This chapter focuses on the process of developing arguments, which is one of the key aims of critical thinking. Simple arguments comprise three elements: a claim, at least one premise, and a link between them. The claim is the ‘answer’ to the question, which some call the position, conclusion, or contention. Links can be either claim indicators or premise indicators and are extremely important to understanding the line of reasoning. Meanwhile, premises are reasons to support the claim: they should avoid being categorical, vague, or an appeal to emotion. Counter arguments can strengthen your argument either because you can rebut them, or because they demonstrate that you understand the complexity of a situation. Argument maps are a useful visual tool to approach the development of complex arguments in a structured way. The chapter then outlines the steps in developing an argument.
This chapter examines what critical thinking is. Critical thinking actively and carefully evaluates the reasoning and evidence behind knowledge and arguments. In relation to approaches to knowledge, at an early stage humans seek ‘correct’ knowledge, at an intermediate stage they reject the ability to rank knowledge, and at a higher stage they evaluate knowledge to search for the best within the parameters available. Approaches to arguments see individuals as either followers who believe any arguments they hear, cynics who reject all arguments and evidence, and healthy sceptics who look to evaluate arguments based on underlying reasoning and evidence. Humans can be persuaded by pathos (appeals to emotion), ethos (the credibility of the source or speaker), or logos (the logic of the underlying argument). The chapter then looks at the revised taxonomy of cognitive processes and considers the concept of cognitive biases. As distinct from shallow or cynical thinkers, critical thinkers have a high-stage approach to knowledge; are healthy sceptics in relation to arguments looking to the underlying reasoning and evidence; are persuaded mostly by the logos of an argument; use the full spectrum of cognitive processes (especially higher-order); and try to avoid their own cognitive biases influencing their thinking.
This chapter addresses how clarity of communication is simultaneously the most important and the least important of the three aims of critical thinking. There are two main ways to communicate your thinking: written and spoken. As there is no ‘formula’ for either of them, both require practice to improve over time. Written communication is most common in the form of essays which require an academic writing style: neither too simple nor too complex, and neither informal nor ultra-formal. Academic conventions vary between disciplines but, in general, you should use topic sentences at the beginning of each paragraph to achieve a narrative that flows, use consistent terms, avoid the first person, and avoid subheadings. Introductory and concluding paragraphs are most important in essay composition to ensure arguments are clearly communicated. In formal oral presentations, you need to focus on the audience hearing and understanding your argument. This includes paying attention to voice, pace, tone, audience connection, complexity, structure, and visual aids. Nerves can impact your ability to effectively communicate spoken arguments, so you should use specific tactics to minimize this impact.
Sarah Birrell Ivory
Becoming a Critical Thinker starts by considering what it is that makes someone a critical thinker and why critical thinking skills are worth developing. The text argues that there are many benefits to looking at the world through a critical lens. The book first defines critical thinking in direct relation to the university experience before proceeding to discuss the ways in which a learner can become more of a critical thinker. The second part of the book looks at the three aims of critical thinking: quality of argument, strength of evidence, and clarity of communication. The final part is about mastering the tools of critical thinking. There are five major tools that a good critical thinker should use: writing, reading, listening, speaking, and—perhaps obviously—thinking.
This chapter considers why reading at university is an essential tool in becoming a critical thinker, what it means to read actively, and how to become an effective active reader. Reading at university moves you beyond reading-to-know and into reading-to-think, which is known as active reading. Active reading comprises seeing, comprehending, analysing, interpreting, and evaluating to make meaning from text. Your own interpretation is necessary because a text has three different authors: the human author, the imagined author, and the reader as an author. Reading is an essential part of university in part because texts allow authors the time and space to develop complex, carefully constructed arguments and ideas which are well reasoned. The chapter then looks at selective reading; the CBD active reading strategy, which focuses on Context–Breadth–Depth; and note-taking. Obstacles to active reading include time and focus, reading ability and accuracy, and the style and difficulty of texts.