Putting Critical Thinking Skills Into Practice

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Overview

This final Skill in the Critical Thinking module invites you to reflect upon, and consolidate, some of the ideas explored in previous Skills – and to consider what it might mean for you to put them into practice when it comes to your own research, writing, and interests.

It begins by examining the habits and contexts that can support effective thought and study, before moving to consider critically engaged reading and writing in particular. We’ll look at the interconnectedness of good reading, writing, and thinking; and at the ways in which these entail iteration, self-reflection, and revision. We’ll also look at what it might mean for you to clarify your thinking – and how this entails reflecting upon your own assumptions as well as those of others, and upon privileging research and dialogue over hasty generalisations.

Following on from this, we’ll look at academic writing in particular – and what it means to plan and engage rigorously with a major project, essay, or piece of research. This process is broken down into three parts: First, exploring and clarifying the particular question to be addressed, and the reading and research process needed to support this; second, planning the structure of a response, and writing it in a rigorous and sustainable way; and third, drawing relevant and convincing conclusions, while reserving sufficient time to revise and improve your work.

The final section of this Skill then looks at some of the general principles and practices that may help you put critical thinking to work in your studies and life. Once again, the emphasis is upon revision, reflection, and iteration; upon the avoidance of common errors and over-simplifications; and upon developing your own sense of the principles most likely to support you in finding the best possible way of working.

This is intended to be the most self-reflective of this module’s ten Skills, and to encourage you to explore your own interests, preferences, and needs. To this end, it offers a series of opportunities for open reflection – alongside invitations to pause and rethink certain assumptions. The guidance that follows is not so much a series of instructions as a tool-kit, from which you should feel free to take, adapt, and use whatever works for you.

In the end, there is no one recipe for clear, critical thinking, nor any such thing as an infallible guide to putting it into practice. There is only the incremental, imperfect business of taking the time to question your own and others’ claims; to test ideas and theories against the best available evidence; and to engage sceptically and empathetically with as full a gamut of perspectives as possible.

Thank you for your time, attention, and willingness to learn – and the best of wishes for your future studies.

Suggested Readings

  • Charles Duhigg’s 2012 bestseller The Power of Habit (Cornerstone, 2012) remains a lively, accessible introduction to building habits that work for you.
  • One of my favourite books about the importance of reflective time in everyday life is Robert Poynton’s eloquent Do/Pause: You Are Not a To Do List (Do Books, 2019).
  • From Reflectly to Day One to Longwalks, countless apps promoting self-reflection and journaling are worth experimenting with as ways of deepening your everyday thinking.
  • The UK’s Open University offers some rich, free online resources around strategic study techniques https://help.open.ac.uk/be-aware-of-your-habits
  • The Future Tense podcast offers a stimulating repository of wide-ranging reflections on new ways of thinking https://player.fm/series/future-tense-full-program-podcast