critical thinking in creative writing

Writing to Think: Critical Thinking and the Writing Process

“Writing is thinking on paper.” (Zinsser, 1976, p. vii)

Google the term “critical thinking.” How many hits are there? On the day this tutorial was completed, Google found about 65,100,000 results in 0.56 seconds. That’s an impressive number, and it grows more impressively large every day. That’s because the nation’s educators, business leaders, and political representatives worry about the level of critical thinking skills among today’s students and workers.

What is Critical Thinking?

Simply put, critical thinking is sound thinking. Critical thinkers work to delve beneath the surface of sweeping generalizations, biases, clichés, and other quick observations that characterize ineffective thinking. They are willing to consider points of view different from their own, seek and study evidence and examples, root out sloppy and illogical argument, discern fact from opinion, embrace reason over emotion or preference, and change their minds when confronted with compelling reasons to do so. In sum, critical thinkers are flexible thinkers equipped to become active and effective spouses, parents, friends, consumers, employees, citizens, and leaders. Every area of life, in other words, can be positively affected by strong critical thinking.

Released in January 2011, an important study of college students over four years concluded that by graduation “large numbers [of American undergraduates] didn’t learn the critical thinking, complex reasoning and written communication skills that are widely assumed to be at the core of a college education” (Rimer, 2011, para. 1). The University designs curriculum, creates support programs, and hires faculty to help ensure you won’t be one of the students “[showing]no significant gains in . . . ‘higher order’ thinking skills” (Rimer, 2011, para. 4). One way the University works to help you build those skills is through writing projects.

Writing and Critical Thinking

Say the word “writing” and most people think of a completed publication. But say the word “writing” to writers, and they will likely think of the process of composing. Most writers would agree with novelist E. M. Forster, who wrote, “How can I know what I think until I see what I say?” (Forster, 1927, p. 99). Experienced writers know that the act of writing stimulates thinking.

Inexperienced and experienced writers have very different understandings of composition. Novice writers often make the mistake of believing they have to know what they’re going to write before they can begin writing. They often compose a thesis statement before asking questions or conducting research. In the course of their reading, they might even disregard material that counters their pre-formed ideas. This is not writing; it is recording.

In contrast, experienced writers begin with questions and work to discover many different answers before settling on those that are most convincing. They know that the act of putting words on paper or a computer screen helps them invent thought and content. Rather than trying to express what they already think, they express what the act of writing leads them to think as they put down words. More often than not, in other words, experienced writers write their way into ideas, which they then develop, revise, and refine as they go.

What has this notion of writing to do with critical thinking? Everything.

Consider the steps of the writing process: prewriting, outlining, drafting, revising, editing, seeking feedback, and publishing. These steps are not followed in a determined or strict order; instead, the effective writer knows that as they write, it may be necessary to return to an earlier step. In other words, in the process of revision, a writer may realize that the order of ideas is unclear. A new outline may help that writer re-order details. As they write, the writer considers and reconsiders the effectiveness of the work.

The writing process, then, is not just a mirror image of the thinking process: it is the thinking process. Confronted with a topic, an effective critical thinker/writer

  • asks questions
  • seeks answers
  • evaluates evidence
  • questions assumptions
  • tests hypotheses
  • makes inferences
  • employs logic
  • draws conclusions
  • predicts readers’ responses
  • creates order
  • drafts content
  • seeks others’ responses
  • weighs feedback
  • criticizes their own work
  • revises content and structure
  • seeks clarity and coherence

Example of Composition as Critical Thinking

“Good writing is fueled by unanswerable questions” (Lane, 1993, p. 15).

Imagine that you have been asked to write about a hero or heroine from history. You must explain what challenges that individual faced and how they conquered them. Now imagine that you decide to write about Rosa Parks and her role in the modern Civil Rights movement. Take a moment and survey what you already know. She refused to get up out of her seat on a bus so a White man could sit in it. She was arrested. As a result, Blacks in Montgomery protested, influencing the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Martin Luther King, Jr. took up leadership of the cause, and ultimately a movement was born.

Is that really all there is to Rosa Parks’s story? What questions might a thoughtful writer ask? Here a few:

  • Why did Rosa Parks refuse to get up on that particular day?
  • Was hers a spontaneous or planned act of defiance?
  • Did she work? Where? Doing what?
  • Had any other Black person refused to get up for a White person?
  • What happened to that individual or those individuals?
  • Why hadn’t that person or those persons received the publicity Parks did?
  • Was Parks active in Civil Rights before that day?
  • How did she learn about civil disobedience?

Even just these few questions could lead to potentially rich information.

Factual information would not be enough, however, to satisfy an assignment that asks for an interpretation of that information. The writer’s job for the assignment is to convince the reader that Parks was a heroine; in this way the writer must make an argument and support it. The writer must establish standards of heroic behavior. More questions arise:

  • What is heroic action?
  • What are the characteristics of someone who is heroic?
  • What do heroes value and believe?
  • What are the consequences of a hero’s actions?
  • Why do they matter?

Now the writer has even more research and more thinking to do.

By the time they have raised questions and answered them, raised more questions and answered them, and so on, they are ready to begin writing. But even then, new ideas will arise in the course of planning and drafting, inevitably leading the writer to more research and thought, to more composition and refinement.

Ultimately, every step of the way over the course of composing a project, the writer is engaged in critical thinking because the effective writer examines the work as they develop it.

Why Writing to Think Matters

Writing practice builds critical thinking, which empowers people to “take charge of [their] own minds” so they “can take charge of [their] own lives . . . and improve them, bringing them under [their] self command and direction” (Foundation for Critical Thinking, 2020, para. 12). Writing is a way of coming to know and understand the self and the changing world, enabling individuals to make decisions that benefit themselves, others, and society at large. Your knowledge alone – of law, medicine, business, or education, for example – will not be enough to meet future challenges. You will be tested by new unexpected circumstances, and when they arise, the open-mindedness, flexibility, reasoning, discipline, and discernment you have learned through writing practice will help you meet those challenges successfully.

Forster, E.M. (1927).  Aspects of the novel . Harcourt, Brace & Company.

The Foundation for Critical Thinking. (2020, June 17).  Our concept and definition of critical thinking .

Lane, B. (1993).  After the end: Teaching and learning creative revision . Heinemann.

Rimer, S. (2011, January 18).  Study: Many college students not learning to think critically . The Hechinger Report.

Zinsser, W. (1976).  On writing well: The classic guide to writing nonfiction . HarperCollins.

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The importance of critical thinking in writing (and how to apply it).

Woman_Using_laptop_writing_importance_of_Critical_Thinking_When_Writing - Illustration

Developing unique ideas for writing and writing a story worth reading can be challenging. Even when the ideas for writing are already in your head, writing requires research, organization, and a great deal of creativity. But, you already knew that, right?

What many people don’t know or don't realize, however, is that all those processes for effective writing depend on how well you’ve developed your critical thinking skills.

According to the Texas A&M University Writing Center, critical thinking is "the ability to view any object of study from multiple perspectives, to recognize the cultural, ideological, and cognitive frames (or schemata) we bring to understanding."

You can learn everything about story structure and all the rules that come with it such as formatting, language and grammar rules , but applying your ideas effectively in an actual piece of writing requires critical thinking.

Critical thinking is what glues all of the writing processes together and defines your writing style . 

Critical Thinking Informs All Good Writing


The best writers are those who think critically and may have even undergone some form of critical thinking training . The value of critical thinking is clear thought-processing, which results in well-developed plots and writings. When you need to write a story that reads well and avoids plot holes and inconsistencies , honing your critical thinking is necessary.

You can perform the research necessary for a story and plan to finish with a strong conclusion. But, when you don’t apply critical thinking in your story, your ideas risk coming across as ambiguous or not well thought out. This is because you can’t really plan out your arguments or provide the story’s premises effectively without critical thinking.

Critical thinking in writing is related to research in the way you deliberately search, analyze and evaluate ideas that you'll put on paper. However, critical thinking discriminates information and ideas to ensure you pick and use only the most appropriate, concise words and paragraphs that deliver messages powerfully and with great impact on readers.

Reserchers have also come to understand that critical thinking is in itself a habit and a skill, something which you can practice, polish, and develop.

Hone Your Critical Thinking Skills

To consciously direct and hone your critical thinking skills, you’ll need to answer some basic questions before writing your story: 

  • How good is my argument or story idea?
  • Is my argument or idea defensible and valid?
  • Am I using a rational, reasonable position on the idea or issue?
  • What should I use to best present this idea and deal with its complexity?
  • Should I go deep into the topic or only touch upon the key issues lightly?
  • Should I address any other points of view, and which ones?
  • What are my goals with the story?
  • What sources of information should I consult?
  • What's the best way to present the information?

When asking (and answering) these questions, your analytical skills and quality of answers will depend greatly on the clarity of your thoughts, sources, and intentions. Once that's done sufficiently, you can apply it all to your writing.

8 Ways to Apply Critical Thinking in Your Writing


To make sure you write your story based on sound critical thinking, use these handy tips:

1. Research by questioning everything

Not all of the sources you will be using for your story, research, and critical analysis will be accurate or even relevant. Thinking critically means that you should question all your sources and be careful about the acquisition of data you’ll use in your story.

To write critically, you must examine every little piece of information before using it; validate and parse as part of your research . Basically, you need a rather active, critical and detailed approach throughout the accumulation of information.

2. Scrutinize your method of gathering information

Before you use any of the evidence or information you have found during the  research for your story , look at the method for its gathering.

Think of sources you plan to use and places where you can find them. But, most importantly, think of the sources’ credibility and whether or not you can ascertain this.

Only use information that is reliable in your stories.

3. Stay true to the evidence

Before you jump into any conclusions, examine the evidence and the unbiased direction it is pointing towards.

Carefully examining the evidence for your ideas will help you find information that is valid, and any other information you might have missed out on an argument of big importance.

To avoid turning your story into a poorly written one, stay true to the evidence you’ve collected. Also consider the evidence itself in detail.

Is the evidence too broad? Does it have too many details? Are there any other explanations you can provide for it? Do you have enough evidence to support your arguments? Use only the most appropriate and accurate evidence.

4. Eliminate truisms and tautologies

Truism is a truth that is self-evident, while tautology is a statement that repeats the same thing. Both create redundancy that in most cases, doesn’t add directly to your story.

Even though truism and tautology used masterfully could give a story a certain artistic quality, you should generally try to avoid them in your writing.

Critically look for statements in your writing that repeat themselves or are self-evident. These are unnecessary features of your writing that should be removed to improve precision and clarity in your story.

5. Avoid oversimplification

There is a fine line between improving clarity and oversimplification. Try to achieve the former, while eradicating the latter as much as possible.

We are talking about using short, concise, easy to understand and simple explanations, and avoiding dumbed down explanations that insult the intelligence of the reader and demonstrate a lack of breadth and depth.

That certainly calls for high critical thinking and judgment when writing or crafting a story.

6. Plan ahead

When selecting a topic for your story, brainstorm ideas for it beforehand. Make sure the topic you chose is right for the specific purpose. Think of your objectives and goals, and also what you represent.

By brainstorming and planning ahead, you’ll be better equipped to write a story that is concise, relevant, and properly organized.

One grand factor of planning is organization. To plan ahead and do it well, you need to prioritize and reorganize your concepts, ideas, and arguments well.

In other words, you need a chronology of ideas and arguments. Use careful discretion and judgment to create a plan that makes sense and demonstrates your critical thinking abilities.

7. Define your approaches

In writing, you need arguments and ideas. But, you cannot just toss them around anyhow and expect them to make sense.

Instead, you’ll not only need good organization and planning skills, but also a strategy or an approach for presenting them in the most effective way possible.

As soon as you have all the evidence and material ready for use in your story, analyze the strengths and weaknesses of your sources and the arguments they raise. This will help you define the best possible approach for using the evidence and material in your story.

While you take care of this part, remember that each and every argument and evidence used in your story should be as reasonable as it is valid.

8. Break down your arguments

To better present the relationships between arguments in your story, and to find the best writing approach, break down arguments into smaller, easy to understand parts. For this purpose, you can use priority ranking, comparison and contrast, cause and effect, making inferences, and drawing conclusions.

Cons of Not Using Critical Thinking in Your Writing

If you are thinking applying critical thinking in writing is too much of a hassle, then understand that not incorporating critical thinking leads to poor writing.

And it’s easy to detect the effects of not using critical thinking in writing. Some of the obvious signs of not applying critical thinking is a piece of writing include:

  • Relationships between concepts aren’t clearly described, but only summarized or alluded to.
  • The arguments or thesis are repetitive and don’t relate to the rest of the story.
  • Poor or no order whatsoever in the presentation of arguments, summaries, and evidence.
  • No chronology or sequel in sentences, arguments, and or paragraphs.
  • Weak summaries or summaries with no order.
  • Relationships between arguments aren’t fully developed.
  • Heavy use of truisms, tautologies, and or abstractions.

If you want to write powerfully and ensure your stories (be they blogs, essays, or reports) yield results and impact readers , you have to improve clarity and add informational value. The only way to do this is by employing critical thinking in your writing.

Critical thinking is an essential skill and practice not just for good writing, but also for effective storytelling within your writings.

Alexandra Reay is a journalist, writer, and editor. She is also a professional content writer who enjoys researching and writing on the topics of self-improvement, technology innovations, and global education development. Follow her on Twitter .  

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Creative writing to hone critical thinking

Parag Dandgey shares creative-writing activities designed to improve students’ critical-thinking skills by developing their understanding of multiple perspectives

Parag Dandgey 's avatar

Parag Dandgey

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Creative writing activities that help students develop their critical thinking skills

Created in partnership with

Xi'an Jiaotong Liverpool University 

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.css-1txxx8u{overflow:hidden;max-height:81px;text-indent:0px;} When good enough is not enough

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Critical thinking is a popular concept in higher education, mentioned repeatedly in university and course literature, but teaching students how to do it is not easy. For students, it’s a confusing skill to understand, let alone develop.

Enter stage left: creative writing. Research shows creative writing brings students’ attention to the concept of perspectives, an important aspect of critical thinking.

I’ve adapted writing activities from available research to enable students to creatively explore the concept of perspectives. The result has been an improvement in the students’ academic writing. A student who grasps the concept of thinking through, or about, other people can develop their academic writing in terms of stance, points of view or evaluation.

Reflecting on your life

During events in our lives, we act as participants and our perspective is limited to the moment. However, when given a chance to reflect on the event at a later date, we take on the role of spectator. This concept of spectatorship can be developed into a simple activity that allows students to look back at events, moments or problems in their lives and reflect.

  • Students make a list of problems they have faced in their lives, how they solved them and how they felt at the time. This free writing phase lacks structure but is rich in ideas.
  • Students choose one event and write a short piece in the past tense and third person.

In the process of writing, they turn themselves into a character and reflect on the past. This allows them to explore different perspectives on their own life.

A much-maligned character

This activity invites students to write through the perspective of those marginalised in society. This activity raises students’ critical consciousness – the ability to take a step back from prejudices and observe situations from a wider perspective – according to research. The activity avoids the risk of controversy or tension by using a fictional being, in our case the Beast from Beauty and the Beast , instead of focusing on a marginalised person, like a criminal or political outcast.

  • Students read a short version of Beauty and the Beast .
  • They break down the narrative into scenes and write about how they think the Beast feels. As in the previous example, free writing provides space to explore thoughts.
  • They choose one scene and rewrite it from the perspective of the Beast in the first person.

This encourages students to think from an unconventional perspective.

A moral dilemma

This involves solving a problem widespread in society. It leans on research into narrative imagination, which refers to empathetically understanding another person’s story in order to better understand society.

  • Students are given a prompt such as, “You are a woman interviewing for a job. You have recently become pregnant. The employer makes it clear that they have misogynist views on women and work availability. Do you tell the truth about your pregnancy?”
  • Students ask the teacher questions in order to fully understand the problem.
  • Free writing – students make notes on what the woman could do, including her reasoning.
  • Students choose one scenario and write a short piece – this could be the interview scene or a monologue of the woman’s thoughts. The students could even include the perspective of the employer as another developed character.


This is ideal as a short warm-up exercise, requiring the least amount of set-up. It allows students to approach everyday problems from a different point of view.

1) Students are given a dice and the following table:

Roll-a-story table

2) The student rolls a dice and finds the number corresponds to an item in the Character column. They repeat this for Setting and Problem You Have . For example, if a student rolls a 2, 4 then 6, they will write a short piece about a parent in a mall dealing with the problem of their child wanting to change their degree subject.

The value of creativity

Creative writing is often perceived as something fun to do on a Friday afternoon, once the important academic work is complete. However, creative writing can be a valuable component of academic teaching, aiding critical thinking across disciplines. In a wider societal sense, empathy with individuals or situations will better prepare students for the real world.

Parag Dandgey is a language lecturer in the English Language Centre at Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University .

If you would like advice and insight from academics and university staff delivered direct to your inbox each week,  sign up for the Campus newsletter .

For more resources on this topic, go to our  Teaching critical thinking collection.

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4 – Critical Writing

critical thinking in creative writing

Critical writing depends on critical thinking. Your writing will involve reflection on written texts: that is, critical reading.

[Source: Lane, 2021, Critical Thinking for Critical Writing ]

Critical writing entails the skills of critical thinking and reading. At college, the three skills are interdependent, reflected in the kinds of assignments you have to do.

Now let’s look at some real university-level assignments across different majors. Pay attention to the highlighted words used in the assignment descriptions.

As you can tell, all the assignments have both critical reading and writing components. You have to read a lot (e.g., “Use at least 5 current Economics research articles,” “refer to 2 other documents,” and “Select 4-5 secondary sources”) and critically before you form your own opinions and then start to write. Sometimes reading is for ideas and evidence (i.e., reasons, examples, and information from sources), and other times reading is to provide an evaluation of information accuracy (e.g., research designs, statistics). Without critical thinking and reading, critical writing will have no ground. Critical thinking and reading are the prerequisites for critical writing. A clear definition of critical writing is provided below.

What is Critical Writing?

Critical writing is writing which analyses and evaluates information, usually from multiple sources, in order to develop an argument. A mistake many beginning writers make is to assume that everything they read is true and that they should agree with it, since it has been published in an academic text or journal. Being part of the academic community, however, means that you should be critical of (i.e. question) what you read, looking for reasons why it should be accepted or rejected, for example by comparing it with what other writers say about the topic, or evaluating the research methods to see if they are adequate or whether they could be improved.

[Source: Critical Writing ]

If you are used to accepting the ideas and opinions stated in a text, you have to relearn how to be critical in evaluating the reliability of the sources, particularly in the online space as a large amount of online information is not screened. In addition, critical writing is different from the types of writing (e.g., descriptive writing) you might have practiced in primary and secondary education.

The following table gives some examples to show the difference between descriptive and critical writing (adapted from the website ). Pay attention to the different verbs used in the Table for the comparisons.

You might feel familiar with the verbs used in the column describing critical writing. If you still remember, those words are also used to depict the characteristics of critical thinking and reading.


Read the two writing samples, identify which one is descriptive writing and which one is critical writing, and explain your judgment.

Sample 1: Recently, President Jacob Zuma made the decision to reshuffle the parliamentary cabinet, including the firing of finance minister, Pravin Gordhan. This decision was not well received by many South Africans.

Sample 2: President Zuma’s firing of popular finance minister, Gordhan drastically impacted investor confidence. This led to a sharp decrease in the value of the Rand. Such devaluation means that all USD-based imports (including petrol) will rise in cost, thereby raising the cost of living for South Africans, and reducing disposable income. This puts both cost and price pressure on Organisation X as an importer of USD-based goods Y, requiring it to consider doing Z. Furthermore, political instability has the added impact of encouraging immigration, particularly amongst skilled workers whose expertise is valued abroad (brain drain).

[Source: Jansen, 2017, Analytical Writing vs Descriptive Writing ]

Further, to write critically, you also have to pay attention to the rhetorical and logical aspects of writing:

Writing critically involves:

  • Providing appropriate and sufficient arguments and examples
  • Choosing terms that are precise, appropriate, and persuasive
  • Making clear the transitions from one thought to another to ensure the overall logic of the presentation
  • Editing for content, structure, and language

An increased awareness of the impact of choices of content, language, and structure can help you as a writer to develop habits of rewriting and revision.

Regarding the content, when writing critically, you cannot just rely on your own ideas, experiences, and/or one source. You have to read a wide range of sources on the specific topic you are exploring to get a holistic picture of what others have discussed on the topic, from which you further make your own judgment. Through reading other sources, you not only form your own judgment and opinions but also collect evidence to support your arguments. Evidence is so important in critical writing. In addition to the collection of evidence, you also need to use different ways (e.g., quoting, paraphrasing, and synthesizing) to integrate the evidence into your writing to increase your critical analysis.

Using quotes is always an issue. Some students like to quote a lot and/or too long throughout their papers, and others do not know why they quote. Remember that when you use direct quotations, you are using others’ ideas, not yours. You should limit the use of quotes to the minimum because readers are always interested in your opinions. In other words, you need to use quotes critically.

When you quote directly from a source, use the quotation critically. This means that you should not substitute the quotation for your own articulation of a point. Rather, introduce the quotation by laying out the judgments you are making about it, and the reasons why you are using it. Often a quotation is followed by some further analysis.

[Source: Knott , n.d., Critical Reading Towards Critical Writing ]

Barna (2017) stated that “A good rule of thumb is that the evidence should only be about 5-10% of the piece.” Further, according to the EAP , you need to avoid doing a laundry list in critical writing:

You cannot just string quotes together (A says this, B says that, C says something else), without looking more deeply at the information and building on it to support your own argument.

This means you need to break down the information from other sources to determine how the parts relate to one another or to an overall structure or purpose [analysing], and then make judgements about it, identifying its strengths and weaknesses, and possibly ‘grey areas’ in between, which are neither strengths nor weaknesses [evaluating]. Critical reading skills will help you with this, as you consider whether the source is reliable, relevant, up-to-date, and accurate.

When and Why do you quote?

When should you use quotes?

Using quotations is the easiest way to include source material, but quotations should be used carefully and sparingly. While paraphrasing and summarizing provide the opportunity to show your understanding of the source material, quoting may only show your ability to type it.

Having said that, there are a few very good reasons that you might want to use a quote rather than a paraphrase or summary:

  • Accuracy: You are unable to paraphrase or summarize the source material without changing the author’s intent.
  • Authority: You may want to use a quote to lend expert authority for your assertion or to provide source material for analysis.
  • Conciseness: Your attempts to paraphrase or summarize are awkward or much longer than the source material.
  • Unforgettable language: You believe that the words of the author are memorable or remarkable because of their effectiveness or historical flavor. Additionally, the author may have used a unique phrase or sentence, and you want to comment on words or phrases themselves.

When you decide to quote, be careful of relying too much upon one source or quoting too much of a source and make sure that your use of the quote demonstrates an understanding of the source material. Essentially, you want to avoid having a paper that is a string of quotes with occasional input from you.

[Source: Decide when to Quote, Paraphrase and Summarize ]

How do you quote?

  • With a complete sentence
  • With “according to”
  • With a reporting verb
  • With a “that” clause
  • As part of your sentence

Citing the islands of Fiji as a case in point, Bordo notes that “until television was introduced in 1995, the islands had no reported cases of eating disorders. In 1998, three years after programs from the United States and Britain began broadcasting there, 62 percent of the girls surveyed reported dieting” (149-50). Bordo’s point is that the Western cult of dieting is spreading even to remote places across the globe.

[Source: Lane, 2020, Quoting: When and How to Use Quotations ]

The firm belief which has been widely advertised is that “international students should be given equal rights and respect while studying abroad” (Lane, 2020, p. 19).

Smith, an agent working at an international company, put forward the seriousness of economic recession brought by the COVID-19 pandemic: “our economy will soon collapse, followed by business failures, elevated unemployment, and social turbulence ” (2021, p. 87).

Dominguez (2002) suggested, “teachers should reflect on their teaching constantly and proactively” to avoid teacher burnout and attrition (pp. 76-79).

According to the IEP student manual, “To study in the IEP you must be 18 years old and your English level must be ‘high beginner’ or higher” (p. 6).

[Source: Five Ways to Introduce Quotations ]

Now move on to the language aspect of critical writing, you should pay attention to the analytical verbs used in critical writing.

Analytical verbs are verbs that indicate critical thinking. They’re used in essays to dissect a text and make interpretive points, helping you to form a strong argument and remain analytical. If you don’t use analytical verbs, you may find yourself simply repeating plot points, and describing a text, rather than evaluating and exploring core themes and ideas.

[Source: What are Analytical Verbs? ]

The use of analytical verbs is also important to show your precision and appropriateness in language use. For example, instead of using says and talks, replace those verbs with states, discusses, or claims. Not only does it enhance the formality of the language, but also it helps to create the tone of writing. This further means that you have to understand the specific meaning, purpose, and function of each verb in a specific context as shown in the table below.

[Source: Impressive Verbs to use in your Research Paper ]

The verbs listed under each category are NOT synonyms and are different based on context. Please ensure that the selected verb conveys your intended meaning.

It is recommended that you check out Academic Phrasebank for more advanced and critical language use.

The accuracy of language use that is important for critical writing is also reflected in the use of hedges .

Hedging is the use of linguistic devices to express hesitation or uncertainty as well as to demonstrate politeness and indirectness.

People use hedged language for several different purposes but perhaps the most fundamental are the following:

  • to minimize the possibility of another academic opposing the claims that are being made
  • to conform to the currently accepted style of academic writing
  • to enable the author to devise a politeness strategy where they are able to acknowledge that there may be flaws in their claims

[Source: What Is Hedging in Academic Writing?]

There are different types of hedges used in writing to make your claim less certain but more convincing. For example, what is the difference between the two sentences as shown below?

No hedging: We already know all the animals in the world.

With hedging: It’s possible that we may already know most animals in the world.

[Source: Hedges and Boosters ]

Check this table for different types of hedges.

[Source: Features of academic writing]

Practice how to tone down the arguments.


Add hedges to the following arguments.

Except for the content and language aspects of critical writing, the last aspect is the organization, including both the overall structure and the paragraph level.

Here is one example of a critical writing outline.

One easy-to-follow outline format is alphanumeric, which means it uses letters of the alphabet and numbers to organize text.

For example:

  • Hook: _____________________
  • Transition to thesis: _____________________
  • Thesis statement with three supporting points:_____________________
  • Topic sentence: _____________________
  • Evidence (data, facts, examples, logical reasoning): _____________________
  • Connect evidence to thesis: _____________________
  • Restate thesis: _____________________
  • Summarize points: _____________________
  • Closure (prediction, comment, call to action): _____________________

[Source: Academic Writing Tip: Making an Outline ]

1. Introduction

  • Thesis statement

2. Topic one

  • First piece of evidence
  • Second piece of evidence

3. Topic two

4. Topic three

5. Conclusion

  • Summary/synthesis
  • Importance of topic
  • Strong closing statement

[Source: Caulfield, 2021, How to Write an Essay Outline]


The following essay was adapted from a student’s writing. Please identify the components of each paragraph.

Artificial Intelligence: An Irreplaceable Assistant in Policy-making

Do you understand artificial intelligence (AI)? Are you excited that humans can create these machines that think like us? Do you ever worry that they develop too advanced to replace humans? If you have thought about these questions, you are already in the debate of the century. AI is a term used to describe machine artifacts with digital algorithms that have the ability to perceive contexts for action and the capacity to associate contexts to actions (Bryson & Winfield, 2017). The 21st century has witnessed a great number of changes in AI. As AI shows its great abilities in decision-making, humans are relying more on AI to make policies. Despite some concerns about the overuse of AI, AI is no longer to be replaced in policy-making because it has the capabilities that humans cannot achieve, such as transparent decision-making and powerful data processing.

AI has the capacity to use algorithms or systems to make the decision-making process more transparent (Walport & Sedwill, 2016). Many decisions made by humans are based upon their intuition rather than the direct result of the deliberate collection and processing of information (Dane et al., 2012). Intuition is useful in business when considering the outcome of an investment or a new product. However, in politics, the public would often question whether the policy is biased, so a transparent decision-making process should be used instead of intuition. AI can make political decisions more transparent by visualizing digital records (Calo, 2017). AI can make decisions without any discrimination and can have the public better understand of the policies.

In addition, AI can process a large amount of information at a speed faster than the cognitive ability of the most intelligent human policymakers (Jarrahi, 2018). A qualified policy must be based on facts reflected by data, so researching data is an essential part of policy-making. There are two main challenges for the human decision-makers in this area: (1) The amount of data is too large and (2) the relationship between data is too complex. Handling these two problems is where AI is superior. The high computing power of AI makes it an effective tool for retrieving and analyzing large amounts of data, thus reducing the complexity of the logic between problems (Jarrahi, 2018). Without AI, the policymakers would be overwhelmed by tons of data in this modern information age. It is almost impossible for them to convert those data into useful information. For example, data provided to the politician who is responsible for health care is mostly from the electronic health record (HER). HER is just the digital record transported from paper-based forms (Bennett et al., 2012). AI can analyze the data to generate clinical assessments, symptoms, and patient behavior and then link that information with social factors such as education level and economic status. According to the information from AI, the policy maker can make policies for healthcare improvement (Bennett et al., 2012). With the assistance of AI, the government can not only collect data easier but also utilize those data as operable Information.

However, while AI shows its great abilities in policy-making, it also brings considerable risks to contemporary society, and the most significant one is privacy. The only source for AI systems to learn human behavior is data, so AI needs to collect enormous quantities of information about users in order to perform better. Some scholars claim that the main problem with AI data collection is the use of data for unintended purposes. The data is likely to be processed, used, or even sold without the users’ permission (Bartneck et al, 2021). The 2018 Cambridge Analytica scandal showed how private data collected through Facebook can be used to manipulate elections (Bartneck et al, 2021). While privacy is a crucial problem, this is a handleable problem and we cannot deny the benefits brought by using AI. The most appropriate way to solve this problem is to establish a complete regulatory system. In fact, many policies have been made to protect user privacy in AI data collection. One of safeguard in this area is to restrict the centralized processing of data. Researchers are also conducting a lot of research in this area and have achieved some technological breakthroughs. For example, open-source code and open data formats will allow a more transparent distinction between private and transferable information, blockchain-based technologies will allow data to be reviewed and tracked, and “smart contracts” will provide transparent control over how data is used without the need for centralized authority (Yuste & Goering, 2017).

In conclusion, although there may be some privacy-related issues with AI policies, the powerful data collection capabilities and transparent decision-making process of AI will bring many benefits to humans. In the future, AI is more likely to continue to serve as an assistant to humans when making policies under a complete and strict regulatory system.

Bartneck, Christoph. Lütge, Christoph. Wagner, Alan. Welsh, Sean. (2021). Privacy Issues of AI, pp.61-70. DOI: 10.1007/978-3-030-51110-4_8.

Bennett C, Doub T, Selove R (2012) EHRs Connect Research and Practice: Where Predictive Modeling, Artificial Intelligence, and Clinical Decision Support Intersect Accessed 1 April 2021.

Bryson J and Winfield A (2017) Standardizing Ethical Design Considerations for Artificial Intelligence and Autonomous Systems. Accessed 1 April 2021.

Calo, R (1993) Artificial Intelligence Policy: A Primer and Roadmap. , Accessed 1 April 2021.

Dane, Erik., Rockmann, Kevin. W., & Pratt, Michael G. (2012). When should I trust my gut? Linking domain expertise to intuitive decision-making effectiveness. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 119(2), 187—194.

Jarrahi, M. (2018). Artificial intelligence and the future of work: Human-AI symbiosis in organizational decision making, Business Horizons, Volume 61, Issue 4, Pages 577-586, ISSN 0007-6813,

Walport M, & Sedwill M. (2016). Artificial intelligence: opportunities and implications for the future of decision making. ment_data/file/566075/gs-16-19-artificial-intelligence-ai-report.pdf, Accessed 1 April 2021.

Rafael, Y., & Sara, G. (2017). Four ethical priorities for neurotechnologies an AI 1.22960. Accessed 1 April 2022.

Apart from the overall structure of critical writing, it is also important to pay attention to the paragraph-level structure. There are different paragraph models for critical writing.

Model 1: TED model for writing critical paragraphs

Paragraph model for critical writing

Often in assignments, you are expected to critically evaluate – this means to assess the relevance and significance of concepts relating to a specific topic or assignment question. Introduce your point. Give examples from reading. Is there support for your argument or can you identify weaknesses? Are there different perspectives to compare and contrast? Build your explanation and create your objective, reasoned argument (case or thesis) based on the evaluation from different perspectives. You will include your conclusion and point of view, communicating your stance, having made a judgment on research you have found and its significance in contributing to answering your assignment question.

Use the TED model to integrate critical thinking into your writing:

Each example of evidence in your writing should have a clear purpose or function. Be explicit and tell the reader what it contributes to your reasoning.

Professional practice is more complex than simply applying theory to practice, since it involves a professional juggling of situational demands, intuition, experiences and knowledge (Schön, 1991). Practitioners do not apply research findings in a simple deductive process; they need time to think, translate and relate the research findings to their particular setting. The extent to which a given piece of evidence is utilised by an individual in practice depends on their sense of the situation and this inevitably involves professional judgement.

Topic (in red); Evidence (in orange); Further explanation (in blue); Discussion (in green)

Model 2: WEED model for writing critical paragraphs

This is a model for writing critical paragraphs. It’s taken from Godwin’s book called ‘Planning your Essay’. Each paragraph should be on a single topic, making a single point. A paragraph is usually around a third of a page.

W is for What

You should begin your paragraph with the topic or point that you’re making so that it’s clear to your lecturer. Everything in the paragraph should fit in with this opening sentence.

E is for Evidence

The middle of your paragraph should be full of evidence – this is where all your references should be incorporated. Make sure that your evidence fits in with your topic.

E is for Examples

Sometimes it’s useful to expand on your evidence. If you’re talking about a case study, the example might be how your point relates to the particular scenario being discussed.

D is for Do

You should conclude your paragraph with the implications of your discussion. This gives you the opportunity to add your commentary, which is very important in assignments that require you to use critical analysis. So, in effect, each paragraph is like a mini-essay, with an introduction, main body, and conclusion.

Example: a good critical paragraph

Exposure to nature and green spaces has been found to increase health, happiness, and wellbeing. Whilst trees and greenery improve air quality by reducing air pollutants, green spaces facilitate physical activity, reduce stress, and provide opportunities for social interaction (Kaplan, 1995; Lachowycz,and Jones, 2011; Ward Thompson et al., 2012; Hartig et al., 2014; Anderson et al., 2016). Older adults have described increased feelings of wellbeing while spending time in green spaces and walking past street greenery (Finaly et al., 2015; Orr et al., 2016). They are more likely to walk on streets which are aesthetically pleasing (Lockett, Willis and Edwards, 2005) while greenery such as flowers and trees play an important role in improving the aesthetics of the environment (Day, 2008). Therefore, greater integration of urban green spaces and street greenery in cities may have the potential to increase physical activity and wellbeing in older adults.

What (in red), Evidence (in orange), Do (in blue).

[Source: Learning Hub, 2021 ]

Please identify the paragraph-level components in the following paragraphs. You can use different colors to indicate different components.

Social Media plays a key role in slowing the spread of vaccine misinformation. According to Nikos-Rose (2021) from the University of California, individuals’ attitudes towards vaccination can negatively be influenced by social media. They can simply post a piece of misleading information to the public, and the deceived ones will share it with their families and friends. The role of media can also help boost the public’s confidence in the vaccination. The media can provide valuable information for the public to know that the vaccine is safe. Almost everyone in the modern era lives with a cell phone now. People on social media can also share their experiences after getting vaccinated. Influences can help boost the public’s confidence. Just as voters would receive “I voted” after casting their ballots, vaccination distribution sites can provide “I got vaccinated” stickers. This can encourage individuals to post on the media that they have received the vaccine (Milkman, 2020). Furthermore, those who spread misleading information should be fined by the authorities. This punishment would be sufficient for them to learn their lesson. People who oversee data and information in social media should be concerned about the spread of misleading information on social media. After deleting the false information, they should put up a notice stating that is fake. This will help the public to understand which information should be trusted or not. Moreover, people who find misleading information online should report it to the administration. This could help prevent false info from circulating on the internet.

Recent studies showed that the contamination of land and water can also negatively affect the production of crops and the food systems as the safety of products can be compromised by the chemicals used by fracking. In addition, the amount of freshwater required for the mixture of the fracking fluids can generate a lack of water supply to the local agricultural industries. The fresh water is the 90-97 % of the fracking fluids, and the water deployed is not possible to recycle efficiently. In fact, the wastewater became a further challenge to the agricultural sector as it can make the soil dry and unusable for crops (Pothukuchi et al. 2018). The challenges faced by the agricultural sector are reflected in the farmlands and livestocks as well. For example, in Pennsylvania, the Dairy farming is one of the major agricultural sectors. This particular sector requires unpolluted water and pasturelands to enable the cows to produce milk. Since 1996 this sector began to fail, but the largest decrease in cows that produce milk took place between 2007 and 2011. It was the exact same period when the fracking industries reached their peak in this area (Pothukuchi et al. 2018). Another piece of evidence is related to the air pollution caused by fracking, specifically, the pollution of agricultural pollinators such as bees. The population of air caused by fracking has led to a huge degradation of that volatiles endangering the local and global food production. Those outcomes are closely related to the low level of planning abilities in rural areas, where fracking usually takes place. Particularly, the gap between fracking industry actors and local officials didn’t allow the development of a proper level of policies and regulations.


Academic writing tip: Making an outline. (2020, December 8). The International Language Institute of Massachusetts. Retrieved July 22, 2022, from

Caulfield, J. (2021, December 6). How to Write an Essay Outline | Guidelines & Examples. Scribbr. Retrieved July 22, 2022, from

Choudhary, A. (n.d.). Impressive Verbs to use in your Research Paper. Editage. Retrieved July 22, 2022, from

Critical reading towards critical writing. (n.d.). University of Toronto. Retrieved July 22, 2022, from

Critical writing. (n.d.). Teesside University. Retrieved July 22, 2022, from

Critical writing. (n.d.-b). EAP FOUNDATION.COM. Https://

Decide when to quote, paraphrase and summarize. (n.d.). University of Houston-Victoria. Retrieved July 22, 2022, from

Features of academic writing. (n.d.). UEFAP. Retrieved July 22, 2022, from

Five ways to introduce quotations. (n.d.). University of Georgia. Retrieved July 22, 2022, from

Jansen, D. (2017, April). Analytical writing vs descriptive writing. GRADCOACH. Retrieved July 22, 2022, from

Hedges and Boosters. (n.d.). The Nature of Writing. Retrieved July 22, 2022, from

How to write critically. (n.d.). Teesside University. Retrieved July 22, 2022, from

Lane, J. (2021, July 9). Critical thinking for critical writing. Simon Fraser University. Retrieved July 22, 2022, from

LibGuides: Critical Writing: Online study guide. (n.d.). Sheffield Hallam University. Retrieved July 22, 2022, from

What are analytical verbs? (n.d.). Twinkl. Retrieved July 22, 2022, from

What is hedging in academic writing? (2022, May 3). Enago Academy. Retrieved July 22, 2022, from

Critical Reading, Writing, and Thinking Copyright © 2022 by Zhenjie Weng, Josh Burlile, Karen Macbeth is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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  • © 2018

Creative Writing for Critical Thinking

Creating a Discoursal Identity

  • Hélène Edberg 0

Södertörn University, Stockholm, Sweden

You can also search for this author in PubMed   Google Scholar

Introduces a new analytical model, based on activity theory, making it possible to analyse learning through writing in student texts

Examines student trajectories as they learn to think critically through creative writing

Offers practical advice as well as theoretical grounding to support this new approach

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6 Citations

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Table of contents (10 chapters)

Front matter, introduction.

Hélène Edberg

Creative Writing and Critical Thinking: From a Romantic to a Sociocritical View on Creative Writing

Basic outlines of the research, discoursal identity and subject, text as a site of negotiation: a model for text analysis, writers’ positions, critical metareflection, a follow-up study: creative writing for critical metareflection in a different context, concluding discussion about discoursal identity and learning critical thinking through creative writing, creative writing for critical metareflection: some educational implications, back matter.

  • discourse analysis
  • textual analysis
  • meta-reflection
  • creative writing
  • identity negotiation
  • critical thinking
  • literary diction

Book Title : Creative Writing for Critical Thinking

Book Subtitle : Creating a Discoursal Identity

Authors : Hélène Edberg


Publisher : Palgrave Macmillan Cham

eBook Packages : Social Sciences , Social Sciences (R0)

Copyright Information : The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s) 2018

Hardcover ISBN : 978-3-319-65490-4 Published: 20 February 2018

Softcover ISBN : 978-3-319-88041-9 Published: 11 May 2019

eBook ISBN : 978-3-319-65491-1 Published: 08 February 2018

Edition Number : 1

Number of Pages : IX, 416

Number of Illustrations : 2 b/w illustrations, 2 illustrations in colour

Topics : Discourse Analysis , Language and Literature , Stylistics , Creative Writing , Popular Science in Linguistics

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The work is devoted to the study of innovative methods, particularly creative writing in prospective of critical thinking on the development of foreign languages. The study of critical thinking in teaching foreign language, especially in writing tasks to B1-B2 level learners raises great interest in methodology. It has been achieved the set aim and has proven critical thinking as an effective approach which can be used in teaching foreign languages creatively. Data used in the experiment proves once more that critical thinking and especially creative writing tasks are one of the techniques and procedures that the educator may use successfully in teaching English. So, by integrating creating and learning, students practiced the learned linguistic knowledge in a vivid and meaningful context. Many learners came to understand that they could successfully use English to accomplish a variety of tasks. There used different scientific literature, besides we presented the information from internet sites and online dictionaries. However, there was not conducted intense investigations in analyzing the influence of writing, particularly, creative writing on critical thinking. Therefore, I decided to make further researches on this topic and deliberate the outcomes.

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  • What Is Critical Thinking? | Definition & Examples

What Is Critical Thinking? | Definition & Examples

Published on May 30, 2022 by Eoghan Ryan . Revised on May 31, 2023.

Critical thinking is the ability to effectively analyze information and form a judgment .

To think critically, you must be aware of your own biases and assumptions when encountering information, and apply consistent standards when evaluating sources .

Critical thinking skills help you to:

  • Identify credible sources
  • Evaluate and respond to arguments
  • Assess alternative viewpoints
  • Test hypotheses against relevant criteria

Table of contents

Why is critical thinking important, critical thinking examples, how to think critically, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about critical thinking.

Critical thinking is important for making judgments about sources of information and forming your own arguments. It emphasizes a rational, objective, and self-aware approach that can help you to identify credible sources and strengthen your conclusions.

Critical thinking is important in all disciplines and throughout all stages of the research process . The types of evidence used in the sciences and in the humanities may differ, but critical thinking skills are relevant to both.

In academic writing , critical thinking can help you to determine whether a source:

  • Is free from research bias
  • Provides evidence to support its research findings
  • Considers alternative viewpoints

Outside of academia, critical thinking goes hand in hand with information literacy to help you form opinions rationally and engage independently and critically with popular media.

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Critical thinking can help you to identify reliable sources of information that you can cite in your research paper . It can also guide your own research methods and inform your own arguments.

Outside of academia, critical thinking can help you to be aware of both your own and others’ biases and assumptions.

Academic examples

However, when you compare the findings of the study with other current research, you determine that the results seem improbable. You analyze the paper again, consulting the sources it cites.

You notice that the research was funded by the pharmaceutical company that created the treatment. Because of this, you view its results skeptically and determine that more independent research is necessary to confirm or refute them. Example: Poor critical thinking in an academic context You’re researching a paper on the impact wireless technology has had on developing countries that previously did not have large-scale communications infrastructure. You read an article that seems to confirm your hypothesis: the impact is mainly positive. Rather than evaluating the research methodology, you accept the findings uncritically.

Nonacademic examples

However, you decide to compare this review article with consumer reviews on a different site. You find that these reviews are not as positive. Some customers have had problems installing the alarm, and some have noted that it activates for no apparent reason.

You revisit the original review article. You notice that the words “sponsored content” appear in small print under the article title. Based on this, you conclude that the review is advertising and is therefore not an unbiased source. Example: Poor critical thinking in a nonacademic context You support a candidate in an upcoming election. You visit an online news site affiliated with their political party and read an article that criticizes their opponent. The article claims that the opponent is inexperienced in politics. You accept this without evidence, because it fits your preconceptions about the opponent.

There is no single way to think critically. How you engage with information will depend on the type of source you’re using and the information you need.

However, you can engage with sources in a systematic and critical way by asking certain questions when you encounter information. Like the CRAAP test , these questions focus on the currency , relevance , authority , accuracy , and purpose of a source of information.

When encountering information, ask:

  • Who is the author? Are they an expert in their field?
  • What do they say? Is their argument clear? Can you summarize it?
  • When did they say this? Is the source current?
  • Where is the information published? Is it an academic article? Is it peer-reviewed ?
  • Why did the author publish it? What is their motivation?
  • How do they make their argument? Is it backed up by evidence? Does it rely on opinion, speculation, or appeals to emotion ? Do they address alternative arguments?

Critical thinking also involves being aware of your own biases, not only those of others. When you make an argument or draw your own conclusions, you can ask similar questions about your own writing:

  • Am I only considering evidence that supports my preconceptions?
  • Is my argument expressed clearly and backed up with credible sources?
  • Would I be convinced by this argument coming from someone else?

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  • Common knowledge

Critical thinking refers to the ability to evaluate information and to be aware of biases or assumptions, including your own.

Like information literacy , it involves evaluating arguments, identifying and solving problems in an objective and systematic way, and clearly communicating your ideas.

Critical thinking skills include the ability to:

You can assess information and arguments critically by asking certain questions about the source. You can use the CRAAP test , focusing on the currency , relevance , authority , accuracy , and purpose of a source of information.

Ask questions such as:

  • Who is the author? Are they an expert?
  • How do they make their argument? Is it backed up by evidence?

A credible source should pass the CRAAP test  and follow these guidelines:

  • The information should be up to date and current.
  • The author and publication should be a trusted authority on the subject you are researching.
  • The sources the author cited should be easy to find, clear, and unbiased.
  • For a web source, the URL and layout should signify that it is trustworthy.

Information literacy refers to a broad range of skills, including the ability to find, evaluate, and use sources of information effectively.

Being information literate means that you:

  • Know how to find credible sources
  • Use relevant sources to inform your research
  • Understand what constitutes plagiarism
  • Know how to cite your sources correctly

Confirmation bias is the tendency to search, interpret, and recall information in a way that aligns with our pre-existing values, opinions, or beliefs. It refers to the ability to recollect information best when it amplifies what we already believe. Relatedly, we tend to forget information that contradicts our opinions.

Although selective recall is a component of confirmation bias, it should not be confused with recall bias.

On the other hand, recall bias refers to the differences in the ability between study participants to recall past events when self-reporting is used. This difference in accuracy or completeness of recollection is not related to beliefs or opinions. Rather, recall bias relates to other factors, such as the length of the recall period, age, and the characteristics of the disease under investigation.

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Ryan, E. (2023, May 31). What Is Critical Thinking? | Definition & Examples. Scribbr. Retrieved March 4, 2024, from

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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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  • Insight Assessment
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  • 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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Writing and Critical Thinking Through Literature (Ringo and Kashyap)

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  • Page ID 40355

  • Heather Ringo & Athena Kashyap
  • City College of San Francisco via ASCCC Open Educational Resources Initiative

This text offers instruction in analytical, critical, and argumentative writing, critical thinking, research strategies, information literacy, and proper documentation through the study of literary works from major genres, while developing students’ close reading skills and promoting an appreciation of the aesthetic qualities of literature.

Thumbnail: Old book bindings at the Merton College library. (CC BY-SA 3.0; Tom Murphy VII via Wikipedia ).


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Creativity and critical thinking sit atop most lists of skills crucial for success in the 21st century. They represent two of the “Four Cs” in   P21 ’s learning framework (the other two being communication and collaboration), and they rank second and third on the World Economic Forum ’s top ten list of skills workers will need most in the year 2020 (complex problem solving ranks first).

The various lists of 21st-century skills grant creativity and critical thinking such prominence in part because they are human abilities robots and AI are unlikely to usurp anytime soon. The picture of the near future that emerges from these compilations of skills is one in which people must compete against their own inventions by exploiting the most human of their human qualities: empathy, a willingness to work together, adaptability, innovation. As the 21st century unfolds, creativity and critical thinking appear as uniquely human attributes essential for staving off our own obsolescence.

Like many things human, however, creativity and critical thinking are not easily or consistently defined. The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation’s list of “ Deeper Learning Competencies ,” for example, identifies creativity not as its own competency but as a tool for thinking critically. Bloom’s Taxonomy  treats the two as separate educational goals, ranking creativity above critical thinking in the progression of intellectual abilities. Efforts to pin down these skills are so quickly muddled, one is tempted to fall back on the old Justice Stewart remark regarding obscenity: “I know it when I see it.” Unfortunately, that yardstick isn’t much help to teachers or students.

Definitions of creativity tend toward the broad and vague. One of the leading researchers in the area, Robert Sternberg, characterizes creativity  as “a decision to buy low and sell high in the world of ideas.” While this is itself a creative approach to the problem of defining creativity, it is not a solution easily translated into a rubric.

Definitions of critical thinking don’t fare much better. According to one group of researchers , “Critical thinking is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning or communication, as a guide to belief and action.” Again, a curiously self-demonstrating definition, but not one ready-made for the classroom.

Generally speaking, creativity is associated with generating ideas, while critical thinking is associated with judging them. In practice, however, the two are not so easy to separate. As parents and teachers know well, creativity without critical judgment tends toward the fanciful, the impractical, the ridiculous. “Creative thinking” becomes a nice way of saying that someone’s ideas have run amok.

At the same time, critical thinking gets short shrift when reduced to making a judgment, since, at its best, critical thinking is also a way of making a contribution. It is fundamentally creative in the sense that its aim is to produce something new: an insight, an argument, a new synthesis of ideas or information, a new level of understanding.

Our grasp of creativity and critical thinking is improved when we see them in symbiotic relationship with one another. Creativity  benefits from our recognizing the role of critical thinking in ensuring the value of novel ideas. In turn, critical thinking  comes into clearer focus when we recognize it as a creative act that enriches understanding by giving rise to something that wasn’t there before.

What does this symbiotic relationship look like in the classroom? Here are a few educational contexts in which creativity is disciplined by critical thinking and critical thinking is expanded through recognition of its creative function:

  • Writing.  Creative writing only works when the writer’s critical judgment is brought to bear on the product of their imagination. However richly imagined, a story’s success depends on the skill with which its author corrals and controls their ideas, crafting them into something coherent and cohesive. Storycraft is accomplished by writers who discipline their own creative work by thinking critically about it.Successful academic writing — argumentative, expository — requires not just critical analysis but also creative invention. Academic writers enter into conversation with their readers, their instructors, fellow students, other writers and scholars, anyone affected by or invested in their topic. As in any conversation, a successful participant doesn’t simply repeat back what others have already said, but builds upon it, asking critical questions, fine-tuning points, proposing solutions — in short, creating and contributing something original that extends and enriches the conversation.
  • History.  History classes lend themselves readily to creative exercises like imagining the experiences of people in the past, or envisioning what the present might look like if this or that historical event had played out differently. These exercises succeed only when imagination is disciplined by critical thinking; conjectures must be plausible, connections must be logical, and the use of evidence must be reasonable.At the same time, critical analysis of historical problems often employs invention and is (or should be) rewarded for its creativity. For example, a student analyzing the US mission to the moon in terms of the theme of the frontier in American mythology is engaged in an intellectual activity that is at least as creative as it is evaluative.
  • Math.  Creative projects can generate engagement and enthusiasm in students, prompting them to learn things they might otherwise resist. In this example , a middle school math class learned about circuitry on their way to creating a keyboard made of bananas. Projects like this one demonstrate that creativity and critical thinking are reciprocal. A banana keyboard is unquestionably creative, but of little utility except insofar as it teaches something valuable about electronics. Yet, that lesson was made possible only by virtue of the creative impulse the project inspired in students.

The skills today’s students will need for success are, at a most basic level, the skills that humans have always relied on for success — the very things that make us human, including our creativity and our capacity for thinking critically. The fact that our defining qualities so often defy definition, that our distinctive traits are so frustratingly indistinct, is just another gloriously untidy part of us that robots will never understand.

For more, see:

  • How Dialogue Teaches Critical Thinking and Empathy
  • Creating Change-Agents: The Intersection of Critical Thinking and Student Agency
  • Philadelphia is Reimagining Arts & Creativity Education Programming

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The pursuit of performance excellence, critical thinking vs. creative thinking, critical thinking vs. creative thinking.

Creative thinking is a way of looking at problems or situations from a fresh perspective to conceive of something new or original.

critical thinking is the logical, sequential disciplined process of rationalizing, analyzing, evaluating, and interpreting information to make informed judgments and/or decisions.

Critical Thinking vs. Creative Thinking – Key Differences

  • Creative thinking tries to create something new, while critical thinking seeks to assess worth or validity of something that already exists.
  • Creative thinking is generative, while critical thinking is analytical .
  • Creative thinking is divergent, while critical thinking is convergent.
  • Creative thinking is focused on possibilities, while critical thinking is focused on probability.
  • Creative thinking is accomplished by disregarding accepted principles, while critical thinking is accomplished by applying accepted principles.


About Creative Thinking

Creative thinking is a process utilized to generate lists of new, varied and unique ideas or possibilities. Creative thinking brings a fresh perspective and sometimes unconventional solution to solve a problem or address a challenge.  When you are thinking creatively, you are focused on exploring ideas, generating possibilities, and/or developing various theories.

Creative thinking can be performed both by an unstructured process such as brainstorming , or by a structured process such as lateral thinking .

Brainstorming is the process for generating unique ideas and solutions through spontaneous and freewheeling group discussion. Participants are encouraged to think aloud and suggest as many ideas as they can, no matter how outlandish it may seem.

Lateral thinking uses a systematic process that leads to logical conclusions. However, it involves changing a standard thinking sequence and arriving at a solution from completely different angles.

No matter what process you chose, the ultimate goal is to generate ideas that are unique, useful and worthy of further elaboration. Often times, critical thinking is performed after creative thinking has generated various possibilities. Critical thinking is used to vet those ideas to determine if they are practical.

Creative Thinking Skills

  • Open-mindedness
  • flexibility
  • Imagination
  • Adaptability
  • Risk-taking
  • Originality
  • Elaboration
  • Brainstorming

Critical Thinking header

About Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is the process of actively analyzing, interpreting, synthesizing, evaluating information gathered from observation, experience, or communication. It is thinking in a clear, logical, reasoned, and reflective manner to make informed judgments and/or decisions.

Critical thinking involves the ability to:

  • remain objective

In general, critical thinking is used to make logical well-formed decisions after analyzing and evaluating information and/or an array of ideas.

On a daily basis, it can be used for a variety of reasons including:

  • to form an argument
  • to articulate and justify a position or point of view
  • to reduce possibilities to convergent toward a single answer
  • to vet creative ideas to determine if they are practical
  • to judge an assumption
  • to solve a problem
  • to reach a conclusion

Critical Thinking Skills

  • Interpreting
  • Integrating
  • Contrasting
  • Classifying
  • Forecasting
  • Hypothesizing

critical thinking in creative writing

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Critical thinking definition

critical thinking in creative writing

Critical thinking, as described by Oxford Languages, is the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgement.

Active and skillful approach, evaluation, assessment, synthesis, and/or evaluation of information obtained from, or made by, observation, knowledge, reflection, acumen or conversation, as a guide to belief and action, requires the critical thinking process, which is why it's often used in education and academics.

Some even may view it as a backbone of modern thought.

However, it's a skill, and skills must be trained and encouraged to be used at its full potential.

People turn up to various approaches in improving their critical thinking, like:

  • Developing technical and problem-solving skills
  • Engaging in more active listening
  • Actively questioning their assumptions and beliefs
  • Seeking out more diversity of thought
  • Opening up their curiosity in an intellectual way etc.

Is critical thinking useful in writing?

Critical thinking can help in planning your paper and making it more concise, but it's not obvious at first. We carefully pinpointed some the questions you should ask yourself when boosting critical thinking in writing:

  • What information should be included?
  • Which information resources should the author look to?
  • What degree of technical knowledge should the report assume its audience has?
  • What is the most effective way to show information?
  • How should the report be organized?
  • How should it be designed?
  • What tone and level of language difficulty should the document have?

Usage of critical thinking comes down not only to the outline of your paper, it also begs the question: How can we use critical thinking solving problems in our writing's topic?

Let's say, you have a Powerpoint on how critical thinking can reduce poverty in the United States. You'll primarily have to define critical thinking for the viewers, as well as use a lot of critical thinking questions and synonyms to get them to be familiar with your methods and start the thinking process behind it.

Are there any services that can help me use more critical thinking?

We understand that it's difficult to learn how to use critical thinking more effectively in just one article, but our service is here to help.

We are a team specializing in writing essays and other assignments for college students and all other types of customers who need a helping hand in its making. We cover a great range of topics, offer perfect quality work, always deliver on time and aim to leave our customers completely satisfied with what they ordered.

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