CRITICAL THINKING SKILLS
A critical thinker is one who
1. Observes. One must both look closely and remain open to
hidden or unexpected explanations to think critically. Observation involves
close attention to both regularities and exceptional data. Simple recall and
comprehension (putting what is recalled in one’s own words) of what one sees are
the first steps in critical thinking.
2. Analyzes. In order to truly understand one must break down
material into its component parts so that its organizational structure may be
understood. That is, analysis involves knowing the relationships between parts
and recognizing the organizational principles that connect them.
3. Recognizes ambiguity. Ambiguity means having two or more meanings.
Issues are often complex – complexity only emerges from confusion if one is
willing to recognize ambiguity.
4. Accepts complexity. The critical thinker expects and tolerates
uncertainty – the more complex an issue, system or process, the greater the
uncertainty. Complex issues do not lend themselves to simple single-cause
explanations. There are usually no easy answers to important issues or
questions; issues in real life can rarely be simplified to right/wrong, yes/no,
us/them, and so on.
5. Identifies assumptions &
biases. An assumption is something taken
for granted by a thinker but often left unstated. Since assumptions are not
mentioned and thus not backed up with evidence, they offer insight into the
validity of our own arguments as well as those of others.
6. Assumes perspective(s) of
another. Consider the phrase “walk a mile
in their shoes.” This implies a willingness to explore ideas contrary to one’s
own beliefs and the ability to see problems and issues in a broader perspective
than one’s own culture or interest group.
7. Adopts multiple
perspectives. To adopt multiple
perspectives means to see a problem from many angles. There are as many
perspectives as there are people, but several important categories include race,
class, and gender. Adopting multiple perspectives allows one to anticipate
counter arguments and to address them even before one’s position is questioned.
Multiple perspectives can also lead one to reconsider one’s position.
8. Synthesizes. Synthesis puts parts together to form a new
whole. It is the opposite of analysis. Synthesis involves seeing connections
among various and seemingly unrelated facts and experiences (e.g. different
texts, different courses, different personal experiences or current events,
etc.) Creativity is an important part of synthesis, since the connections one
finds may be original.
9. Recognizes bias. A goal of critical thinking is fair mindedness.
One tests one’s own impressions in all ways possible. Recognizing bias helps
one to see their own assumptions and thus to reduce personal prejudice and to
recognize it in others.
10. Evaluates. To evaluate one must judge and to judge one must
have definite criteria. Such criteria may be internal (e.g., how effectively is
the purpose or function of this process carried out?) or external (e.g. why
might this process be of interest to someone? How does it compare to other works
in its field?).
from work of James T. Hathaway, Slippery Rock University, PA)