties presented themselves. The pole was nearly horizontal, an unusual position for a flagpole; in the next place, there was no pulley, ring, or cord by which to attach a flag; finally, there were elsewhere on the boat two vertical staffs from which flags were occasionally flown. It seemed probable that the pole was not there for flag-flying.

“I then tried to imagine all possible purposes of the pole, and to consider for which of these it was best suited: (a) Possibly it was an ornament. But as all the ferryboats and even the tugboats carried poles, this hypothesis was rejected. (b) Possibly it was the terminal of a wireless telegraph. But the same considerations made this improbable. Besides, the more natural place for such a terminal would be the highest part of the boat, on top of the pilot house. (c) Its purpose might be to point out the direction in which the boat is moving.

“In support of this conclusion, I discovered that the pole was lower than the pilot house, so that the steersman could easily see it. Moreover, the tip was enough higher than the base, so that, from the pilot’s position, it must appear to project far out in front of the boat. Moreover, the pilot being near the front of the boat, he would need some such guide as to its direction. Tugboats would also need poles for such a purpose. This hypothesis was so much more probable than the others that I accepted it. I formed the conclusion that the pole was set up for the purpose of showing the pilot the direction in which the boat pointed, to enable him to steer correctly.” (Dewey 1910: 69–70; 1933: 92–93)

Bubbles : “In washing tumblers in hot soapsuds and placing them mouth downward on a plate, bubbles appeared on the outside of the mouth of the tumblers and then went inside. Why? The presence of bubbles suggests air, which I note must come from inside the tumbler. I see that the soapy water on the plate prevents escape of the air save as it may be caught in bubbles. But why should air leave the tumbler? There was no substance entering to force it out. It must have expanded. It expands by increase of heat, or by decrease of pressure, or both. Could the air have become heated after the tumbler was taken from the hot suds? Clearly not the air that was already entangled in the water. If heated air was the cause, cold air must have entered in transferring the tumblers from the suds to the plate. I test to see if this supposition is true by taking several more tumblers out. Some I shake so as to make sure of entrapping cold air in them. Some I take out holding mouth downward in order to prevent cold air from entering. Bubbles appear on the outside of every one of the former and on none of the latter. I must be right in my inference. Air from the outside must have been expanded by the heat of the tumbler, which explains the appearance of the bubbles on the outside. But why do they then go inside? Cold contracts. The tumbler cooled and also the air inside it. Tension was removed, and hence bubbles appeared inside. To be sure of this, I test by placing a cup of ice on the tumbler while the bubbles are still forming outside. They soon reverse” (Dewey 1910: 70–71; 1933: 93–94).

Dewey (1910, 1933) sprinkles his book with other examples of critical thinking. We will refer to the following.

Weather : A man on a walk notices that it has suddenly become cool, thinks that it is probably going to rain, looks up and sees a dark cloud obscuring the sun, and quickens his steps (1910: 6–10; 1933: 9–13).

Disorder : A man finds his rooms on his return to them in disorder with his belongings thrown about, thinks at first of burglary as an explanation, then thinks of mischievous children as being an alternative explanation, then looks to see whether valuables are missing, and discovers that they are (1910: 82–83; 1933: 166–168).

Typhoid : A physician diagnosing a patient whose conspicuous symptoms suggest typhoid avoids drawing a conclusion until more data are gathered by questioning the patient and by making tests (1910: 85–86; 1933: 170).

Blur : A moving blur catches our eye in the distance, we ask ourselves whether it is a cloud of whirling dust or a tree moving its branches or a man signaling to us, we think of other traits that should be found on each of those possibilities, and we look and see if those traits are found (1910: 102, 108; 1933: 121, 133).

Suction pump : In thinking about the suction pump, the scientist first notes that it will draw water only to a maximum height of 33 feet at sea level and to a lesser maximum height at higher elevations, selects for attention the differing atmospheric pressure at these elevations, sets up experiments in which the air is removed from a vessel containing water (when suction no longer works) and in which the weight of air at various levels is calculated, compares the results of reasoning about the height to which a given weight of air will allow a suction pump to raise water with the observed maximum height at different elevations, and finally assimilates the suction pump to such apparently different phenomena as the siphon and the rising of a balloon (1910: 150–153; 1933: 195–198).

Diamond : A passenger in a car driving in a diamond lane reserved for vehicles with at least one passenger notices that the diamond marks on the pavement are far apart in some places and close together in others. Why? The driver suggests that the reason may be that the diamond marks are not needed where there is a solid double line separating the diamond lane from the adjoining lane, but are needed when there is a dotted single line permitting crossing into the diamond lane. Further observation confirms that the diamonds are close together when a dotted line separates the diamond lane from its neighbour, but otherwise far apart.

Rash : A woman suddenly develops a very itchy red rash on her throat and upper chest. She recently noticed a mark on the back of her right hand, but was not sure whether the mark was a rash or a scrape. She lies down in bed and thinks about what might be causing the rash and what to do about it. About two weeks before, she began taking blood pressure medication that contained a sulfa drug, and the pharmacist had warned her, in view of a previous allergic reaction to a medication containing a sulfa drug, to be on the alert for an allergic reaction; however, she had been taking the medication for two weeks with no such effect. The day before, she began using a new cream on her neck and upper chest; against the new cream as the cause was mark on the back of her hand, which had not been exposed to the cream. She began taking probiotics about a month before. She also recently started new eye drops, but she supposed that manufacturers of eye drops would be careful not to include allergy-causing components in the medication. The rash might be a heat rash, since she recently was sweating profusely from her upper body. Since she is about to go away on a short vacation, where she would not have access to her usual physician, she decides to keep taking the probiotics and using the new eye drops but to discontinue the blood pressure medication and to switch back to the old cream for her neck and upper chest. She forms a plan to consult her regular physician on her return about the blood pressure medication.

Candidate : Although Dewey included no examples of thinking directed at appraising the arguments of others, such thinking has come to be considered a kind of critical thinking. We find an example of such thinking in the performance task on the Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA+), which its sponsoring organization describes as

a performance-based assessment that provides a measure of an institution’s contribution to the development of critical-thinking and written communication skills of its students. (Council for Aid to Education 2017)

A sample task posted on its website requires the test-taker to write a report for public distribution evaluating a fictional candidate’s policy proposals and their supporting arguments, using supplied background documents, with a recommendation on whether to endorse the candidate.

Immediate acceptance of an idea that suggests itself as a solution to a problem (e.g., a possible explanation of an event or phenomenon, an action that seems likely to produce a desired result) is “uncritical thinking, the minimum of reflection” (Dewey 1910: 13). On-going suspension of judgment in the light of doubt about a possible solution is not critical thinking (Dewey 1910: 108). Critique driven by a dogmatically held political or religious ideology is not critical thinking; thus Paulo Freire (1968 [1970]) is using the term (e.g., at 1970: 71, 81, 100, 146) in a more politically freighted sense that includes not only reflection but also revolutionary action against oppression. Derivation of a conclusion from given data using an algorithm is not critical thinking.

What is critical thinking? There are many definitions. Ennis (2016) lists 14 philosophically oriented scholarly definitions and three dictionary definitions. Following Rawls (1971), who distinguished his conception of justice from a utilitarian conception but regarded them as rival conceptions of the same concept, Ennis maintains that the 17 definitions are different conceptions of the same concept. Rawls articulated the shared concept of justice as

a characteristic set of principles for assigning basic rights and duties and for determining… the proper distribution of the benefits and burdens of social cooperation. (Rawls 1971: 5)

Bailin et al. (1999b) claim that, if one considers what sorts of thinking an educator would take not to be critical thinking and what sorts to be critical thinking, one can conclude that educators typically understand critical thinking to have at least three features.

  • It is done for the purpose of making up one’s mind about what to believe or do.
  • The person engaging in the thinking is trying to fulfill standards of adequacy and accuracy appropriate to the thinking.
  • The thinking fulfills the relevant standards to some threshold level.

One could sum up the core concept that involves these three features by saying that critical thinking is careful goal-directed thinking. This core concept seems to apply to all the examples of critical thinking described in the previous section. As for the non-examples, their exclusion depends on construing careful thinking as excluding jumping immediately to conclusions, suspending judgment no matter how strong the evidence, reasoning from an unquestioned ideological or religious perspective, and routinely using an algorithm to answer a question.

If the core of critical thinking is careful goal-directed thinking, conceptions of it can vary according to its presumed scope, its presumed goal, one’s criteria and threshold for being careful, and the thinking component on which one focuses. As to its scope, some conceptions (e.g., Dewey 1910, 1933) restrict it to constructive thinking on the basis of one’s own observations and experiments, others (e.g., Ennis 1962; Fisher & Scriven 1997; Johnson 1992) to appraisal of the products of such thinking. Ennis (1991) and Bailin et al. (1999b) take it to cover both construction and appraisal. As to its goal, some conceptions restrict it to forming a judgment (Dewey 1910, 1933; Lipman 1987; Facione 1990a). Others allow for actions as well as beliefs as the end point of a process of critical thinking (Ennis 1991; Bailin et al. 1999b). As to the criteria and threshold for being careful, definitions vary in the term used to indicate that critical thinking satisfies certain norms: “intellectually disciplined” (Scriven & Paul 1987), “reasonable” (Ennis 1991), “skillful” (Lipman 1987), “skilled” (Fisher & Scriven 1997), “careful” (Bailin & Battersby 2009). Some definitions specify these norms, referring variously to “consideration of any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the grounds that support it and the further conclusions to which it tends” (Dewey 1910, 1933); “the methods of logical inquiry and reasoning” (Glaser 1941); “conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication” (Scriven & Paul 1987); the requirement that “it is sensitive to context, relies on criteria, and is self-correcting” (Lipman 1987); “evidential, conceptual, methodological, criteriological, or contextual considerations” (Facione 1990a); and “plus-minus considerations of the product in terms of appropriate standards (or criteria)” (Johnson 1992). Stanovich and Stanovich (2010) propose to ground the concept of critical thinking in the concept of rationality, which they understand as combining epistemic rationality (fitting one’s beliefs to the world) and instrumental rationality (optimizing goal fulfillment); a critical thinker, in their view, is someone with “a propensity to override suboptimal responses from the autonomous mind” (2010: 227). These variant specifications of norms for critical thinking are not necessarily incompatible with one another, and in any case presuppose the core notion of thinking carefully. As to the thinking component singled out, some definitions focus on suspension of judgment during the thinking (Dewey 1910; McPeck 1981), others on inquiry while judgment is suspended (Bailin & Battersby 2009, 2021), others on the resulting judgment (Facione 1990a), and still others on responsiveness to reasons (Siegel 1988). Kuhn (2019) takes critical thinking to be more a dialogic practice of advancing and responding to arguments than an individual ability.

In educational contexts, a definition of critical thinking is a “programmatic definition” (Scheffler 1960: 19). It expresses a practical program for achieving an educational goal. For this purpose, a one-sentence formulaic definition is much less useful than articulation of a critical thinking process, with criteria and standards for the kinds of thinking that the process may involve. The real educational goal is recognition, adoption and implementation by students of those criteria and standards. That adoption and implementation in turn consists in acquiring the knowledge, abilities and dispositions of a critical thinker.

Conceptions of critical thinking generally do not include moral integrity as part of the concept. Dewey, for example, took critical thinking to be the ultimate intellectual goal of education, but distinguished it from the development of social cooperation among school children, which he took to be the central moral goal. Ennis (1996, 2011) added to his previous list of critical thinking dispositions a group of dispositions to care about the dignity and worth of every person, which he described as a “correlative” (1996) disposition without which critical thinking would be less valuable and perhaps harmful. An educational program that aimed at developing critical thinking but not the correlative disposition to care about the dignity and worth of every person, he asserted, “would be deficient and perhaps dangerous” (Ennis 1996: 172).

Dewey thought that education for reflective thinking would be of value to both the individual and society; recognition in educational practice of the kinship to the scientific attitude of children’s native curiosity, fertile imagination and love of experimental inquiry “would make for individual happiness and the reduction of social waste” (Dewey 1910: iii). Schools participating in the Eight-Year Study took development of the habit of reflective thinking and skill in solving problems as a means to leading young people to understand, appreciate and live the democratic way of life characteristic of the United States (Aikin 1942: 17–18, 81). Harvey Siegel (1988: 55–61) has offered four considerations in support of adopting critical thinking as an educational ideal. (1) Respect for persons requires that schools and teachers honour students’ demands for reasons and explanations, deal with students honestly, and recognize the need to confront students’ independent judgment; these requirements concern the manner in which teachers treat students. (2) Education has the task of preparing children to be successful adults, a task that requires development of their self-sufficiency. (3) Education should initiate children into the rational traditions in such fields as history, science and mathematics. (4) Education should prepare children to become democratic citizens, which requires reasoned procedures and critical talents and attitudes. To supplement these considerations, Siegel (1988: 62–90) responds to two objections: the ideology objection that adoption of any educational ideal requires a prior ideological commitment and the indoctrination objection that cultivation of critical thinking cannot escape being a form of indoctrination.

Despite the diversity of our 11 examples, one can recognize a common pattern. Dewey analyzed it as consisting of five phases:

  • suggestions , in which the mind leaps forward to a possible solution;
  • an intellectualization of the difficulty or perplexity into a problem to be solved, a question for which the answer must be sought;
  • the use of one suggestion after another as a leading idea, or hypothesis , to initiate and guide observation and other operations in collection of factual material;
  • the mental elaboration of the idea or supposition as an idea or supposition ( reasoning , in the sense on which reasoning is a part, not the whole, of inference); and
  • testing the hypothesis by overt or imaginative action. (Dewey 1933: 106–107; italics in original)

The process of reflective thinking consisting of these phases would be preceded by a perplexed, troubled or confused situation and followed by a cleared-up, unified, resolved situation (Dewey 1933: 106). The term ‘phases’ replaced the term ‘steps’ (Dewey 1910: 72), thus removing the earlier suggestion of an invariant sequence. Variants of the above analysis appeared in (Dewey 1916: 177) and (Dewey 1938: 101–119).

The variant formulations indicate the difficulty of giving a single logical analysis of such a varied process. The process of critical thinking may have a spiral pattern, with the problem being redefined in the light of obstacles to solving it as originally formulated. For example, the person in Transit might have concluded that getting to the appointment at the scheduled time was impossible and have reformulated the problem as that of rescheduling the appointment for a mutually convenient time. Further, defining a problem does not always follow after or lead immediately to an idea of a suggested solution. Nor should it do so, as Dewey himself recognized in describing the physician in Typhoid as avoiding any strong preference for this or that conclusion before getting further information (Dewey 1910: 85; 1933: 170). People with a hypothesis in mind, even one to which they have a very weak commitment, have a so-called “confirmation bias” (Nickerson 1998): they are likely to pay attention to evidence that confirms the hypothesis and to ignore evidence that counts against it or for some competing hypothesis. Detectives, intelligence agencies, and investigators of airplane accidents are well advised to gather relevant evidence systematically and to postpone even tentative adoption of an explanatory hypothesis until the collected evidence rules out with the appropriate degree of certainty all but one explanation. Dewey’s analysis of the critical thinking process can be faulted as well for requiring acceptance or rejection of a possible solution to a defined problem, with no allowance for deciding in the light of the available evidence to suspend judgment. Further, given the great variety of kinds of problems for which reflection is appropriate, there is likely to be variation in its component events. Perhaps the best way to conceptualize the critical thinking process is as a checklist whose component events can occur in a variety of orders, selectively, and more than once. These component events might include (1) noticing a difficulty, (2) defining the problem, (3) dividing the problem into manageable sub-problems, (4) formulating a variety of possible solutions to the problem or sub-problem, (5) determining what evidence is relevant to deciding among possible solutions to the problem or sub-problem, (6) devising a plan of systematic observation or experiment that will uncover the relevant evidence, (7) carrying out the plan of systematic observation or experimentation, (8) noting the results of the systematic observation or experiment, (9) gathering relevant testimony and information from others, (10) judging the credibility of testimony and information gathered from others, (11) drawing conclusions from gathered evidence and accepted testimony, and (12) accepting a solution that the evidence adequately supports (cf. Hitchcock 2017: 485).

Checklist conceptions of the process of critical thinking are open to the objection that they are too mechanical and procedural to fit the multi-dimensional and emotionally charged issues for which critical thinking is urgently needed (Paul 1984). For such issues, a more dialectical process is advocated, in which competing relevant world views are identified, their implications explored, and some sort of creative synthesis attempted.

If one considers the critical thinking process illustrated by the 11 examples, one can identify distinct kinds of mental acts and mental states that form part of it. To distinguish, label and briefly characterize these components is a useful preliminary to identifying abilities, skills, dispositions, attitudes, habits and the like that contribute causally to thinking critically. Identifying such abilities and habits is in turn a useful preliminary to setting educational goals. Setting the goals is in its turn a useful preliminary to designing strategies for helping learners to achieve the goals and to designing ways of measuring the extent to which learners have done so. Such measures provide both feedback to learners on their achievement and a basis for experimental research on the effectiveness of various strategies for educating people to think critically. Let us begin, then, by distinguishing the kinds of mental acts and mental events that can occur in a critical thinking process.

  • Observing : One notices something in one’s immediate environment (sudden cooling of temperature in Weather , bubbles forming outside a glass and then going inside in Bubbles , a moving blur in the distance in Blur , a rash in Rash ). Or one notes the results of an experiment or systematic observation (valuables missing in Disorder , no suction without air pressure in Suction pump )
  • Feeling : One feels puzzled or uncertain about something (how to get to an appointment on time in Transit , why the diamonds vary in spacing in Diamond ). One wants to resolve this perplexity. One feels satisfaction once one has worked out an answer (to take the subway express in Transit , diamonds closer when needed as a warning in Diamond ).
  • Wondering : One formulates a question to be addressed (why bubbles form outside a tumbler taken from hot water in Bubbles , how suction pumps work in Suction pump , what caused the rash in Rash ).
  • Imagining : One thinks of possible answers (bus or subway or elevated in Transit , flagpole or ornament or wireless communication aid or direction indicator in Ferryboat , allergic reaction or heat rash in Rash ).
  • Inferring : One works out what would be the case if a possible answer were assumed (valuables missing if there has been a burglary in Disorder , earlier start to the rash if it is an allergic reaction to a sulfa drug in Rash ). Or one draws a conclusion once sufficient relevant evidence is gathered (take the subway in Transit , burglary in Disorder , discontinue blood pressure medication and new cream in Rash ).
  • Knowledge : One uses stored knowledge of the subject-matter to generate possible answers or to infer what would be expected on the assumption of a particular answer (knowledge of a city’s public transit system in Transit , of the requirements for a flagpole in Ferryboat , of Boyle’s law in Bubbles , of allergic reactions in Rash ).
  • Experimenting : One designs and carries out an experiment or a systematic observation to find out whether the results deduced from a possible answer will occur (looking at the location of the flagpole in relation to the pilot’s position in Ferryboat , putting an ice cube on top of a tumbler taken from hot water in Bubbles , measuring the height to which a suction pump will draw water at different elevations in Suction pump , noticing the spacing of diamonds when movement to or from a diamond lane is allowed in Diamond ).
  • Consulting : One finds a source of information, gets the information from the source, and makes a judgment on whether to accept it. None of our 11 examples include searching for sources of information. In this respect they are unrepresentative, since most people nowadays have almost instant access to information relevant to answering any question, including many of those illustrated by the examples. However, Candidate includes the activities of extracting information from sources and evaluating its credibility.
  • Identifying and analyzing arguments : One notices an argument and works out its structure and content as a preliminary to evaluating its strength. This activity is central to Candidate . It is an important part of a critical thinking process in which one surveys arguments for various positions on an issue.
  • Judging : One makes a judgment on the basis of accumulated evidence and reasoning, such as the judgment in Ferryboat that the purpose of the pole is to provide direction to the pilot.
  • Deciding : One makes a decision on what to do or on what policy to adopt, as in the decision in Transit to take the subway.

By definition, a person who does something voluntarily is both willing and able to do that thing at that time. Both the willingness and the ability contribute causally to the person’s action, in the sense that the voluntary action would not occur if either (or both) of these were lacking. For example, suppose that one is standing with one’s arms at one’s sides and one voluntarily lifts one’s right arm to an extended horizontal position. One would not do so if one were unable to lift one’s arm, if for example one’s right side was paralyzed as the result of a stroke. Nor would one do so if one were unwilling to lift one’s arm, if for example one were participating in a street demonstration at which a white supremacist was urging the crowd to lift their right arm in a Nazi salute and one were unwilling to express support in this way for the racist Nazi ideology. The same analysis applies to a voluntary mental process of thinking critically. It requires both willingness and ability to think critically, including willingness and ability to perform each of the mental acts that compose the process and to coordinate those acts in a sequence that is directed at resolving the initiating perplexity.

Consider willingness first. We can identify causal contributors to willingness to think critically by considering factors that would cause a person who was able to think critically about an issue nevertheless not to do so (Hamby 2014). For each factor, the opposite condition thus contributes causally to willingness to think critically on a particular occasion. For example, people who habitually jump to conclusions without considering alternatives will not think critically about issues that arise, even if they have the required abilities. The contrary condition of willingness to suspend judgment is thus a causal contributor to thinking critically.

Now consider ability. In contrast to the ability to move one’s arm, which can be completely absent because a stroke has left the arm paralyzed, the ability to think critically is a developed ability, whose absence is not a complete absence of ability to think but absence of ability to think well. We can identify the ability to think well directly, in terms of the norms and standards for good thinking. In general, to be able do well the thinking activities that can be components of a critical thinking process, one needs to know the concepts and principles that characterize their good performance, to recognize in particular cases that the concepts and principles apply, and to apply them. The knowledge, recognition and application may be procedural rather than declarative. It may be domain-specific rather than widely applicable, and in either case may need subject-matter knowledge, sometimes of a deep kind.

Reflections of the sort illustrated by the previous two paragraphs have led scholars to identify the knowledge, abilities and dispositions of a “critical thinker”, i.e., someone who thinks critically whenever it is appropriate to do so. We turn now to these three types of causal contributors to thinking critically. We start with dispositions, since arguably these are the most powerful contributors to being a critical thinker, can be fostered at an early stage of a child’s development, and are susceptible to general improvement (Glaser 1941: 175)

8. Critical Thinking Dispositions

Educational researchers use the term ‘dispositions’ broadly for the habits of mind and attitudes that contribute causally to being a critical thinker. Some writers (e.g., Paul & Elder 2006; Hamby 2014; Bailin & Battersby 2016a) propose to use the term ‘virtues’ for this dimension of a critical thinker. The virtues in question, although they are virtues of character, concern the person’s ways of thinking rather than the person’s ways of behaving towards others. They are not moral virtues but intellectual virtues, of the sort articulated by Zagzebski (1996) and discussed by Turri, Alfano, and Greco (2017).

On a realistic conception, thinking dispositions or intellectual virtues are real properties of thinkers. They are general tendencies, propensities, or inclinations to think in particular ways in particular circumstances, and can be genuinely explanatory (Siegel 1999). Sceptics argue that there is no evidence for a specific mental basis for the habits of mind that contribute to thinking critically, and that it is pedagogically misleading to posit such a basis (Bailin et al. 1999a). Whatever their status, critical thinking dispositions need motivation for their initial formation in a child—motivation that may be external or internal. As children develop, the force of habit will gradually become important in sustaining the disposition (Nieto & Valenzuela 2012). Mere force of habit, however, is unlikely to sustain critical thinking dispositions. Critical thinkers must value and enjoy using their knowledge and abilities to think things through for themselves. They must be committed to, and lovers of, inquiry.

A person may have a critical thinking disposition with respect to only some kinds of issues. For example, one could be open-minded about scientific issues but not about religious issues. Similarly, one could be confident in one’s ability to reason about the theological implications of the existence of evil in the world but not in one’s ability to reason about the best design for a guided ballistic missile.

Facione (1990a: 25) divides “affective dispositions” of critical thinking into approaches to life and living in general and approaches to specific issues, questions or problems. Adapting this distinction, one can usefully divide critical thinking dispositions into initiating dispositions (those that contribute causally to starting to think critically about an issue) and internal dispositions (those that contribute causally to doing a good job of thinking critically once one has started). The two categories are not mutually exclusive. For example, open-mindedness, in the sense of willingness to consider alternative points of view to one’s own, is both an initiating and an internal disposition.

Using the strategy of considering factors that would block people with the ability to think critically from doing so, we can identify as initiating dispositions for thinking critically attentiveness, a habit of inquiry, self-confidence, courage, open-mindedness, willingness to suspend judgment, trust in reason, wanting evidence for one’s beliefs, and seeking the truth. We consider briefly what each of these dispositions amounts to, in each case citing sources that acknowledge them.

  • Attentiveness : One will not think critically if one fails to recognize an issue that needs to be thought through. For example, the pedestrian in Weather would not have looked up if he had not noticed that the air was suddenly cooler. To be a critical thinker, then, one needs to be habitually attentive to one’s surroundings, noticing not only what one senses but also sources of perplexity in messages received and in one’s own beliefs and attitudes (Facione 1990a: 25; Facione, Facione, & Giancarlo 2001).
  • Habit of inquiry : Inquiry is effortful, and one needs an internal push to engage in it. For example, the student in Bubbles could easily have stopped at idle wondering about the cause of the bubbles rather than reasoning to a hypothesis, then designing and executing an experiment to test it. Thus willingness to think critically needs mental energy and initiative. What can supply that energy? Love of inquiry, or perhaps just a habit of inquiry. Hamby (2015) has argued that willingness to inquire is the central critical thinking virtue, one that encompasses all the others. It is recognized as a critical thinking disposition by Dewey (1910: 29; 1933: 35), Glaser (1941: 5), Ennis (1987: 12; 1991: 8), Facione (1990a: 25), Bailin et al. (1999b: 294), Halpern (1998: 452), and Facione, Facione, & Giancarlo (2001).
  • Self-confidence : Lack of confidence in one’s abilities can block critical thinking. For example, if the woman in Rash lacked confidence in her ability to figure things out for herself, she might just have assumed that the rash on her chest was the allergic reaction to her medication against which the pharmacist had warned her. Thus willingness to think critically requires confidence in one’s ability to inquire (Facione 1990a: 25; Facione, Facione, & Giancarlo 2001).
  • Courage : Fear of thinking for oneself can stop one from doing it. Thus willingness to think critically requires intellectual courage (Paul & Elder 2006: 16).
  • Open-mindedness : A dogmatic attitude will impede thinking critically. For example, a person who adheres rigidly to a “pro-choice” position on the issue of the legal status of induced abortion is likely to be unwilling to consider seriously the issue of when in its development an unborn child acquires a moral right to life. Thus willingness to think critically requires open-mindedness, in the sense of a willingness to examine questions to which one already accepts an answer but which further evidence or reasoning might cause one to answer differently (Dewey 1933; Facione 1990a; Ennis 1991; Bailin et al. 1999b; Halpern 1998, Facione, Facione, & Giancarlo 2001). Paul (1981) emphasizes open-mindedness about alternative world-views, and recommends a dialectical approach to integrating such views as central to what he calls “strong sense” critical thinking. In three studies, Haran, Ritov, & Mellers (2013) found that actively open-minded thinking, including “the tendency to weigh new evidence against a favored belief, to spend sufficient time on a problem before giving up, and to consider carefully the opinions of others in forming one’s own”, led study participants to acquire information and thus to make accurate estimations.
  • Willingness to suspend judgment : Premature closure on an initial solution will block critical thinking. Thus willingness to think critically requires a willingness to suspend judgment while alternatives are explored (Facione 1990a; Ennis 1991; Halpern 1998).
  • Trust in reason : Since distrust in the processes of reasoned inquiry will dissuade one from engaging in it, trust in them is an initiating critical thinking disposition (Facione 1990a, 25; Bailin et al. 1999b: 294; Facione, Facione, & Giancarlo 2001; Paul & Elder 2006). In reaction to an allegedly exclusive emphasis on reason in critical thinking theory and pedagogy, Thayer-Bacon (2000) argues that intuition, imagination, and emotion have important roles to play in an adequate conception of critical thinking that she calls “constructive thinking”. From her point of view, critical thinking requires trust not only in reason but also in intuition, imagination, and emotion.
  • Seeking the truth : If one does not care about the truth but is content to stick with one’s initial bias on an issue, then one will not think critically about it. Seeking the truth is thus an initiating critical thinking disposition (Bailin et al. 1999b: 294; Facione, Facione, & Giancarlo 2001). A disposition to seek the truth is implicit in more specific critical thinking dispositions, such as trying to be well-informed, considering seriously points of view other than one’s own, looking for alternatives, suspending judgment when the evidence is insufficient, and adopting a position when the evidence supporting it is sufficient.

Some of the initiating dispositions, such as open-mindedness and willingness to suspend judgment, are also internal critical thinking dispositions, in the sense of mental habits or attitudes that contribute causally to doing a good job of critical thinking once one starts the process. But there are many other internal critical thinking dispositions. Some of them are parasitic on one’s conception of good thinking. For example, it is constitutive of good thinking about an issue to formulate the issue clearly and to maintain focus on it. For this purpose, one needs not only the corresponding ability but also the corresponding disposition. Ennis (1991: 8) describes it as the disposition “to determine and maintain focus on the conclusion or question”, Facione (1990a: 25) as “clarity in stating the question or concern”. Other internal dispositions are motivators to continue or adjust the critical thinking process, such as willingness to persist in a complex task and willingness to abandon nonproductive strategies in an attempt to self-correct (Halpern 1998: 452). For a list of identified internal critical thinking dispositions, see the Supplement on Internal Critical Thinking Dispositions .

Some theorists postulate skills, i.e., acquired abilities, as operative in critical thinking. It is not obvious, however, that a good mental act is the exercise of a generic acquired skill. Inferring an expected time of arrival, as in Transit , has some generic components but also uses non-generic subject-matter knowledge. Bailin et al. (1999a) argue against viewing critical thinking skills as generic and discrete, on the ground that skilled performance at a critical thinking task cannot be separated from knowledge of concepts and from domain-specific principles of good thinking. Talk of skills, they concede, is unproblematic if it means merely that a person with critical thinking skills is capable of intelligent performance.

Despite such scepticism, theorists of critical thinking have listed as general contributors to critical thinking what they variously call abilities (Glaser 1941; Ennis 1962, 1991), skills (Facione 1990a; Halpern 1998) or competencies (Fisher & Scriven 1997). Amalgamating these lists would produce a confusing and chaotic cornucopia of more than 50 possible educational objectives, with only partial overlap among them. It makes sense instead to try to understand the reasons for the multiplicity and diversity, and to make a selection according to one’s own reasons for singling out abilities to be developed in a critical thinking curriculum. Two reasons for diversity among lists of critical thinking abilities are the underlying conception of critical thinking and the envisaged educational level. Appraisal-only conceptions, for example, involve a different suite of abilities than constructive-only conceptions. Some lists, such as those in (Glaser 1941), are put forward as educational objectives for secondary school students, whereas others are proposed as objectives for college students (e.g., Facione 1990a).

The abilities described in the remaining paragraphs of this section emerge from reflection on the general abilities needed to do well the thinking activities identified in section 6 as components of the critical thinking process described in section 5 . The derivation of each collection of abilities is accompanied by citation of sources that list such abilities and of standardized tests that claim to test them.

Observational abilities : Careful and accurate observation sometimes requires specialist expertise and practice, as in the case of observing birds and observing accident scenes. However, there are general abilities of noticing what one’s senses are picking up from one’s environment and of being able to articulate clearly and accurately to oneself and others what one has observed. It helps in exercising them to be able to recognize and take into account factors that make one’s observation less trustworthy, such as prior framing of the situation, inadequate time, deficient senses, poor observation conditions, and the like. It helps as well to be skilled at taking steps to make one’s observation more trustworthy, such as moving closer to get a better look, measuring something three times and taking the average, and checking what one thinks one is observing with someone else who is in a good position to observe it. It also helps to be skilled at recognizing respects in which one’s report of one’s observation involves inference rather than direct observation, so that one can then consider whether the inference is justified. These abilities come into play as well when one thinks about whether and with what degree of confidence to accept an observation report, for example in the study of history or in a criminal investigation or in assessing news reports. Observational abilities show up in some lists of critical thinking abilities (Ennis 1962: 90; Facione 1990a: 16; Ennis 1991: 9). There are items testing a person’s ability to judge the credibility of observation reports in the Cornell Critical Thinking Tests, Levels X and Z (Ennis & Millman 1971; Ennis, Millman, & Tomko 1985, 2005). Norris and King (1983, 1985, 1990a, 1990b) is a test of ability to appraise observation reports.

Emotional abilities : The emotions that drive a critical thinking process are perplexity or puzzlement, a wish to resolve it, and satisfaction at achieving the desired resolution. Children experience these emotions at an early age, without being trained to do so. Education that takes critical thinking as a goal needs only to channel these emotions and to make sure not to stifle them. Collaborative critical thinking benefits from ability to recognize one’s own and others’ emotional commitments and reactions.

Questioning abilities : A critical thinking process needs transformation of an inchoate sense of perplexity into a clear question. Formulating a question well requires not building in questionable assumptions, not prejudging the issue, and using language that in context is unambiguous and precise enough (Ennis 1962: 97; 1991: 9).

Imaginative abilities : Thinking directed at finding the correct causal explanation of a general phenomenon or particular event requires an ability to imagine possible explanations. Thinking about what policy or plan of action to adopt requires generation of options and consideration of possible consequences of each option. Domain knowledge is required for such creative activity, but a general ability to imagine alternatives is helpful and can be nurtured so as to become easier, quicker, more extensive, and deeper (Dewey 1910: 34–39; 1933: 40–47). Facione (1990a) and Halpern (1998) include the ability to imagine alternatives as a critical thinking ability.

Inferential abilities : The ability to draw conclusions from given information, and to recognize with what degree of certainty one’s own or others’ conclusions follow, is universally recognized as a general critical thinking ability. All 11 examples in section 2 of this article include inferences, some from hypotheses or options (as in Transit , Ferryboat and Disorder ), others from something observed (as in Weather and Rash ). None of these inferences is formally valid. Rather, they are licensed by general, sometimes qualified substantive rules of inference (Toulmin 1958) that rest on domain knowledge—that a bus trip takes about the same time in each direction, that the terminal of a wireless telegraph would be located on the highest possible place, that sudden cooling is often followed by rain, that an allergic reaction to a sulfa drug generally shows up soon after one starts taking it. It is a matter of controversy to what extent the specialized ability to deduce conclusions from premisses using formal rules of inference is needed for critical thinking. Dewey (1933) locates logical forms in setting out the products of reflection rather than in the process of reflection. Ennis (1981a), on the other hand, maintains that a liberally-educated person should have the following abilities: to translate natural-language statements into statements using the standard logical operators, to use appropriately the language of necessary and sufficient conditions, to deal with argument forms and arguments containing symbols, to determine whether in virtue of an argument’s form its conclusion follows necessarily from its premisses, to reason with logically complex propositions, and to apply the rules and procedures of deductive logic. Inferential abilities are recognized as critical thinking abilities by Glaser (1941: 6), Facione (1990a: 9), Ennis (1991: 9), Fisher & Scriven (1997: 99, 111), and Halpern (1998: 452). Items testing inferential abilities constitute two of the five subtests of the Watson Glaser Critical Thinking Appraisal (Watson & Glaser 1980a, 1980b, 1994), two of the four sections in the Cornell Critical Thinking Test Level X (Ennis & Millman 1971; Ennis, Millman, & Tomko 1985, 2005), three of the seven sections in the Cornell Critical Thinking Test Level Z (Ennis & Millman 1971; Ennis, Millman, & Tomko 1985, 2005), 11 of the 34 items on Forms A and B of the California Critical Thinking Skills Test (Facione 1990b, 1992), and a high but variable proportion of the 25 selected-response questions in the Collegiate Learning Assessment (Council for Aid to Education 2017).

Experimenting abilities : Knowing how to design and execute an experiment is important not just in scientific research but also in everyday life, as in Rash . Dewey devoted a whole chapter of his How We Think (1910: 145–156; 1933: 190–202) to the superiority of experimentation over observation in advancing knowledge. Experimenting abilities come into play at one remove in appraising reports of scientific studies. Skill in designing and executing experiments includes the acknowledged abilities to appraise evidence (Glaser 1941: 6), to carry out experiments and to apply appropriate statistical inference techniques (Facione 1990a: 9), to judge inductions to an explanatory hypothesis (Ennis 1991: 9), and to recognize the need for an adequately large sample size (Halpern 1998). The Cornell Critical Thinking Test Level Z (Ennis & Millman 1971; Ennis, Millman, & Tomko 1985, 2005) includes four items (out of 52) on experimental design. The Collegiate Learning Assessment (Council for Aid to Education 2017) makes room for appraisal of study design in both its performance task and its selected-response questions.

Consulting abilities : Skill at consulting sources of information comes into play when one seeks information to help resolve a problem, as in Candidate . Ability to find and appraise information includes ability to gather and marshal pertinent information (Glaser 1941: 6), to judge whether a statement made by an alleged authority is acceptable (Ennis 1962: 84), to plan a search for desired information (Facione 1990a: 9), and to judge the credibility of a source (Ennis 1991: 9). Ability to judge the credibility of statements is tested by 24 items (out of 76) in the Cornell Critical Thinking Test Level X (Ennis & Millman 1971; Ennis, Millman, & Tomko 1985, 2005) and by four items (out of 52) in the Cornell Critical Thinking Test Level Z (Ennis & Millman 1971; Ennis, Millman, & Tomko 1985, 2005). The College Learning Assessment’s performance task requires evaluation of whether information in documents is credible or unreliable (Council for Aid to Education 2017).

Argument analysis abilities : The ability to identify and analyze arguments contributes to the process of surveying arguments on an issue in order to form one’s own reasoned judgment, as in Candidate . The ability to detect and analyze arguments is recognized as a critical thinking skill by Facione (1990a: 7–8), Ennis (1991: 9) and Halpern (1998). Five items (out of 34) on the California Critical Thinking Skills Test (Facione 1990b, 1992) test skill at argument analysis. The College Learning Assessment (Council for Aid to Education 2017) incorporates argument analysis in its selected-response tests of critical reading and evaluation and of critiquing an argument.

Judging skills and deciding skills : Skill at judging and deciding is skill at recognizing what judgment or decision the available evidence and argument supports, and with what degree of confidence. It is thus a component of the inferential skills already discussed.

Lists and tests of critical thinking abilities often include two more abilities: identifying assumptions and constructing and evaluating definitions.

In addition to dispositions and abilities, critical thinking needs knowledge: of critical thinking concepts, of critical thinking principles, and of the subject-matter of the thinking.

We can derive a short list of concepts whose understanding contributes to critical thinking from the critical thinking abilities described in the preceding section. Observational abilities require an understanding of the difference between observation and inference. Questioning abilities require an understanding of the concepts of ambiguity and vagueness. Inferential abilities require an understanding of the difference between conclusive and defeasible inference (traditionally, between deduction and induction), as well as of the difference between necessary and sufficient conditions. Experimenting abilities require an understanding of the concepts of hypothesis, null hypothesis, assumption and prediction, as well as of the concept of statistical significance and of its difference from importance. They also require an understanding of the difference between an experiment and an observational study, and in particular of the difference between a randomized controlled trial, a prospective correlational study and a retrospective (case-control) study. Argument analysis abilities require an understanding of the concepts of argument, premiss, assumption, conclusion and counter-consideration. Additional critical thinking concepts are proposed by Bailin et al. (1999b: 293), Fisher & Scriven (1997: 105–106), Black (2012), and Blair (2021).

According to Glaser (1941: 25), ability to think critically requires knowledge of the methods of logical inquiry and reasoning. If we review the list of abilities in the preceding section, however, we can see that some of them can be acquired and exercised merely through practice, possibly guided in an educational setting, followed by feedback. Searching intelligently for a causal explanation of some phenomenon or event requires that one consider a full range of possible causal contributors, but it seems more important that one implements this principle in one’s practice than that one is able to articulate it. What is important is “operational knowledge” of the standards and principles of good thinking (Bailin et al. 1999b: 291–293). But the development of such critical thinking abilities as designing an experiment or constructing an operational definition can benefit from learning their underlying theory. Further, explicit knowledge of quirks of human thinking seems useful as a cautionary guide. Human memory is not just fallible about details, as people learn from their own experiences of misremembering, but is so malleable that a detailed, clear and vivid recollection of an event can be a total fabrication (Loftus 2017). People seek or interpret evidence in ways that are partial to their existing beliefs and expectations, often unconscious of their “confirmation bias” (Nickerson 1998). Not only are people subject to this and other cognitive biases (Kahneman 2011), of which they are typically unaware, but it may be counter-productive for one to make oneself aware of them and try consciously to counteract them or to counteract social biases such as racial or sexual stereotypes (Kenyon & Beaulac 2014). It is helpful to be aware of these facts and of the superior effectiveness of blocking the operation of biases—for example, by making an immediate record of one’s observations, refraining from forming a preliminary explanatory hypothesis, blind refereeing, double-blind randomized trials, and blind grading of students’ work. It is also helpful to be aware of the prevalence of “noise” (unwanted unsystematic variability of judgments), of how to detect noise (through a noise audit), and of how to reduce noise: make accuracy the goal, think statistically, break a process of arriving at a judgment into independent tasks, resist premature intuitions, in a group get independent judgments first, favour comparative judgments and scales (Kahneman, Sibony, & Sunstein 2021). It is helpful as well to be aware of the concept of “bounded rationality” in decision-making and of the related distinction between “satisficing” and optimizing (Simon 1956; Gigerenzer 2001).

Critical thinking about an issue requires substantive knowledge of the domain to which the issue belongs. Critical thinking abilities are not a magic elixir that can be applied to any issue whatever by somebody who has no knowledge of the facts relevant to exploring that issue. For example, the student in Bubbles needed to know that gases do not penetrate solid objects like a glass, that air expands when heated, that the volume of an enclosed gas varies directly with its temperature and inversely with its pressure, and that hot objects will spontaneously cool down to the ambient temperature of their surroundings unless kept hot by insulation or a source of heat. Critical thinkers thus need a rich fund of subject-matter knowledge relevant to the variety of situations they encounter. This fact is recognized in the inclusion among critical thinking dispositions of a concern to become and remain generally well informed.

Experimental educational interventions, with control groups, have shown that education can improve critical thinking skills and dispositions, as measured by standardized tests. For information about these tests, see the Supplement on Assessment .

What educational methods are most effective at developing the dispositions, abilities and knowledge of a critical thinker? In a comprehensive meta-analysis of experimental and quasi-experimental studies of strategies for teaching students to think critically, Abrami et al. (2015) found that dialogue, anchored instruction, and mentoring each increased the effectiveness of the educational intervention, and that they were most effective when combined. They also found that in these studies a combination of separate instruction in critical thinking with subject-matter instruction in which students are encouraged to think critically was more effective than either by itself. However, the difference was not statistically significant; that is, it might have arisen by chance.

Most of these studies lack the longitudinal follow-up required to determine whether the observed differential improvements in critical thinking abilities or dispositions continue over time, for example until high school or college graduation. For details on studies of methods of developing critical thinking skills and dispositions, see the Supplement on Educational Methods .

12. Controversies

Scholars have denied the generalizability of critical thinking abilities across subject domains, have alleged bias in critical thinking theory and pedagogy, and have investigated the relationship of critical thinking to other kinds of thinking.

McPeck (1981) attacked the thinking skills movement of the 1970s, including the critical thinking movement. He argued that there are no general thinking skills, since thinking is always thinking about some subject-matter. It is futile, he claimed, for schools and colleges to teach thinking as if it were a separate subject. Rather, teachers should lead their pupils to become autonomous thinkers by teaching school subjects in a way that brings out their cognitive structure and that encourages and rewards discussion and argument. As some of his critics (e.g., Paul 1985; Siegel 1985) pointed out, McPeck’s central argument needs elaboration, since it has obvious counter-examples in writing and speaking, for which (up to a certain level of complexity) there are teachable general abilities even though they are always about some subject-matter. To make his argument convincing, McPeck needs to explain how thinking differs from writing and speaking in a way that does not permit useful abstraction of its components from the subject-matters with which it deals. He has not done so. Nevertheless, his position that the dispositions and abilities of a critical thinker are best developed in the context of subject-matter instruction is shared by many theorists of critical thinking, including Dewey (1910, 1933), Glaser (1941), Passmore (1980), Weinstein (1990), Bailin et al. (1999b), and Willingham (2019).

McPeck’s challenge prompted reflection on the extent to which critical thinking is subject-specific. McPeck argued for a strong subject-specificity thesis, according to which it is a conceptual truth that all critical thinking abilities are specific to a subject. (He did not however extend his subject-specificity thesis to critical thinking dispositions. In particular, he took the disposition to suspend judgment in situations of cognitive dissonance to be a general disposition.) Conceptual subject-specificity is subject to obvious counter-examples, such as the general ability to recognize confusion of necessary and sufficient conditions. A more modest thesis, also endorsed by McPeck, is epistemological subject-specificity, according to which the norms of good thinking vary from one field to another. Epistemological subject-specificity clearly holds to a certain extent; for example, the principles in accordance with which one solves a differential equation are quite different from the principles in accordance with which one determines whether a painting is a genuine Picasso. But the thesis suffers, as Ennis (1989) points out, from vagueness of the concept of a field or subject and from the obvious existence of inter-field principles, however broadly the concept of a field is construed. For example, the principles of hypothetico-deductive reasoning hold for all the varied fields in which such reasoning occurs. A third kind of subject-specificity is empirical subject-specificity, according to which as a matter of empirically observable fact a person with the abilities and dispositions of a critical thinker in one area of investigation will not necessarily have them in another area of investigation.

The thesis of empirical subject-specificity raises the general problem of transfer. If critical thinking abilities and dispositions have to be developed independently in each school subject, how are they of any use in dealing with the problems of everyday life and the political and social issues of contemporary society, most of which do not fit into the framework of a traditional school subject? Proponents of empirical subject-specificity tend to argue that transfer is more likely to occur if there is critical thinking instruction in a variety of domains, with explicit attention to dispositions and abilities that cut across domains. But evidence for this claim is scanty. There is a need for well-designed empirical studies that investigate the conditions that make transfer more likely.

It is common ground in debates about the generality or subject-specificity of critical thinking dispositions and abilities that critical thinking about any topic requires background knowledge about the topic. For example, the most sophisticated understanding of the principles of hypothetico-deductive reasoning is of no help unless accompanied by some knowledge of what might be plausible explanations of some phenomenon under investigation.

Critics have objected to bias in the theory, pedagogy and practice of critical thinking. Commentators (e.g., Alston 1995; Ennis 1998) have noted that anyone who takes a position has a bias in the neutral sense of being inclined in one direction rather than others. The critics, however, are objecting to bias in the pejorative sense of an unjustified favoring of certain ways of knowing over others, frequently alleging that the unjustly favoured ways are those of a dominant sex or culture (Bailin 1995). These ways favour:

  • reinforcement of egocentric and sociocentric biases over dialectical engagement with opposing world-views (Paul 1981, 1984; Warren 1998)
  • distancing from the object of inquiry over closeness to it (Martin 1992; Thayer-Bacon 1992)
  • indifference to the situation of others over care for them (Martin 1992)
  • orientation to thought over orientation to action (Martin 1992)
  • being reasonable over caring to understand people’s ideas (Thayer-Bacon 1993)
  • being neutral and objective over being embodied and situated (Thayer-Bacon 1995a)
  • doubting over believing (Thayer-Bacon 1995b)
  • reason over emotion, imagination and intuition (Thayer-Bacon 2000)
  • solitary thinking over collaborative thinking (Thayer-Bacon 2000)
  • written and spoken assignments over other forms of expression (Alston 2001)
  • attention to written and spoken communications over attention to human problems (Alston 2001)
  • winning debates in the public sphere over making and understanding meaning (Alston 2001)

A common thread in this smorgasbord of accusations is dissatisfaction with focusing on the logical analysis and evaluation of reasoning and arguments. While these authors acknowledge that such analysis and evaluation is part of critical thinking and should be part of its conceptualization and pedagogy, they insist that it is only a part. Paul (1981), for example, bemoans the tendency of atomistic teaching of methods of analyzing and evaluating arguments to turn students into more able sophists, adept at finding fault with positions and arguments with which they disagree but even more entrenched in the egocentric and sociocentric biases with which they began. Martin (1992) and Thayer-Bacon (1992) cite with approval the self-reported intimacy with their subject-matter of leading researchers in biology and medicine, an intimacy that conflicts with the distancing allegedly recommended in standard conceptions and pedagogy of critical thinking. Thayer-Bacon (2000) contrasts the embodied and socially embedded learning of her elementary school students in a Montessori school, who used their imagination, intuition and emotions as well as their reason, with conceptions of critical thinking as

thinking that is used to critique arguments, offer justifications, and make judgments about what are the good reasons, or the right answers. (Thayer-Bacon 2000: 127–128)

Alston (2001) reports that her students in a women’s studies class were able to see the flaws in the Cinderella myth that pervades much romantic fiction but in their own romantic relationships still acted as if all failures were the woman’s fault and still accepted the notions of love at first sight and living happily ever after. Students, she writes, should

be able to connect their intellectual critique to a more affective, somatic, and ethical account of making risky choices that have sexist, racist, classist, familial, sexual, or other consequences for themselves and those both near and far… critical thinking that reads arguments, texts, or practices merely on the surface without connections to feeling/desiring/doing or action lacks an ethical depth that should infuse the difference between mere cognitive activity and something we want to call critical thinking. (Alston 2001: 34)

Some critics portray such biases as unfair to women. Thayer-Bacon (1992), for example, has charged modern critical thinking theory with being sexist, on the ground that it separates the self from the object and causes one to lose touch with one’s inner voice, and thus stigmatizes women, who (she asserts) link self to object and listen to their inner voice. Her charge does not imply that women as a group are on average less able than men to analyze and evaluate arguments. Facione (1990c) found no difference by sex in performance on his California Critical Thinking Skills Test. Kuhn (1991: 280–281) found no difference by sex in either the disposition or the competence to engage in argumentative thinking.

The critics propose a variety of remedies for the biases that they allege. In general, they do not propose to eliminate or downplay critical thinking as an educational goal. Rather, they propose to conceptualize critical thinking differently and to change its pedagogy accordingly. Their pedagogical proposals arise logically from their objections. They can be summarized as follows:

  • Focus on argument networks with dialectical exchanges reflecting contesting points of view rather than on atomic arguments, so as to develop “strong sense” critical thinking that transcends egocentric and sociocentric biases (Paul 1981, 1984).
  • Foster closeness to the subject-matter and feeling connected to others in order to inform a humane democracy (Martin 1992).
  • Develop “constructive thinking” as a social activity in a community of physically embodied and socially embedded inquirers with personal voices who value not only reason but also imagination, intuition and emotion (Thayer-Bacon 2000).
  • In developing critical thinking in school subjects, treat as important neither skills nor dispositions but opening worlds of meaning (Alston 2001).
  • Attend to the development of critical thinking dispositions as well as skills, and adopt the “critical pedagogy” practised and advocated by Freire (1968 [1970]) and hooks (1994) (Dalgleish, Girard, & Davies 2017).

A common thread in these proposals is treatment of critical thinking as a social, interactive, personally engaged activity like that of a quilting bee or a barn-raising (Thayer-Bacon 2000) rather than as an individual, solitary, distanced activity symbolized by Rodin’s The Thinker . One can get a vivid description of education with the former type of goal from the writings of bell hooks (1994, 2010). Critical thinking for her is open-minded dialectical exchange across opposing standpoints and from multiple perspectives, a conception similar to Paul’s “strong sense” critical thinking (Paul 1981). She abandons the structure of domination in the traditional classroom. In an introductory course on black women writers, for example, she assigns students to write an autobiographical paragraph about an early racial memory, then to read it aloud as the others listen, thus affirming the uniqueness and value of each voice and creating a communal awareness of the diversity of the group’s experiences (hooks 1994: 84). Her “engaged pedagogy” is thus similar to the “freedom under guidance” implemented in John Dewey’s Laboratory School of Chicago in the late 1890s and early 1900s. It incorporates the dialogue, anchored instruction, and mentoring that Abrami (2015) found to be most effective in improving critical thinking skills and dispositions.

What is the relationship of critical thinking to problem solving, decision-making, higher-order thinking, creative thinking, and other recognized types of thinking? One’s answer to this question obviously depends on how one defines the terms used in the question. If critical thinking is conceived broadly to cover any careful thinking about any topic for any purpose, then problem solving and decision making will be kinds of critical thinking, if they are done carefully. Historically, ‘critical thinking’ and ‘problem solving’ were two names for the same thing. If critical thinking is conceived more narrowly as consisting solely of appraisal of intellectual products, then it will be disjoint with problem solving and decision making, which are constructive.

Bloom’s taxonomy of educational objectives used the phrase “intellectual abilities and skills” for what had been labeled “critical thinking” by some, “reflective thinking” by Dewey and others, and “problem solving” by still others (Bloom et al. 1956: 38). Thus, the so-called “higher-order thinking skills” at the taxonomy’s top levels of analysis, synthesis and evaluation are just critical thinking skills, although they do not come with general criteria for their assessment (Ennis 1981b). The revised version of Bloom’s taxonomy (Anderson et al. 2001) likewise treats critical thinking as cutting across those types of cognitive process that involve more than remembering (Anderson et al. 2001: 269–270). For details, see the Supplement on History .

As to creative thinking, it overlaps with critical thinking (Bailin 1987, 1988). Thinking about the explanation of some phenomenon or event, as in Ferryboat , requires creative imagination in constructing plausible explanatory hypotheses. Likewise, thinking about a policy question, as in Candidate , requires creativity in coming up with options. Conversely, creativity in any field needs to be balanced by critical appraisal of the draft painting or novel or mathematical theory.

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How to cite this entry . Preview the PDF version of this entry at the Friends of the SEP Society . Look up topics and thinkers related to this entry at the Internet Philosophy Ontology Project (InPhO). Enhanced bibliography for this entry at PhilPapers , with links to its database.
  • Association for Informal Logic and Critical Thinking (AILACT)
  • Critical Thinking Across the European Higher Education Curricula (CRITHINKEDU)
  • Critical Thinking Definition, Instruction, and Assessment: A Rigorous Approach
  • Critical Thinking Research (RAIL)
  • Foundation for Critical Thinking
  • Insight Assessment
  • Partnership for 21st Century Learning (P21)
  • The Critical Thinking Consortium
  • The Nature of Critical Thinking: An Outline of Critical Thinking Dispositions and Abilities , by Robert H. Ennis

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Analytical vs Critical Thinking: Know the Difference

Thinking is a big part of our everyday lives. But not all thinking is alike. There are two main types: analytical and critical thinking.

Understanding the difference between these can help us make better decisions and solve problems more effectively. In this article, we’ll look at what sets these two types apart and how we can use them in real life.

By understanding the distinctions, you can improve your thinking skills and become more effective.

What is the difference between critical thinking and analytical thinking?

Defining analytical thinking.

Analytical thinking looks at problems in a different way than critical thinking. Critical thinking breaks down a subject to understand and explain it, while analytical thinking breaks down a problem or task to solve it.

In the workplace, analytical thinking helps with problem-solving and decision-making. For example, a quantitative analyst can find patterns in data to understand sales trends, helping businesses make good decisions.

Analytical thinking means finding patterns, trends, and relationships in information to gain deeper insights. It also means solving problems from different angles in various situations.

These skills are important for managers to handle challenges and keep businesses running well.

Defining Critical Thinking

Critical thinking means analyzing, interpreting, and making judgments. It involves questioning assumptions and considering different perspectives. It’s important to be open-minded, seek diverse viewpoints, and reflect on personal beliefs. In the workplace, critical thinking helps analyze complex problems, make sound decisions, and adapt to challenges. For instance, when solving business problems, critical thinkers consider all outcomes, weigh pros and cons, and solve problems more effectively.

Core Aspects of Analytical Reasoning

Data gathering and analysis.

Methods used for data gathering and analysis include cause and effect, similarities and differences, trends, associations between things, inter-relationships between the parts, the sequence of events, ways to solve complex problems, steps within a process, and diagramming what is happening.

Data can be effectively evaluated and interpreted for analysis by recognizing specific patterns within large data sets and learning to recognize these patterns in both numbers and written arguments. Looking at information to discern patterns within it is also important.

The key steps in formulating a methodical approach to data gathering and analysis involve breaking down problems into smaller parts to find solutions, evaluating problems, analyzing them from more than one angle, and finding a solution that works best in the given circumstances. Arriving at a logical conclusion or solution to given problems is crucial.

Evaluating Evidence

In a specific situation, evaluating evidence involves using reasoning and pattern recognition. This helps in understanding information better. Analyzing from different angles and using cause and effect, similarities and differences, trends, and associations are important for assessing evidence. Critical thinking allows thorough examination, questioning assumptions, recognizing biases, defining terms, and finding inconsistencies.

Therefore, critical thinking is essential for a more reliable analysis.

Formulating Methodical Approaches

Critical thinking and analytical thinking are similar. They both involve assessing and evaluating information. But they differ in how this is done. Critical thinking judges information to determine its relevance and validity. On the other hand, analytical thinking focuses on breaking down problems and discerning patterns within them.

In analytical thinking, a person’s general aptitude in arriving at logical conclusions to given problems is key. It requires the usage of cause and effect, similarities and differences, trends, associations between things, and the inter-relationships between the parts.

Critical thinking focuses on evaluating the elements of information to fully understand or explain it. It involves techniques like inference, interpretation, and evaluation. Often, it requires the individual to use reasoning, evidential support, and a thoughtful analysis of one’s own thinking.

These two methods play a significant role in problem-solving and decision-making processes. They allow individuals to draw deeper patterns and insights from data, text, and other forms of information.

Elements of Critical Thinking

Questioning assumptions.

Analytical reasoning involves breaking down problems into smaller parts to find solutions and determining patterns within information.

Questioning assumptions is integral to critical thinking. It allows individuals to fully understand and explain various parts or details of an issue.

Critical thinking also involves examining the structures of arguments and recognizing deeper patterns. This is crucial for making informed decisions.

Optimizing thinking strategies for the workplace involves evaluating problems from multiple angles and finding the best solution in given circumstances.

Applying analytical reasoning skills to discern patterns in data sets contributes to problem-solving and gaining valuable insights.

Businesses seek employees who possess the aptitude to utilize analytical reasoning skills to address challenges effectively and ensure smooth business operations.

Quality analytical reasoning and pattern recognition skills are essential for recognizing trends within problems, providing a competitive edge in the workplace.

Exploring Perspectives

Analytical thinking involves breaking down a problem into smaller parts to find solutions and discerning patterns within information. Critical thinking, on the other hand, examines different parts or details of something to fully understand or explain it. Exploring different perspectives is crucial to enhancing these skills.

Recognizing patterns in information can be optimized through exploring various viewpoints in analytical thinking, allowing the person to pull more information out of a text or data set. Similarly, for critical thinking, exploring different perspectives can assist in evaluating problems and finding solutions from different angles.

Individuals can optimize their thinking strategies in the workplace by developing analytical and critical thinking skills. For instance, quantitative analysts can discern patterns in data to gain insights, and managers who can apply analytical reasoning are considered excellent problem-solvers. This optimizing involves understanding causes and effects, trends, associations between things, and steps within a process. By applying these thinking strategies, individuals become better equipped to meet the challenges faced at the workplace.

Reflecting on Implications

Reflecting on implications differs between analytical thinking and critical thinking. Analytical thinking requires breaking down a problem into smaller elements to solve it. Critical thinking involves examining different parts or details to fully understand or explain something.

Potential outcomes of not reflecting on implications in both analytical and critical thinking processes include missing deeper patterns in a text or data set, and failing to recognize trends in the problem.

Individuals can improve their ability to reflect on implications in both analytical and critical thinking. This can be achieved by learning to recognize patterns in both numbers and written arguments. Also, developing an aptitude to apply analytical reasoning to problems faced in a business or a given situation.

Analytical Reasoning in Action

Scenario: market research.

Analytical reasoning in market research helps find solutions to complex problems. It breaks them into smaller pieces which allows individuals to discern patterns within information. For instance, seasonal sales trends or large-scale shifts in the market. Similarly, critical thinking contributes to problem-solving by enabling individuals to thoroughly examine and understand different aspects of a problem or situation.

It involves cause and effect, similarities and differences, and sequence of events. These skills lead to a deeper understanding and comprehensive insights. Valuable skills in market research include pattern recognition, trend analysis, and problem evaluation using multiple perspectives. These skills enable professionals to extract actionable insights, identify hidden trends, and make informed decisions based on their findings.

The Role of Critical Thinking in Problem Solving

Example: ethical dilemmas in business.

Analytical thinking means looking at information and finding patterns within it – like the structure of an argument or trends in a big data set. It helps break down complex problems into smaller parts to come to logical conclusions or solutions.

For example, a quantitative analyst might use it to spot trends in data and identify seasonal patterns or wider trends that a company should worry about. When it comes to ethical dilemmas in business, people with strong analytical skills can see important information that others might miss, helping to make ethical decisions.

Employers use analytical thinking to separate it from critical thinking when evaluating potential employees. They look at a person’s ability to find patterns, evaluate problems from different angles, and find the best solutions based on the given circumstances. Critical thinking, on the other hand, means looking at different parts or details of something to understand it fully or explain it, and often involves looking at cause and effect, similarities and differences, trends, and other relationships. Both are important for ethical decision-making and innovation in the workplace, but they need different approaches. So, employers want candidates who can use both analytical and critical thinking to face challenges and make ethical decisions at work.

Situation: Crisis Management

Crisis management involves strategic planning, effective communication, and adaptability.

Analytical and critical thinking skills are essential in this situation. They help individuals thoroughly examine the situation, assess potential risks, and find effective solutions.

For example, during a crisis, analytical thinking allows individuals to discern patterns within the information to make informed decisions.

Critical thinking skills aid in evaluating the problem from various angles and finding practical solutions that align with the circumstances.

To optimize thinking during a crisis, individuals can use strategies like cause and effect analysis, recognizing trends, and understanding inter-relationships.

By breaking down the crisis into smaller elements, individuals can effectively navigate complex problems and develop solutions that address the underlying issues.

Comparing Skills: Analytical vs Critical Thinking

Skill set overlap.

Analytical thinking and critical thinking have similar skill set requirements. Both involve breaking down a problem and examining its parts. Analytical thinking, like critical thinking, involves looking at various details to understand something fully.

For example, analyzing trends in a large data set or examining the structure of an argument. Analytical thinking also involves considering cause and effect, similarities and differences, and connections between things. One key difference is that analytical thinking focuses on recognizing patterns within information, such as trends in large data sets. As business challenges grow, analytical thinking is increasingly important for recognizing patterns in numbers and written arguments, providing insights that others might miss. Both critical and analytical thinking are essential in the workplace, so it’s important to improve these skills. This can be done by evaluating problems and finding effective solutions.

These skills are also valuable for managers, who need to analyze situations from different perspectives and choose the best actions.

Distinguishing Skill Requirements

Critical thinking is all about logical, purposeful thinking. It’s a way to determine if a claim is true or not, and to solve problems. Employers seek people with analytical skills, which involve breaking down problems into smaller parts to find solutions. While analytical reasoning focuses on discerning patterns in information, critical thinking involves evaluating information and making judgments. Both skills are crucial for effective decision-making.

Analytical skills are useful for solving complex problems step by step, a critical aspect of decision-making. For employers, a quantitative analyst who can find patterns in data to draw meaningful conclusions can be invaluable for a business.

What Employers Seek: Analytical vs Critical Thinking Skills

Evaluating job descriptions.

Job descriptions can show if analytical and critical thinking skills are needed.

For example, if a job description talks about problem-solving, data analysis, and pattern recognition, it likely requires analytical thinking. On the other hand, if it mentions sound judgment, decision-making, and identifying potential issues, it may need critical thinking skills.

Employers can make job descriptions clearer by stating the specific skills and capabilities needed, as well as the responsibilities that need analytical or critical thinking.

Also, giving examples of scenarios or challenges employees will face can help candidates understand the thinking skills needed for the job.

Assessing Organizational Needs

Analytical reasoning is important for businesses. It involves breaking down problems to find solutions. For instance, a quantitative analyst can find valuable information by discerning patterns within data. Employers look for candidates who can understand and explain things by critically examining different parts or details. Businesses value managers who can apply analytical reasoning skills to meet challenges and ensure smooth operations.

Therefore, individuals in various job positions should be able to utilize analytical and critical thinking skills for effective problem-solving and decision-making.

Optimizing Thinking Strategies for the Workplace

Approach: decision making processes.

Analytical thinking and critical thinking both play a role in decision-making. But, they are different. Critical thinking involves analyzing and evaluating information to make a judgment. Analytical thinking is about breaking down a problem or task into smaller elements to solve it. Analytical thinking means discerning patterns within information. Critical thinking involves understanding and explaining the different parts or details of something.

In the workplace, people can optimize their thinking by using cause and effect, similarities and differences, trends, and associations between things. Employers want employees with strong analytical and critical thinking skills. They need people who can evaluate problems from different perspectives, find solutions that work best, and recognize patterns in data and written arguments.

Strategy: Innovation and Development

Analytical thinking skills focus on breaking down problems into smaller parts to find solutions. Critical thinking skills involve examining different parts to fully understand or explain something.

For example, a quantitative analyst may use analytical reasoning to discern patterns in data, such as identifying trends in sales. In contrast, critical thinking involves evaluating arguments and making logical conclusions, such as assessing the reasoning behind a particular business decision.

Organizations can benefit from employees who possess both analytical and critical thinking skills. For instance, a manager with excellent analytical skills can evaluate problems from multiple angles to find the best solution. Someone with strong critical thinking skills might assess the potential risks and benefits of different strategies.

In the context of strategy, innovation, and development, a combination of analytical and critical thinking allows companies to identify trends, evaluate potential outcomes, and make informed decisions to keep the business functioning smoothly.

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What is critical and analytical thinking.

In essence, this means looking very closely at the detail and not taking what you read or are told for granted. This is likely to involve some or all of the following:

Check list:

  • Evaluating how far sources and materials are up-to-date and relevant
  • Evaluating if the evidence or examples used support the points or claims made
  • Evaluating opinions, arguments or solutions using appropriate criteria and benchmarks
  • Following a line of reasoning through to its logical conclusion
  • Checking for bias or unfounded assumptions
  • Evaluating the argument to check that the evidence presented really does support the conclusions drawn.

You will need to do this for books and other resources that you consult throughout your learning. You are expected to be applying critical and analytical thinking to assessing your sources, using evidence that has been well researched rather than just your own, or someone else's, unjustified opinion.This is especially true when you are using materials and sources drawn from the internet. Website material in particular may not have been subjected to the same processes of peer-reviewing as many printed materials.

Peer-reviewing is a core process of evaluating materials proposed for publication and involves appropriate experts in a field assessing the validity, reliability and intellectual contribution the writing would make to the field and its intended readership.

Interpreting the contributions of broadcast media materials such as YouTube videos, radio, television, and film may also present challenges for applying critical and analytical thinking. You may need to consider the impact of any legal constraints for meeting publication or broadcast guidelines and the extent to which review or approval in advance may be limited.

In selecting evidence and developing your own opinion you will need to take into account the potential bias inherent in the sources you consult. Talk to your subject tutors to access advice on critically analysing the relevant range of resources you may refer to in your academic discipline.

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Future Focused Learning

Critical Thinking vs Analytical Thinking vs Creative Thinking

What are critical, analytical, and creative thinking? How do they differ and how do they complement each other? And what does this mean for our learners?

Like most people, you have probably heard the terms critical thinking and analytical thinking. If so, then it’s possible you’ve also heard the term “creative thinking” in the mix from time to time. All three of these terms are often used interchangeably. However, although they share some universal similarities, there are distinct differences between them.

For example, some assume that analytical thinking and critical thinking are one and the same, but that’s not quite right. Some also consider creative thinking to be creativity, and that’s not quite accurate either.

What we want to do here is try to separate the individual meanings from each other and show you how they differ, but also how they relate.

Recipes for Thinking

Critical thinking as a term is often mentioned as a key skill for employees to have in any organization that wishes to succeed in a changing world (Hoffman, 2023). The problem with this is it's often confused with analytical and lateral thinking, something that many learners are not often taught to do properly (Eider & Paul, 2019).

As for creative thinking, the success of any business depends on having someone highly creative on the team (Florida, 2002). But again, the meaning of “thinking creatively” is often misread. Let’s begin to put an end to the confusion with a simple mouth-watering example:

Analytical thinking  would be identifying the exact ingredients, proportions, and processes involved in the recipe for your favourite cookie.

Critical thinking  would be considering the criteria for what makes that cookie tasty and then judging the cookie in relation to that criteria.

Creative thinking  is imagining your own idea of the perfect cookie and then making it a reality for others to enjoy. 

So to put it technically, and in a way less likely to induce cravings:

Analytical thinking  is the act of breaking down complex pieces of information into smaller and more understandable components or principles (Thaneerananon, et al., 2016). It involves systematically dismantling data to decipher facts that can be used to build upon information or provide an evidence-based conclusion.

Critical thinking  means carefully weighing information or views and interpreting them to make sound independent judgments. One of its components is analytical in nature, in that it also takes a willingness to deconstruct your thinking and put it to some stern tests in order to improve it (Elder & Paul, 2020).

Creative thinking  is the mental process of bringing something new into existence through imagination. It involves the input of facts and sensory stimuli, interpolation, and critical reflection to imagine something that does not exist (Crockett, 2011). It can also be thinking about something in a new or different way (Doyle, 2022). 

How Do Critical, Analytical, and Creative Thinking Compare to Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy?

Bloom’s Taxonomy (1956) is represented by the following taxonomic levels in this domain, arranged from LOTS (lower-order thinking skills) to HOTS (higher-order thinking skills).

Remembering:  To recall from the past

Understanding:  To know the meaning or intended significance 

Applying:  To bring or put into operation or use

Analysing:  To examine in detail, breaking down into its component parts

Evaluating:  To make an appraisal or judgment by weighing the strengths and limitations  

Creating:  To bring into existence 

It’s important to note that any level of the taxonomy incorporates the previous levels. Analysis, for example, depends on first remembering, understanding, and applying, without which there is no basis for analysis. Additionally, the lower three levels are considered lower-order thinking skills or LOTS.

Personally, I think every maths lesson I experienced in school was limited to just these levels:

Remember  the formula

Understand  what it is

Apply  it (dozens of times on worksheets)

If we really think about it, this type of activity tests a learner’s capacity for multiplication more than any kind of reflective thought, and perhaps that’s why they are referred to as lower-order thinking. If you consider Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy and its relation to learning, it represents a shift from teacher to learner-centered learning.

Creating, on the other hand, is an internal process. A teacher can create the environment and provide opportunities for creativity to flourish, but actual creative metacognition happens within one’s own mind and so it is learner-centered.

The upper three levels of Bloom's Taxonomy—analyze, evaluate, and create—constitute the higher-order thinking skills or HOTS. These are the soft skills or transfer skills that are the focus of curriculum around the world, and that are in such demand in the workplace of today. 

“ Critical, analytical, and creative thinking are often used interchangeably—although they share universal similarities, there are distinct differences between them. ”

A study performed in 2020 indicated that over 85% of employers have placed a higher emphasis on such soft skills over the last 5 to 10 years, and added that companies consider soft skills more important than the majority of college graduates (Succi & Canovi, 2020).

These HOTS are part of the foundation of being college- and career-ready. They also relate directly to our discussion of analytical, critical, and creative thinking as they are reflected directly at these levels.

This infographic helps explain how the three are distinct yet related. As with the lower-order thinking levels of Bloom’s, the higher-order levels also incorporate the previous levels.

analytical vs critical thinking examples

We mentioned earlier that analysis is dependent upon first remembering, understanding, and applying. Evaluation involves considering the analysis and then making a judgment accordingly, which means critical thinking includes and is built upon analytical thinking. Similarly, creating, as a structured process, includes and is built upon both analysis and evaluation and therefore analytical and critical thinking.

From this, we can see that analytical thinking is a step in the critical thinking process, which is a step in the creative thinking process.

All three processes involve facts, but each for different purposes. As we’re about to see, their individual processes reflect this. Let’s return to our previous definitions of each one, and expand on them by providing some action steps for each.

Analytical Thinking Overview

Analytical thinking is the act of breaking down complex pieces of information into smaller and more understandable components or principles. It involves systematically dismantling data to decipher facts that can be used to build upon information or provide an evidence-based conclusion.

Analytical Thinking Process

This kind of thinking is about simplifying complexity. We begin first by gathering relevant information. Next, we start to break all that information down into more manageable bite-sized pieces. This gives you sub-categories that you now examine even closer, which makes understanding complex masses of data much easier.

A closer examination involves comparison and contrast by looking at data from different sources. You weed out extraneous bits of information, search for cause and effect, and identify patterns and consistencies. The last step is to draw a sound conclusion from the information you’ve processed.

Analytical thinking involves:

Identifying an issue

Gathering facts and evidence

Breaking complex information into smaller pieces

Applying logic and reasoning

Evaluating viewpoints and opinions

Identifying patterns and cause and effect

Eliminating extraneous information

Drawing and testing conclusions

Assessing new knowledge

Critical Thinking Overview

Critical thinking means carefully weighing information or views and interpreting them to make sound independent judgments.

Critical Thinking Process

Critical thinking involves gathering and organizing information regarding the issue or problem. From there, we engage in asking meaningful and essential questions about what we’re addressing. We can then form our own ideas and theories from our evaluation.

Throughout this process, we are also considering existing and emerging information beyond what is present. We are also considering and evaluating the arguments of others as they arise. We explore possibilities and consider various solutions, free from bias and assumption.

Finally, when a conclusion is reached, we test it against the evidence, revise it as necessary, and make our judgments.

Critical thinking involves:

Gathering relevant information

Asking meaningful questions

Considering alternative viewpoints

Applying logic and reasoning skills

Revisiting input in a cyclical manner

Recognizing bias

Avoiding assumption

Considering possibilities

Testing and revising conclusions

Making sound judgements

Creative Thinking Overview

Creative thinking is the mental process of bringing something new into existence through imagination. It involves the input of facts and sensory stimulus well as interpolation and critical reflection to imagine something that does not exist.

Creative Thinking Process

We define the creative thinking process using the 5 Is of Creativity Fluency, which are identify, inspire, interpolate, imagine, and inspect. It begins with determining what the task is and what we want to create. From there, we seek inspiration from a multitude of external stimuli.

Once we start looking for ideas, we begin to see patterns forming, and we begin to connect the dots. This eventually culminates in the birth of our ultimate idea—you know it as the “Aha!” moment.

Finally, with our new creative idea in mind, we step back and evaluate it closely. We consider if it meets the original criteria, its feasibility, and whether or not it can be accomplished within our budget and timeframe.

Creative thinking involves:

Brainstorming and lateral thinking

Sharing personal knowledge and experience

Moving beyond what is known

Using familiar and unfamiliar sources

Seeing new possibilities

Experimenting and imagining

Pattern recognition

Identifying connections/relationships

Combining opposing concepts/elements

Forming mental images/sensations/concepts

Giving meaning to experiences

Constructing with creative mediums

Examining the product and the process

Internalizing and applying the new idea

Re-examining/revising the idea

The truth is that a measure of all three skills is necessary for our lives. Often they also complement each other.

Keep in mind none of us thinks critically, analytically, or creatively 100% of the time. Nevertheless, when the time comes to implement one or the other (or all three), both we and our learners can benefit from having a solid understanding of how to use them.

Building Thinking Skills for Success

Teaching others how to think critically, analytically, and creatively is a tricky business. We live in a world of influence, after all, and there are limitless perceptions and viewpoints our learners will experience throughout their lives. The guidelines I offer in this post will help you differentiate easily between the types of things we discuss. Now it’s up to you to transfer what you’ve learned to your students to help them think proactively and make their own decisions.

Bloom, B. S.; Engelhart, M. D.; Furst, E. J.; Hill, W. H.; Krathwohl, D. R. (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives: The classification of educational goals. Handbook I: Cognitive domain. New York: David McKay Company.

Crockett, L., Jukes, I., & Churches, A. (2011). Literacy Is Not Enough: 21st-CenturyFluencies for the Digital Age. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Doyle, A. (2022). What is creative thinking? Definition and examples of creative thinking. Retrieved from https://www.thebalancemoney.com/creative-thinking-definition-with-examples-2063744 May 3, 2023.

Elder, L., & Paul, R. (2019). The thinker's guide to analytic thinking: How to take thinking apart and what to look for when you do. Rowman & Littlefield.

Elder, L., & Paul, R. (2020). Critical thinking: Learn the tools the best thinkers use. Foundation for Critical Thinking.

Florida, R. (2002). The rise of the creative class. New York; Hachette Book Group.

Hoffman, B. (2023). Why Your Business Needs Critical Thinking. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/brycehoffman/2023/02/22/why-your-business-needs-critical-thinking/ May 2, 2023.

Succi, C., & Canovi, M. (2020). Soft skills to enhance graduate employability: comparing students and employers’ perceptions. Studies in higher education, 45(9), 1834-1847.

Thaneerananon, T., Triampo, W., & Nokkaew, A. (2016). Development of a Test to Evaluate Students' Analytical Thinking Based on Fact versus Opinion Differentiation. International Journal of Instruction, 9(2), 123-138.

analytical vs critical thinking examples

Author and keynote speaker, Lee works with governments, education systems, international agencies and corporations to help people and organisations connect to their higher purpose. Lee lives in Japan where he studies Zen and the Shakuhachi.

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Critical Thinking

Developing the right mindset and skills.

By the Mind Tools Content Team

We make hundreds of decisions every day and, whether we realize it or not, we're all critical thinkers.

We use critical thinking each time we weigh up our options, prioritize our responsibilities, or think about the likely effects of our actions. It's a crucial skill that helps us to cut out misinformation and make wise decisions. The trouble is, we're not always very good at it!

In this article, we'll explore the key skills that you need to develop your critical thinking skills, and how to adopt a critical thinking mindset, so that you can make well-informed decisions.

What Is Critical Thinking?

Critical thinking is the discipline of rigorously and skillfully using information, experience, observation, and reasoning to guide your decisions, actions, and beliefs. You'll need to actively question every step of your thinking process to do it well.

Collecting, analyzing and evaluating information is an important skill in life, and a highly valued asset in the workplace. People who score highly in critical thinking assessments are also rated by their managers as having good problem-solving skills, creativity, strong decision-making skills, and good overall performance. [1]

Key Critical Thinking Skills

Critical thinkers possess a set of key characteristics which help them to question information and their own thinking. Focus on the following areas to develop your critical thinking skills:

Being willing and able to explore alternative approaches and experimental ideas is crucial. Can you think through "what if" scenarios, create plausible options, and test out your theories? If not, you'll tend to write off ideas and options too soon, so you may miss the best answer to your situation.

To nurture your curiosity, stay up to date with facts and trends. You'll overlook important information if you allow yourself to become "blinkered," so always be open to new information.

But don't stop there! Look for opposing views or evidence to challenge your information, and seek clarification when things are unclear. This will help you to reassess your beliefs and make a well-informed decision later. Read our article, Opening Closed Minds , for more ways to stay receptive.

Logical Thinking

You must be skilled at reasoning and extending logic to come up with plausible options or outcomes.

It's also important to emphasize logic over emotion. Emotion can be motivating but it can also lead you to take hasty and unwise action, so control your emotions and be cautious in your judgments. Know when a conclusion is "fact" and when it is not. "Could-be-true" conclusions are based on assumptions and must be tested further. Read our article, Logical Fallacies , for help with this.

Use creative problem solving to balance cold logic. By thinking outside of the box you can identify new possible outcomes by using pieces of information that you already have.


Many of the decisions we make in life are subtly informed by our values and beliefs. These influences are called cognitive biases and it can be difficult to identify them in ourselves because they're often subconscious.

Practicing self-awareness will allow you to reflect on the beliefs you have and the choices you make. You'll then be better equipped to challenge your own thinking and make improved, unbiased decisions.

One particularly useful tool for critical thinking is the Ladder of Inference . It allows you to test and validate your thinking process, rather than jumping to poorly supported conclusions.

Developing a Critical Thinking Mindset

Combine the above skills with the right mindset so that you can make better decisions and adopt more effective courses of action. You can develop your critical thinking mindset by following this process:

Gather Information

First, collect data, opinions and facts on the issue that you need to solve. Draw on what you already know, and turn to new sources of information to help inform your understanding. Consider what gaps there are in your knowledge and seek to fill them. And look for information that challenges your assumptions and beliefs.

Be sure to verify the authority and authenticity of your sources. Not everything you read is true! Use this checklist to ensure that your information is valid:

  • Are your information sources trustworthy ? (For example, well-respected authors, trusted colleagues or peers, recognized industry publications, websites, blogs, etc.)
  • Is the information you have gathered up to date ?
  • Has the information received any direct criticism ?
  • Does the information have any errors or inaccuracies ?
  • Is there any evidence to support or corroborate the information you have gathered?
  • Is the information you have gathered subjective or biased in any way? (For example, is it based on opinion, rather than fact? Is any of the information you have gathered designed to promote a particular service or organization?)

If any information appears to be irrelevant or invalid, don't include it in your decision making. But don't omit information just because you disagree with it, or your final decision will be flawed and bias.

Now observe the information you have gathered, and interpret it. What are the key findings and main takeaways? What does the evidence point to? Start to build one or two possible arguments based on what you have found.

You'll need to look for the details within the mass of information, so use your powers of observation to identify any patterns or similarities. You can then analyze and extend these trends to make sensible predictions about the future.

To help you to sift through the multiple ideas and theories, it can be useful to group and order items according to their characteristics. From here, you can compare and contrast the different items. And once you've determined how similar or different things are from one another, Paired Comparison Analysis can help you to analyze them.

The final step involves challenging the information and rationalizing its arguments.

Apply the laws of reason (induction, deduction, analogy) to judge an argument and determine its merits. To do this, it's essential that you can determine the significance and validity of an argument to put it in the correct perspective. Take a look at our article, Rational Thinking , for more information about how to do this.

Once you have considered all of the arguments and options rationally, you can finally make an informed decision.

Afterward, take time to reflect on what you have learned and what you found challenging. Step back from the detail of your decision or problem, and look at the bigger picture. Record what you've learned from your observations and experience.

Critical thinking involves rigorously and skilfully using information, experience, observation, and reasoning to guide your decisions, actions and beliefs. It's a useful skill in the workplace and in life.

You'll need to be curious and creative to explore alternative possibilities, but rational to apply logic, and self-aware to identify when your beliefs could affect your decisions or actions.

You can demonstrate a high level of critical thinking by validating your information, analyzing its meaning, and finally evaluating the argument.

Critical Thinking Infographic

See Critical Thinking represented in our infographic: An Elementary Guide to Critical Thinking .

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Analytical Thinking, Critical Analysis, and Problem Solving Guide

  • Post author: Samir Saif
  • Post published: September 5, 2023
  • Post category: marketing skills
  • Post comments: 4 Comments
  • Post last modified: November 10, 2023
  • Reading time: 9 mins read

Analytical thinking; is a mental process that entails dissecting an issue or situation into its constituent parts, investigating their relationships, and reaching conclusions based on facts and logic.

It is not about trusting instincts or making assumptions; rather, it is about studying details, recognizing patterns, and developing a full understanding. Whether you’re a seasoned professional, an aspiring entrepreneur, or a curious mind, improving analytical thinking can help you solve problems more effectively.

An image with a white background with Strategies to Enhance Analytical Thinking written above it

Table of Contents

Analytical Thinking’s Importance in Problem Solving

Certainly! Analytical thinking entails the capacity to gather pertinent information, critically assess evidence, and reach logical conclusions. It enables you to:

  • Identify Root Causes: Analytical thinking allows you to delve deeper into a problem to find the underlying causes rather than just addressing surface-level symptoms.
  • Reduce Risks: Analytical thinking can help discover potential risks and obstacles connected with various solutions. This kind of thinking encourages constant progress and the generation of new ideas.
  • Improve Communication: Analytical thinking enables you to deliver clear and well-structured explanations while giving answers to others.
  • Adaptability : Analytical thinking gives you a flexible attitude.
  • Learning and Development: Analytical thinking improves your cognitive skills, allowing you to learn from prior experiences and apply those lessons to new situations.
  • Problem Prevention: By examining previous difficulties, you can find trends and patterns.
  • Analytical thinking is, in essence, the foundation of effective problem-solving. It enables you to approach problems methodically, make well-informed judgments, and eventually get better results.

Key Components of Analytical Thinking

Analytical thinking is a multifaceted process including a beautifully woven tapestry of observation, inquiry, and logic. Engage your curiosity as you approach a complex task and see patterns emerge, similar to stars in the night sky.

These patterns direct your thinking toward greater comprehension. Your understanding grows as you progress, and your analytical thinking becomes a light of clarity, guiding people through the fog of complexity.

Your tapestry is complete as you approach the shores of conclusion, a tribute to the power of analytical thinking. Embrace your curiosity, navigate the waters of observation, and let the stars of logic guide you. Remember that the art of analytical thinking is a magnificent journey that leads to enlightenment.

Using analytical reasoning in real-life situations

An image with a white background with the words “Using analytical reasoning in real-life” written above it

Absolutely! Let’s get started with analytical thinking! Consider yourself in a busy city, attempting to discover the shortest route to your goal. Instead than taking the first option that comes to mind, you take a moment to think about your possibilities.

This is the initial stage in analytical thinking: evaluating the situation. As you contemplate, you balance the advantages and disadvantages of each route, taking into account issues such as traffic, distance, and potential bypasses. This information gathering approach assists you in making an informed decision.

Breaking down the problem

Then you go to the second phase, which entails breaking the problem down into smaller portions. You break down the difficult job of navigating the city into manageable components, much like a puzzle.

This technique allows you to identify future difficulties and devise creative solutions. For example, you may observe a construction zone on one route but recall a shortcut that may save you time.

Read Also:  Goal Alignment: Key Strategies for Success

Analyzing the information

You employ critical thinking to assess the material you’ve received as you go. As you consider the significance of each component—time, distance, and traffic—patterns and connections emerge.

You begin to make connections and discover that, while a faster route may appear enticing, heavy traffic at certain times of day might make it a frustrating experience.

Make a decision

Making a decision in the last step necessitates a complete comprehension of the circumstance as well as critical analysis. Analytical thinking entails investigating alternatives, comprehending nuances, and making informed decisions.

This approach can lead to optimal, well-thought-out, and adaptable solutions, whether navigating a city, tackling a complex project, or making life decisions. Analytic thinking allows one to make informed judgments that benefit both the situation and the individual.

Strategies to Enhance Analytical Thinking Skills

Developing strong analytical thinking abilities is a journey that opens up new possibilities for comprehension and issue solving.

Consider yourself on an exciting mental journey where every challenge is an opportunity for improvement. Here’s a step-by-step guide to cultivating and improving your analytical thinking talents.

Accept curiosity

Begin by embracing your curiosity. Allow your thoughts to roam, pondering about the hows and whys of the world around you.

Allow yourself to immerse yourself completely in the complexities of a complex topic, such as climate change. “What are the underlying causes of this phenomenon?” Two decent places to start are “How do different variables interact to shape its outcomes?”.

Improve your observing abilities

Then, put your observation abilities to the test. Pay close attention to details that would otherwise go undetected. Instead of just gazing at the colors and shapes, try to figure out the brushstrokes, the play of light and shadow, and the feelings they create, as if you were studying a painting.

When analyzing data, look underneath the surface figures for trends, anomalies, and patterns that can reveal hidden insights.

Accept critical thinking

Learn to think critically as you progress. Examine your assumptions and look for alternative points of view. Assume you’re looking into a business problem, such as declining sales.

Instead than jumping to conclusions, investigate the matter from all angles. Consider changes in the sector, client preferences, and even internal corporate processes. This broader viewpoint can lead to creative solutions.

Read Also:  Business Development: Strategies and Tips for Success

Experiment with logical reasoning

Also, practice logical reasoning. Improve your ability to connect the dots and build logical chains of reasoning. As if you were assembling a jigsaw puzzle, each piece must fit snugly into the whole.

Consider how numerous variables such as population growth, infrastructure, and transportation systems logically interconnect when dealing with a complex issue such as urban congestion.

Improve your problem-solving skills

Develop your problem-solving abilities as well. For example, if you’re struggling with a personal issue, such as time management, break it down into smaller components. Analyze your daily routine to discover bottlenecks and develop a strategy to overcome them.

Foster continuous learning

Finally, encourage ongoing learning by broadening your knowledge base and investigating new domains. Imagine yourself as a discerning thinker analyzing the world’s intricacies and unraveling secrets.

Remember that progress, not perfection, is the goal. Every task, question, and conundrum you solve puts you one step closer to being an analytical juggernaut. Continue to explore and study to see your critical thinking skills soar to new heights.

Applying analytical reasoning to work

Assume you are a business owner who wants to boost client happiness. An analytical thinker would collect and analyze client input to uncover frequent pain issues.

You can adopt targeted adjustments that address the fundamental causes of unhappiness by detecting patterns in feedback data.

How can you demonstrate analytical skills on a resume?

A photo with a white and yellow background with the words “demonstrate analytical skills on a resume” written above it

Analytical skills on your CV can set you apart and leave a lasting impression on potential employers. Make your CV into a canvas, describing specific instances where your analytical skills were put to use.

Share how you methodically dissected a challenging topic or situation, revealing insights that aided your decision-making.

If you were tasked with optimizing a company’s supply chain, for example, dig further into data on inventory levels, production rates, and distribution deadlines.

Explain how your study found a bottleneck in the distribution network, leading to a realignment suggestion that saved the organization time and money.

Storytelling is key. Create a fascinating story about how your analytical abilities helped solve a tough problem, demonstrating your abilities and attracting the reader.

Your CV should read like a motivational trip through your analytical abilities, inspiring companies with your future contributions to their organization.

What is a case study of analytical thinking?

Absolutely! Let me give you an excellent example of analytical thinking that perfectly expresses its essence. Maya, a young scientist in this example, is dedicated to discovering a long-term solution for safe drinking water in rural areas.

She performs extensive research on water supplies, toxins, and local circumstances, looking for patterns and anomalies. She develops the concept that heavy rains increase runoff, resulting in higher levels of water contamination.

Maya designs controlled experiments in a lab setting to test her idea, acquiring quantifiable information through manipulation and observation.

Maya’s investigation continues, and she explores the big picture, imagining a multi-faceted solution that involves rainwater gathering, enhanced filtration systems, and community education.

She anticipates problems and works with engineers, social workers, and community leaders to refine her ideas and ensure their viability.

Her journey exemplifies how analytical thinking can lead to transformational solutions, and it motivates us to tackle complex challenges with curiosity, diligence, and the hope that careful analysis may design a better future.

Final Thoughts

Analytical thinking is more than just a cognitive skill; it’s a mindset that empowers you to unravel complexity, make informed choices, and navigate challenges with confidence.

You will be better able to handle the intricacies of the modern world as your analytical thinking skills increase, whether in business, academics, or daily life. Accept the power of analytical thinking, and your decision-making and problem-solving abilities will soar.

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41+ Critical Thinking Examples (Definition + Practices)

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Critical thinking is an essential skill in our information-overloaded world, where figuring out what is fact and fiction has become increasingly challenging.

But why is critical thinking essential? Put, critical thinking empowers us to make better decisions, challenge and validate our beliefs and assumptions, and understand and interact with the world more effectively and meaningfully.

Critical thinking is like using your brain's "superpowers" to make smart choices. Whether it's picking the right insurance, deciding what to do in a job, or discussing topics in school, thinking deeply helps a lot. In the next parts, we'll share real-life examples of when this superpower comes in handy and give you some fun exercises to practice it.

Critical Thinking Process Outline

a woman thinking

Critical thinking means thinking clearly and fairly without letting personal feelings get in the way. It's like being a detective, trying to solve a mystery by using clues and thinking hard about them.

It isn't always easy to think critically, as it can take a pretty smart person to see some of the questions that aren't being answered in a certain situation. But, we can train our brains to think more like puzzle solvers, which can help develop our critical thinking skills.

Here's what it looks like step by step:

Spotting the Problem: It's like discovering a puzzle to solve. You see that there's something you need to figure out or decide.

Collecting Clues: Now, you need to gather information. Maybe you read about it, watch a video, talk to people, or do some research. It's like getting all the pieces to solve your puzzle.

Breaking It Down: This is where you look at all your clues and try to see how they fit together. You're asking questions like: Why did this happen? What could happen next?

Checking Your Clues: You want to make sure your information is good. This means seeing if what you found out is true and if you can trust where it came from.

Making a Guess: After looking at all your clues, you think about what they mean and come up with an answer. This answer is like your best guess based on what you know.

Explaining Your Thoughts: Now, you tell others how you solved the puzzle. You explain how you thought about it and how you answered. 

Checking Your Work: This is like looking back and seeing if you missed anything. Did you make any mistakes? Did you let any personal feelings get in the way? This step helps make sure your thinking is clear and fair.

And remember, you might sometimes need to go back and redo some steps if you discover something new. If you realize you missed an important clue, you might have to go back and collect more information.

Critical Thinking Methods

Just like doing push-ups or running helps our bodies get stronger, there are special exercises that help our brains think better. These brain workouts push us to think harder, look at things closely, and ask many questions.

It's not always about finding the "right" answer. Instead, it's about the journey of thinking and asking "why" or "how." Doing these exercises often helps us become better thinkers and makes us curious to know more about the world.

Now, let's look at some brain workouts to help us think better:

1. "What If" Scenarios

Imagine crazy things happening, like, "What if there was no internet for a month? What would we do?" These games help us think of new and different ideas.

Pick a hot topic. Argue one side of it and then try arguing the opposite. This makes us see different viewpoints and think deeply about a topic.

3. Analyze Visual Data

Check out charts or pictures with lots of numbers and info but no explanations. What story are they telling? This helps us get better at understanding information just by looking at it.

4. Mind Mapping

Write an idea in the center and then draw lines to related ideas. It's like making a map of your thoughts. This helps us see how everything is connected.

There's lots of mind-mapping software , but it's also nice to do this by hand.

5. Weekly Diary

Every week, write about what happened, the choices you made, and what you learned. Writing helps us think about our actions and how we can do better.

6. Evaluating Information Sources

Collect stories or articles about one topic from newspapers or blogs. Which ones are trustworthy? Which ones might be a little biased? This teaches us to be smart about where we get our info.

There are many resources to help you determine if information sources are factual or not.

7. Socratic Questioning

This way of thinking is called the Socrates Method, named after an old-time thinker from Greece. It's about asking lots of questions to understand a topic. You can do this by yourself or chat with a friend.

Start with a Big Question:

"What does 'success' mean?"

Dive Deeper with More Questions:

"Why do you think of success that way?" "Do TV shows, friends, or family make you think that?" "Does everyone think about success the same way?"

"Can someone be a winner even if they aren't rich or famous?" "Can someone feel like they didn't succeed, even if everyone else thinks they did?"

Look for Real-life Examples:

"Who is someone you think is successful? Why?" "Was there a time you felt like a winner? What happened?"

Think About Other People's Views:

"How might a person from another country think about success?" "Does the idea of success change as we grow up or as our life changes?"

Think About What It Means:

"How does your idea of success shape what you want in life?" "Are there problems with only wanting to be rich or famous?"

Look Back and Think:

"After talking about this, did your idea of success change? How?" "Did you learn something new about what success means?"

socratic dialogue statues

8. Six Thinking Hats 

Edward de Bono came up with a cool way to solve problems by thinking in six different ways, like wearing different colored hats. You can do this independently, but it might be more effective in a group so everyone can have a different hat color. Each color has its way of thinking:

White Hat (Facts): Just the facts! Ask, "What do we know? What do we need to find out?"

Red Hat (Feelings): Talk about feelings. Ask, "How do I feel about this?"

Black Hat (Careful Thinking): Be cautious. Ask, "What could go wrong?"

Yellow Hat (Positive Thinking): Look on the bright side. Ask, "What's good about this?"

Green Hat (Creative Thinking): Think of new ideas. Ask, "What's another way to look at this?"

Blue Hat (Planning): Organize the talk. Ask, "What should we do next?"

When using this method with a group:

  • Explain all the hats.
  • Decide which hat to wear first.
  • Make sure everyone switches hats at the same time.
  • Finish with the Blue Hat to plan the next steps.

9. SWOT Analysis

SWOT Analysis is like a game plan for businesses to know where they stand and where they should go. "SWOT" stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats.

There are a lot of SWOT templates out there for how to do this visually, but you can also think it through. It doesn't just apply to businesses but can be a good way to decide if a project you're working on is working.

Strengths: What's working well? Ask, "What are we good at?"

Weaknesses: Where can we do better? Ask, "Where can we improve?"

Opportunities: What good things might come our way? Ask, "What chances can we grab?"

Threats: What challenges might we face? Ask, "What might make things tough for us?"

Steps to do a SWOT Analysis:

  • Goal: Decide what you want to find out.
  • Research: Learn about your business and the world around it.
  • Brainstorm: Get a group and think together. Talk about strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.
  • Pick the Most Important Points: Some things might be more urgent or important than others.
  • Make a Plan: Decide what to do based on your SWOT list.
  • Check Again Later: Things change, so look at your SWOT again after a while to update it.

Now that you have a few tools for thinking critically, let’s get into some specific examples.

Everyday Examples

Life is a series of decisions. From the moment we wake up, we're faced with choices – some trivial, like choosing a breakfast cereal, and some more significant, like buying a home or confronting an ethical dilemma at work. While it might seem that these decisions are disparate, they all benefit from the application of critical thinking.

10. Deciding to buy something

Imagine you want a new phone. Don't just buy it because the ad looks cool. Think about what you need in a phone. Look up different phones and see what people say about them. Choose the one that's the best deal for what you want.

11. Deciding what is true

There's a lot of news everywhere. Don't believe everything right away. Think about why someone might be telling you this. Check if what you're reading or watching is true. Make up your mind after you've looked into it.

12. Deciding when you’re wrong

Sometimes, friends can have disagreements. Don't just get mad right away. Try to see where they're coming from. Talk about what's going on. Find a way to fix the problem that's fair for everyone.

13. Deciding what to eat

There's always a new diet or exercise that's popular. Don't just follow it because it's trendy. Find out if it's good for you. Ask someone who knows, like a doctor. Make choices that make you feel good and stay healthy.

14. Deciding what to do today

Everyone is busy with school, chores, and hobbies. Make a list of things you need to do. Decide which ones are most important. Plan your day so you can get things done and still have fun.

15. Making Tough Choices

Sometimes, it's hard to know what's right. Think about how each choice will affect you and others. Talk to people you trust about it. Choose what feels right in your heart and is fair to others.

16. Planning for the Future

Big decisions, like where to go to school, can be tricky. Think about what you want in the future. Look at the good and bad of each choice. Talk to people who know about it. Pick what feels best for your dreams and goals.

choosing a house

Job Examples

17. solving problems.

Workers brainstorm ways to fix a machine quickly without making things worse when a machine breaks at a factory.

18. Decision Making

A store manager decides which products to order more of based on what's selling best.

19. Setting Goals

A team leader helps their team decide what tasks are most important to finish this month and which can wait.

20. Evaluating Ideas

At a team meeting, everyone shares ideas for a new project. The group discusses each idea's pros and cons before picking one.

21. Handling Conflict

Two workers disagree on how to do a job. Instead of arguing, they talk calmly, listen to each other, and find a solution they both like.

22. Improving Processes

A cashier thinks of a faster way to ring up items so customers don't have to wait as long.

23. Asking Questions

Before starting a big task, an employee asks for clear instructions and checks if they have the necessary tools.

24. Checking Facts

Before presenting a report, someone double-checks all their information to make sure there are no mistakes.

25. Planning for the Future

A business owner thinks about what might happen in the next few years, like new competitors or changes in what customers want, and makes plans based on those thoughts.

26. Understanding Perspectives

A team is designing a new toy. They think about what kids and parents would both like instead of just what they think is fun.

School Examples

27. researching a topic.

For a history project, a student looks up different sources to understand an event from multiple viewpoints.

28. Debating an Issue

In a class discussion, students pick sides on a topic, like school uniforms, and share reasons to support their views.

29. Evaluating Sources

While writing an essay, a student checks if the information from a website is trustworthy or might be biased.

30. Problem Solving in Math

When stuck on a tricky math problem, a student tries different methods to find the answer instead of giving up.

31. Analyzing Literature

In English class, students discuss why a character in a book made certain choices and what those decisions reveal about them.

32. Testing a Hypothesis

For a science experiment, students guess what will happen and then conduct tests to see if they're right or wrong.

33. Giving Peer Feedback

After reading a classmate's essay, a student offers suggestions for improving it.

34. Questioning Assumptions

In a geography lesson, students consider why certain countries are called "developed" and what that label means.

35. Designing a Study

For a psychology project, students plan an experiment to understand how people's memories work and think of ways to ensure accurate results.

36. Interpreting Data

In a science class, students look at charts and graphs from a study, then discuss what the information tells them and if there are any patterns.

Critical Thinking Puzzles

critical thinking tree

Not all scenarios will have a single correct answer that can be figured out by thinking critically. Sometimes we have to think critically about ethical choices or moral behaviors. 

Here are some mind games and scenarios you can solve using critical thinking. You can see the solution(s) at the end of the post.

37. The Farmer, Fox, Chicken, and Grain Problem

A farmer is at a riverbank with a fox, a chicken, and a grain bag. He needs to get all three items across the river. However, his boat can only carry himself and one of the three items at a time. 

Here's the challenge:

  • If the fox is left alone with the chicken, the fox will eat the chicken.
  • If the chicken is left alone with the grain, the chicken will eat the grain.

How can the farmer get all three items across the river without any item being eaten? 

38. The Rope, Jar, and Pebbles Problem

You are in a room with two long ropes hanging from the ceiling. Each rope is just out of arm's reach from the other, so you can't hold onto one rope and reach the other simultaneously. 

Your task is to tie the two rope ends together, but you can't move the position where they hang from the ceiling.

You are given a jar full of pebbles. How do you complete the task?

39. The Two Guards Problem

Imagine there are two doors. One door leads to certain doom, and the other leads to freedom. You don't know which is which.

In front of each door stands a guard. One guard always tells the truth. The other guard always lies. You don't know which guard is which.

You can ask only one question to one of the guards. What question should you ask to find the door that leads to freedom?

40. The Hourglass Problem

You have two hourglasses. One measures 7 minutes when turned over, and the other measures 4 minutes. Using just these hourglasses, how can you time exactly 9 minutes?

41. The Lifeboat Dilemma

Imagine you're on a ship that's sinking. You get on a lifeboat, but it's already too full and might flip over. 

Nearby in the water, five people are struggling: a scientist close to finding a cure for a sickness, an old couple who've been together for a long time, a mom with three kids waiting at home, and a tired teenager who helped save others but is now in danger. 

You can only save one person without making the boat flip. Who would you choose?

42. The Tech Dilemma

You work at a tech company and help make a computer program to help small businesses. You're almost ready to share it with everyone, but you find out there might be a small chance it has a problem that could show users' private info. 

If you decide to fix it, you must wait two more months before sharing it. But your bosses want you to share it now. What would you do?

43. The History Mystery

Dr. Amelia is a history expert. She's studying where a group of people traveled long ago. She reads old letters and documents to learn about it. But she finds some letters that tell a different story than what most people believe. 

If she says this new story is true, it could change what people learn in school and what they think about history. What should she do?

The Role of Bias in Critical Thinking

Have you ever decided you don’t like someone before you even know them? Or maybe someone shared an idea with you that you immediately loved without even knowing all the details. 

This experience is called bias, which occurs when you like or dislike something or someone without a good reason or knowing why. It can also take shape in certain reactions to situations, like a habit or instinct. 

Bias comes from our own experiences, what friends or family tell us, or even things we are born believing. Sometimes, bias can help us stay safe, but other times it stops us from seeing the truth.

Not all bias is bad. Bias can be a mechanism for assessing our potential safety in a new situation. If we are biased to think that anything long, thin, and curled up is a snake, we might assume the rope is something to be afraid of before we know it is just a rope.

While bias might serve us in some situations (like jumping out of the way of an actual snake before we have time to process that we need to be jumping out of the way), it often harms our ability to think critically.

How Bias Gets in the Way of Good Thinking

Selective Perception: We only notice things that match our ideas and ignore the rest. 

It's like only picking red candies from a mixed bowl because you think they taste the best, but they taste the same as every other candy in the bowl. It could also be when we see all the signs that our partner is cheating on us but choose to ignore them because we are happy the way we are (or at least, we think we are).

Agreeing with Yourself: This is called “ confirmation bias ” when we only listen to ideas that match our own and seek, interpret, and remember information in a way that confirms what we already think we know or believe. 

An example is when someone wants to know if it is safe to vaccinate their children but already believes that vaccines are not safe, so they only look for information supporting the idea that vaccines are bad.

Thinking We Know It All: Similar to confirmation bias, this is called “overconfidence bias.” Sometimes we think our ideas are the best and don't listen to others. This can stop us from learning.

Have you ever met someone who you consider a “know it”? Probably, they have a lot of overconfidence bias because while they may know many things accurately, they can’t know everything. Still, if they act like they do, they show overconfidence bias.

There's a weird kind of bias similar to this called the Dunning Kruger Effect, and that is when someone is bad at what they do, but they believe and act like they are the best .

Following the Crowd: This is formally called “groupthink”. It's hard to speak up with a different idea if everyone agrees. But this can lead to mistakes.

An example of this we’ve all likely seen is the cool clique in primary school. There is usually one person that is the head of the group, the “coolest kid in school”, and everyone listens to them and does what they want, even if they don’t think it’s a good idea.

How to Overcome Biases

Here are a few ways to learn to think better, free from our biases (or at least aware of them!).

Know Your Biases: Realize that everyone has biases. If we know about them, we can think better.

Listen to Different People: Talking to different kinds of people can give us new ideas.

Ask Why: Always ask yourself why you believe something. Is it true, or is it just a bias?

Understand Others: Try to think about how others feel. It helps you see things in new ways.

Keep Learning: Always be curious and open to new information.

city in a globe connection

In today's world, everything changes fast, and there's so much information everywhere. This makes critical thinking super important. It helps us distinguish between what's real and what's made up. It also helps us make good choices. But thinking this way can be tough sometimes because of biases. These are like sneaky thoughts that can trick us. The good news is we can learn to see them and think better.

There are cool tools and ways we've talked about, like the "Socratic Questioning" method and the "Six Thinking Hats." These tools help us get better at thinking. These thinking skills can also help us in school, work, and everyday life.

We’ve also looked at specific scenarios where critical thinking would be helpful, such as deciding what diet to follow and checking facts.

Thinking isn't just a skill—it's a special talent we improve over time. Working on it lets us see things more clearly and understand the world better. So, keep practicing and asking questions! It'll make you a smarter thinker and help you see the world differently.

Critical Thinking Puzzles (Solutions)

The farmer, fox, chicken, and grain problem.

  • The farmer first takes the chicken across the river and leaves it on the other side.
  • He returns to the original side and takes the fox across the river.
  • After leaving the fox on the other side, he returns the chicken to the starting side.
  • He leaves the chicken on the starting side and takes the grain bag across the river.
  • He leaves the grain with the fox on the other side and returns to get the chicken.
  • The farmer takes the chicken across, and now all three items -- the fox, the chicken, and the grain -- are safely on the other side of the river.

The Rope, Jar, and Pebbles Problem

  • Take one rope and tie the jar of pebbles to its end.
  • Swing the rope with the jar in a pendulum motion.
  • While the rope is swinging, grab the other rope and wait.
  • As the swinging rope comes back within reach due to its pendulum motion, grab it.
  • With both ropes within reach, untie the jar and tie the rope ends together.

The Two Guards Problem

The question is, "What would the other guard say is the door to doom?" Then choose the opposite door.

The Hourglass Problem

  • Start both hourglasses. 
  • When the 4-minute hourglass runs out, turn it over.
  • When the 7-minute hourglass runs out, the 4-minute hourglass will have been running for 3 minutes. Turn the 7-minute hourglass over. 
  • When the 4-minute hourglass runs out for the second time (a total of 8 minutes have passed), the 7-minute hourglass will run for 1 minute. Turn the 7-minute hourglass again for 1 minute to empty the hourglass (a total of 9 minutes passed).

The Boat and Weights Problem

Take the cat over first and leave it on the other side. Then, return and take the fish across next. When you get there, take the cat back with you. Leave the cat on the starting side and take the cat food across. Lastly, return to get the cat and bring it to the other side.

The Lifeboat Dilemma

There isn’t one correct answer to this problem. Here are some elements to consider:

  • Moral Principles: What values guide your decision? Is it the potential greater good for humanity (the scientist)? What is the value of long-standing love and commitment (the elderly couple)? What is the future of young children who depend on their mothers? Or the selfless bravery of the teenager?
  • Future Implications: Consider the future consequences of each choice. Saving the scientist might benefit millions in the future, but what moral message does it send about the value of individual lives?
  • Emotional vs. Logical Thinking: While it's essential to engage empathy, it's also crucial not to let emotions cloud judgment entirely. For instance, while the teenager's bravery is commendable, does it make him more deserving of a spot on the boat than the others?
  • Acknowledging Uncertainty: The scientist claims to be close to a significant breakthrough, but there's no certainty. How does this uncertainty factor into your decision?
  • Personal Bias: Recognize and challenge any personal biases, such as biases towards age, profession, or familial status.

The Tech Dilemma

Again, there isn’t one correct answer to this problem. Here are some elements to consider:

  • Evaluate the Risk: How severe is the potential vulnerability? Can it be easily exploited, or would it require significant expertise? Even if the circumstances are rare, what would be the consequences if the vulnerability were exploited?
  • Stakeholder Considerations: Different stakeholders will have different priorities. Upper management might prioritize financial projections, the marketing team might be concerned about the product's reputation, and customers might prioritize the security of their data. How do you balance these competing interests?
  • Short-Term vs. Long-Term Implications: While launching on time could meet immediate financial goals, consider the potential long-term damage to the company's reputation if the vulnerability is exploited. Would the short-term gains be worth the potential long-term costs?
  • Ethical Implications : Beyond the financial and reputational aspects, there's an ethical dimension to consider. Is it right to release a product with a known vulnerability, even if the chances of it being exploited are low?
  • Seek External Input: Consulting with cybersecurity experts outside your company might be beneficial. They could provide a more objective risk assessment and potential mitigation strategies.
  • Communication: How will you communicate the decision, whatever it may be, both internally to your team and upper management and externally to your customers and potential users?

The History Mystery

Dr. Amelia should take the following steps:

  • Verify the Letters: Before making any claims, she should check if the letters are actual and not fake. She can do this by seeing when and where they were written and if they match with other things from that time.
  • Get a Second Opinion: It's always good to have someone else look at what you've found. Dr. Amelia could show the letters to other history experts and see their thoughts.
  • Research More: Maybe there are more documents or letters out there that support this new story. Dr. Amelia should keep looking to see if she can find more evidence.
  • Share the Findings: If Dr. Amelia believes the letters are true after all her checks, she should tell others. This can be through books, talks, or articles.
  • Stay Open to Feedback: Some people might agree with Dr. Amelia, and others might not. She should listen to everyone and be ready to learn more or change her mind if new information arises.

Ultimately, Dr. Amelia's job is to find out the truth about history and share it. It's okay if this new truth differs from what people used to believe. History is about learning from the past, no matter the story.

Related posts:

  • Experimenter Bias (Definition + Examples)
  • Hasty Generalization Fallacy (31 Examples + Similar Names)
  • Ad Hoc Fallacy (29 Examples + Other Names)
  • Confirmation Bias (Examples + Definition)
  • Equivocation Fallacy (26 Examples + Description)

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What are analytical skills? Examples and how to level up


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What are analytical skills?

Why are analytical skills important, 9 analytical skills examples, how to improve analytical skills, how to show analytical skills in a job application, the benefits of an analytical mind.

With market forecasts, performance metrics, and KPIs, work throws a lot of information at you. 

If you want to stay ahead of the curve, not only do you have to make sense of the data that comes your way — you need to put it to good use. And that requires analytical skills.

You likely use analytical thinking skills every day without realizing it, like when you solve complex problems or prioritize tasks . But understanding the meaning of analysis skills in a job description, why you should include them in your professional development plan, and what makes them vital to every position can help advance your career.

Analytical skills, or analysis skills, are the ones you use to research and interpret information. Although you might associate them with data analysis, they help you think critically about an issue, make decisions , and solve problems in any context. That means anytime you’re brainstorming for a solution or reviewing a project that didn’t go smoothly, you’re analyzing information to find a conclusion. With so many applications, they’re relevant for nearly every job, making them a must-have on your resume.

Analytical skills help you think objectively about information and come to informed conclusions. Positions that consider these skills the most essential qualification grew by 92% between 1980 and 2018 , which shows just how in-demand they are. And according to Statista, global data creation will grow to more than 180 zettabytes by 2025 — a number with 21 zeros. That data informs every industry, from tech to marketing.

Even if you don’t interact with statistics and data on the job, you still need analytical skills to be successful. They’re incredibly valuable because:

  • They’re transferable: You can use analysis skills in a variety of professional contexts and in different areas of your life, like making major decisions as a family or setting better long-term personal goals.
  • They build agility: Whether you’re starting a new position or experiencing a workplace shift, analysis helps you understand and adapt quickly to changing conditions. 
  • They foster innovation: Analytical skills can help you troubleshoot processes or operational improvements that increase productivity and profitability.
  • They make you an attractive candidate: Companies are always looking for future leaders who can build company value. Developing a strong analytical skill set shows potential employers that you’re an intelligent, growth-oriented candidate.

If the thought of evaluating data feels unintuitive, or if math and statistics aren’t your strong suits, don’t stress. Many examples of analytical thinking skills don’t involve numbers. You can build your logic and analysis abilities through a variety of capacities, such as:

1. Brainstorming

Using the information in front of you to generate new ideas is a valuable transferable skill that helps you innovate at work . Developing your brainstorming techniques leads to better collaboration and organizational growth, whether you’re thinking of team bonding activities or troubleshooting a project roadblock. Related skills include benchmarking, diagnosis, and judgment to adequately assess situations and find solutions.

2. Communication

Becoming proficient at analysis is one thing, but you should also know how to communicate your findings to your audience — especially if they don’t have the same context or experience as you. Strong communication skills like public speaking , active listening , and storytelling can help you strategize the best ways to get the message out and collaborate with your team . And thinking critically about how to approach difficult conversations or persuade someone to see your point relies on these skills. 

3. Creativity

You might not associate analysis with your creativity skills, but if you want to find an innovative approach to an age-old problem, you’ll need to combine data with creative thinking . This can help you establish effective metrics, spot trends others miss, and see why the most obvious answer to a problem isn’t always the best. Skills that can help you to think outside the box include strategic planning, collaboration, and integration.


4. Critical thinking

Processing information and determining what’s valuable requires critical thinking skills . They help you avoid the cognitive biases that prevent innovation and growth, allowing you to see things as they really are and understand their relevance. Essential skills to turn yourself into a critical thinker are comparative analysis, business intelligence, and inference.

5. Data analytics

When it comes to large volumes of information, a skilled analytical thinker can sort the beneficial from the irrelevant. Data skills give you the tools to identify trends and patterns and visualize outcomes before they impact an organization or project’s performance. Some of the most common skills you can develop are prescriptive analysis and return on investment (ROI) analysis.

6. Forecasting

Predicting future business, market, and cultural trends better positions your organization to take advantage of new opportunities or prepare for downturns. Business forecasting requires a mix of research skills and predictive abilities, like statistical analysis and data visualization, and the ability to present your findings clearly.

7. Logical reasoning

Becoming a logical thinker means learning to observe and analyze situations to draw rational and objective conclusions. With logic, you can evaluate available facts, identify patterns or correlations, and use them to improve decision-making outcomes. If you’re looking to improve in this area, consider developing inductive and deductive reasoning skills.

8. Problem-solving

Problem-solving appears in all facets of your life — not just work. Effectively finding solutions to any issue takes analysis and logic, and you also need to take initiative with clear action plans . To improve your problem-solving skills , invest in developing visualization , collaboration, and goal-setting skills.

9. Research

Knowing how to locate information is just as valuable as understanding what to do with it. With research skills, you’ll recognize and collect data relevant to the problem you’re trying to solve or the initiative you’re trying to start. You can improve these skills by learning about data collection techniques, accuracy evaluation, and metrics.


You don’t need to earn a degree in data science to develop these skills. All it takes is time, practice, and commitment. Everything from work experience to hobbies can help you learn new things and make progress. Try a few of these ideas and stick with the ones you enjoy:

1. Document your skill set

The next time you encounter a problem and need to find solutions, take time to assess your process. Ask yourself:

  • What facts are you considering?
  • Do you ask for help or research on your own? What are your sources of advice?
  • What does your brainstorming process look like?
  • How do you make and execute a final decision?
  • Do you reflect on the outcomes of your choices to identify lessons and opportunities for improvement?
  • Are there any mistakes you find yourself making repeatedly?
  • What problems do you constantly solve easily? 

These questions can give insight into your analytical strengths and weaknesses and point you toward opportunities for growth.

2. Take courses

Many online and in-person courses can expand your logical thinking and analysis skills. They don’t necessarily have to involve information sciences. Just choose something that trains your brain and fills in your skills gaps . 

Consider studying philosophy to learn how to develop your arguments or public speaking to better communicate the results of your research. You could also work on your hard skills with tools like Microsoft Excel and learn how to crunch numbers effectively. Whatever you choose, you can explore different online courses or certification programs to upskill. 

3. Analyze everything

Spend time consciously and critically evaluating everything — your surroundings, work processes, and even the way you interact with others. Integrating analysis into your day-to-day helps you practice. The analytical part of your brain is like a muscle, and the more you use it, the stronger it’ll become. 

After reading a book, listening to a podcast, or watching a movie, take some time to analyze what you watched. What were the messages? What did you learn? How was it delivered? Taking this approach to media will help you apply it to other scenarios in your life. 

If you’re giving a presentation at work or helping your team upskill , use the opportunity to flex the analytical side of your brain. For effective teaching, you’ll need to process and analyze the topic thoroughly, which requires skills like logic and communication. You also have to analyze others’ learning styles and adjust your teachings to match them. 

5. Play games

Spend your commute or weekends working on your skills in a way you enjoy. Try doing logic games like Sudoku and crossword puzzles during work breaks to foster critical thinking. And you can also integrate analytical skills into your existing hobbies. According to researcher Rakesh Ghildiyal, even team sports like soccer or hockey will stretch your capacity for analysis and strategic thinking . 

6. Ask questions

According to a study in Tr ends in Cognitive Sciences, being curious improves cognitive function , helping you develop problem-solving skills, retention, and memory. Start speaking up in meetings and questioning the why and how of different decisions around you. You’ll think more critically and even help your team find breakthrough solutions they otherwise wouldn’t.

7.Seek advice

If you’re unsure what analytical skills you need to develop, try asking your manager or colleagues for feedback . Their outside perspective offers insight you might not find within, like patterns in. And if you’re looking for more consistent guidance, talking to a coach can help you spot weaknesses and set goals for the long term.

8. Pursue opportunities

Speak to your manager about participating in special projects that could help you develop and flex your skills. If you’d like to learn about SEO or market research, ask to shadow someone in the ecommerce or marketing departments. If you’re interested in business forecasting, talk to the data analysis team. Taking initiative demonstrates a desire to learn and shows leadership that you’re eager to grow. 


Shining a spotlight on your analytical skills can help you at any stage of your job search. But since they take many forms, it’s best to be specific and show potential employers exactly why and how they make you a better candidate. Here are a few ways you can showcase them to the fullest:

1. In your cover letter

Your cover letter crafts a narrative around your skills and work experience. Use it to tell a story about how you put your analytical skills to use to solve a problem or improve workflow. Make sure to include concrete details to explain your thought process and solution — just keep it concise. Relate it back to the job description to show the hiring manager or recruiter you have the qualifications necessary to succeed.

2. On your resume

Depending on the type of resume you’re writing, there are many opportunities to convey your analytical skills to a potential employer. You could include them in sections like: 

  • Professional summary: If you decide to include a summary, describe yourself as an analytical person or a problem-solver, whichever relates best to the job posting. 
  • Work experience: Describe all the ways your skill for analysis has helped you perform or go above and beyond your responsibilities. Be sure to include specific details about challenges and outcomes related to the role you’re applying for to show how you use those skills. 
  • Skills section: If your resume has a skill-specific section, itemize the analytical abilities you’ve developed over your career. These can include hard analytical skills like predictive modeling as well as interpersonal skills like communication.

3. During a job interview

As part of your interview preparation , list your professional accomplishments and the skills that helped along the way, such as problem-solving, data literacy, or strategic thinking. Then, pull them together into confident answers to common interview questions using the STAR method to give the interviewer a holistic picture of your skill set.

Developing analytical skills isn’t only helpful in the workplace. It’s essential to life. You’ll use them daily whenever you read the news, make a major purchase, or interact with others. Learning to critically evaluate information can benefit your relationships and help you feel more confident in your decisions, whether you’re weighing your personal budget or making a big career change .

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Elizabeth Perry, ACC

Elizabeth Perry is a Coach Community Manager at BetterUp. She uses strategic engagement strategies to cultivate a learning community across a global network of Coaches through in-person and virtual experiences, technology-enabled platforms, and strategic coaching industry partnerships. With over 3 years of coaching experience and a certification in transformative leadership and life coaching from Sofia University, Elizabeth leverages transpersonal psychology expertise to help coaches and clients gain awareness of their behavioral and thought patterns, discover their purpose and passions, and elevate their potential. She is a lifelong student of psychology, personal growth, and human potential as well as an ICF-certified ACC transpersonal life and leadership Coach.

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Analytical and Critical Thinking

Analytical & Critical Thinking is among the ten Core Competencies you develop in CLA that employers and alumni tell us matter most.

In a world that springs new challenges at you faster than ever before, you’ll be able to quickly parse the facts from the noise—and plot a course for success.

Analytical and Critical Thinking

Analytical & Critical Thinking  comprehensively explores issues, ideas, knowledge, evidence and values before accepting or formulating an opinion or conclusion.

Those competent in Analytical & Critical Thinking:

  • Recognize there may be more than one valid point of view
  • Evaluate an issue or problem based on multiple perspectives, while accounting for personal biases
  • Identify when information is missing or if there is a problem, prior to coming to conclusions and making decisions

CLA Alumni Explain Analytical & Critical Thinking

Core Competencies wheel

Explore the Other Core Competencies

  • Analytical & Critical Thinking
  • Ethical Reasoning & Decision Making
  • Innovation & Creativity
  • Digital Literacy
  • Engaging Diversity
  • Active Citizenship & Community Engagement
  • Teamwork & Leadership
  • Oral & Written Communication
  • Career Management

Grad Coach

Critical Writing 101

Descriptive vs analytical vs critical writing.

By: Derek Jansen (MBA) | Expert Reviewed By: Dr Eunice Rautenbach | April 2017

Across the thousands of students we work with , descriptive writing (as opposed to critical or analytical writing) is an incredibly pervasive problem . In fact, it’s probably the biggest killer of marks in dissertations, theses and research papers . So, in this post, we’ll explain the difference between descriptive and analytical writing in straightforward terms, along with plenty of practical examples.

analytical and descriptive writing

Descriptive vs Analytical Writing

Writing critically is one of the most important skills you’ll need to master for your academic journey, but what exactly does this mean?

Well, when it comes to writing, at least for academic purposes, there are two main types – descriptive writing and critical writing. Critical writing is also sometimes referred to as analytical writing, so we’ll use these two terms interchangeably.

To understand what constitutes critical (or analytical) writing, it’s useful to compare it against its opposite, descriptive writing. At the most basic level, descriptive writing merely communicates the “ what ”, “ where ”, “ when ” or “ who ”. In other words, it describes a thing, place, time or person. It doesn’t consider anything beyond that or explore the situation’s impact, importance or meaning. Here’s an example of a descriptive sentence:

  “Yesterday, the president unexpectedly fired the minister of finance.”

As you can see, this sentence just states what happened, when it happened and who was involved. Classic descriptive writing.

Contrasted to this, critical writing takes things a step further and unveils the “ so what? ” – in other words, it explains the impact or consequence of a given situation. Let’s stick with the same event and look at an example of analytical writing:

“The president’s unexpected firing of the well-respected finance minister had an immediate negative impact on investor confidence. This led to a sharp decrease in the value of the local currency, especially against the US dollar. This devaluation means that all dollar-based imports are now expected to rise in cost, thereby raising the cost of living for citizens, and reducing disposable income.”

As you can see in this example, the descriptive version only tells us what happened (the president fired the finance minister), whereas the critical version goes on to discuss some of the impacts of the president’s actions.


Ideally, critical writing should always link back to the broader objectives of the paper or project, explaining what each thing or event means in relation to those objectives. In a dissertation or thesis, this would involve linking the discussion back to the research aims, objectives and research questions – in other words, the golden thread .

Sounds a bit fluffy and conceptual? Let’s look at an example:

If your research aims involved understanding how the local environment impacts demand for specialty imported vegetables, you would need to explain how the devaluation of the local currency means that the imported vegetables would become more expensive relative to locally farmed options. This in turn would likely have a negative impact on sales, as consumers would turn to cheaper local alternatives.

As you can see, critical (or analytical) writing goes beyond just describing (that’s what descriptive writing covers) and instead focuses on the meaning of things, events or situations, especially in relation to the core research aims and questions.

Need a helping hand?

analytical vs critical thinking examples

But wait, there’s more.

This “ what vs so what”  distinction is important in understanding the difference between description and analysis, but it is not the only difference – the differences go deeper than this. The table below explains some other key differences between descriptive and analytical writing.

Should I avoid descriptive writing altogether?

Not quite. For the most part, you’ll need some descriptive writing to lay the foundation for the critical, analytical writing. In other words, you’ll usually need to state the “what” before you can discuss the “so what”. Therefore, description is simply unavoidable and in fact quite essential , but you do want to keep it to a minimum and focus your word count on the analytical side of things.

As you write, a good rule of thumb is to identify every what (in other words, every descriptive point you make) and then check whether it is accompanied by a so what (in other words, a critical conclusion regarding its meaning or impact).

Of course, this won’t always be necessary as some conclusions are fairly obvious and go without saying. But, this basic practice should help you minimise description, maximise analysis, and most importantly, earn you marks!

Let’s recap.

So, the key takeaways for this post are as follows:

  • Descriptive writing focuses on the what , while critical/analytical writing focuses on the so what .
  • Analytical writing should link the discussion back to the research aims, objectives or research questions (the golden thread).
  • Some amount of description will always be needed, but aim to minimise description and maximise analysis to earn higher marks.

analytical vs critical thinking examples

Psst... there’s more!

This post was based on one of our popular Research Bootcamps . If you're working on a research project, you'll definitely want to check this out ...

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Thank you so much. This was helpful and a switch from the bad writing habits to the good habits.

Derek Jansen

Great to hear that, Sarah. Glad you found it useful!

Anne Marie

I am currently working on my Masters Thesis and found this extremely informative and helpful. Thank you kindly.


I’m currently a University student and this is so helpful. Thank you.

Divya Madhuri Nankiya

It really helped me to get the exact meaning of analytical writing. Differences between the two explains it well

Linda Odero

Thank you! this was very useful


With much appreciation, I say thank you. Your explanations are down to earth. It has been helpful.

olumide Folahan

Very helpful towards my theses journey! Many thanks 👍


very helpful

very helpful indeed


Thanks Derek for the useful coaching

Diana Rose Oyula

Thank you for sharing this. I was stuck on descriptive now I can do my corrections. Thank you.

Siu Tang

I was struggling to differentiate between descriptive and analytical writing. I googled and found this as it is so helpful. Thank you for sharing.

Leonard Ngowo

I am glad to see this differences of descriptive against analytical writing. This is going to improve my masters dissertation

Thanks in deed. It was helpful

Abdurrahman Abdullahi Babale

Thank you so much. I’m now better informed


Busy with MBA in South Africa, this is very helpful as most of the writing requires one to expound on the topics. thanks for this, it’s a salvation from watching the blinking cursor for hours while figuring out what to write to hit the 5000 word target 😂

Ggracious Enwoods Soko

It’s been fantastic and enriching. Thanks a lot, GRAD COACH.

Sunil Pradhan

Wonderful explanation of descriptive vs analytic writing with examples. This is going to be greatly helpful for me as I am writing my thesis at the moment. Thank you Grad Coach. I follow your YouTube videos and subscribed and liked every time I watch one.

Abdulai Gariba Abanga

Very useful piece. thanks

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