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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?

If you want to know more about ChatGPT, AI tools , citation , and plagiarism , make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples.

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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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How to build your critical thinking skills in 7 steps (with examples)

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Critical thinking is, well, critical. By building these skills, you improve your ability to analyze information and come to the best decision possible. In this article, we cover the basics of critical thinking, as well as the seven steps you can use to implement the full critical thinking process.

Critical thinking comes from asking the right questions to come to the best conclusion possible. Strong critical thinkers analyze information from a variety of viewpoints in order to identify the best course of action.

Don’t worry if you don’t think you have strong critical thinking abilities. In this article, we’ll help you build a foundation for critical thinking so you can absorb, analyze, and make informed decisions. 

What is critical thinking? 

Critical thinking is the ability to collect and analyze information to come to a conclusion. Being able to think critically is important in virtually every industry and applicable across a wide range of positions. That’s because critical thinking isn’t subject-specific—rather, it’s your ability to parse through information, data, statistics, and other details in order to identify a satisfactory solution. 

Definitions of critical thinking

Various scholars have provided definitions of critical thinking, each emphasizing different aspects of this complex cognitive process:

Michael Scriven , an American philosopher, defines critical thinking as "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."

Robert Ennis , professor emeritus at the University of Illinois, describes critical thinking as "reasonable, reflective thinking focused on deciding what to believe or do."

Diane Halpern , a cognitive psychologist and former president of the American Psychological Association, defines it as "the use of cognitive skills or strategies that increase the probability of a desirable outcome."

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Top 8 critical thinking skills

Critical thinking is essential for success in everyday life, higher education, and professional settings. The handbook "Foundation for Critical Thinking" defines it as a process of conceptualization, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation of information.

In no particular order, here are eight key critical thinking abilities that can help you excel in any situation:

1. Analytical thinking

Analytical thinking involves evaluating data from multiple sources in order to come to the best conclusions. Analytical thinking allows people to reject cognitive biases and strive to gather and analyze intricate subject matter while solving complex problems. Analytical thinkers who thrive at critical thinking can:

Identify patterns and trends in the data

Break down complex issues into manageable components

Recognize cause-and-effect relationships

Evaluate the strength of arguments and evidence

Example: A data analyst breaks down complex sales figures to identify trends and patterns that inform the company's marketing strategy.

2. Open-mindedness

Open-mindedness is the willingness to consider new ideas, arguments, and information without prejudice. This critical thinking skill helps you analyze and process information to come to an unbiased conclusion. Part of the critical thinking process is letting your personal biases go, taking information at face value and coming to a conclusion based on multiple points of view .

Open-minded critical thinkers demonstrate:

Willingness to consider alternative viewpoints

Ability to suspend judgment until sufficient evidence is gathered

Receptiveness to constructive criticism and feedback

Flexibility in updating beliefs based on new information

Example: During a product development meeting, a team leader actively considers unconventional ideas from junior members, leading to an innovative solution.

3. Problem-solving

Effective problem solving is a cornerstone of critical thinking. It requires the ability to identify issues, generate possible solutions, evaluate alternatives, and implement the best course of action. This critical thinking skill is particularly valuable in fields like project management and entrepreneurship.

Key aspects of problem-solving include:

Clearly defining the problem

Gathering relevant information

Brainstorming potential solutions

Evaluating the pros and cons of each option

Implementing and monitoring the chosen solution

Reflecting on the outcome and adjusting as necessary

Example: A high school principal uses problem-solving skills to address declining student engagement by surveying learners, consulting with higher education experts, and implementing a new curriculum that balances academic rigor with practical, real-world applications.

4. Reasoned judgment

Reasoned judgment is a key component of higher order thinking that involves making thoughtful decisions based on logical analysis of evidence and thorough consideration of alternatives. This critical thinking skill is important in both academic and professional settings. Key aspects reasoned judgment include:

Objectively gathering and analyzing information

Evaluating the credibility and relevance of evidence

Considering multiple perspectives before drawing conclusions

Making decisions based on logical inference and sound reasoning

Example: A high school science teacher uses reasoned judgment to design an experiment, carefully observing and analyzing results before drawing conclusions about the hypothesis.

5. Reflective thinking

Reflective thinking is the process of analyzing one's own thought processes, actions, and outcomes to gain deeper understanding and improve future performance. Good critical thinking requires analyzing and synthesizing information to form a coherent understanding of a problem. It's an essential critical thinking skill for continuous learning and improvement.

Key aspects of reflective thinking include:

Critically examining one's own assumptions and cognitive biases

Considering diverse viewpoints and perspectives

Synthesizing information from various experiences and sources

Applying insights to improve future decision-making and actions

Continuously evaluating and adjusting one's thinking processes

Example: A community organizer reflects on the outcomes of a recent public event, considering what worked well and what could be improved for future initiatives.

6. Communication

Strong communication skills help critical thinkers articulate ideas clearly and persuasively. Communication in the workplace is crucial for effective teamwork, leadership, and knowledge dissemination. Key aspects of communication in critical thinking include:

Clearly expressing complex ideas

Active listening and comprehension

Adapting communication styles to different audiences

Constructing and delivering persuasive arguments

Example: A manager effectively explains a new company policy to her team, addressing their concerns and ensuring everyone understands its implications.

7. Research

Critical thinkers with strong research skills gather, evaluate, and synthesize information from various sources of information. This is particularly important in academic settings and in professional fields that require continuous learning. Effective research involves:

Identifying reliable and relevant sources of information

Evaluating the credibility and bias of sources

Synthesizing information from multiple sources

Recognizing gaps in existing knowledge

Example: A journalist verifies information from multiple credible sources before publishing an article on a controversial topic.

8. Decision-making

Effective decision making is the culmination of various critical thinking skills that allow an individual to draw logical conclusions and generalizations. It involves weighing options, considering consequences, and choosing the best course of action. Key aspects of decision-making include:

Defining clear criteria for evaluation

Gathering and analyzing relevant information

Considering short-term and long-term consequences

Managing uncertainty and risk

Balancing logic and intuition

Example: A homeowner weighs the costs, benefits, and long-term implications before deciding to invest in solar panels for their house.

7 steps to improve critical thinking

Critical thinking is a skill that you can build by following these seven steps. The seven steps to critical thinking help you ensure you’re approaching a problem from the right angle, considering every alternative, and coming to an unbiased conclusion.

First things first: When to use the 7 step critical thinking process

There’s a lot that goes into the full critical thinking process, and not every decision needs to be this thought out. Sometimes, it’s enough to put aside bias and approach a process logically. In other, more complex cases, the best way to identify the ideal outcome is to go through the entire critical thinking process. 

The seven-step critical thinking process is useful for complex decisions in areas you are less familiar with. Alternatively, the seven critical thinking steps can help you look at a problem you’re familiar with from a different angle, without any bias. 

If you need to make a less complex decision, consider another problem solving strategy instead. Decision matrices are a great way to identify the best option between different choices. Check out our article on 7 steps to creating a decision matrix .

1. Identify the problem or question

Before you put those critical thinking skills to work, you first need to identify the problem you’re solving. This step includes taking a look at the problem from a few different perspectives and asking questions like: 

What’s happening? 

Why is this happening? 

What assumptions am I making? 

At first glance, how do I think we can solve this problem? 

A big part of developing your critical thinking skills is learning how to come to unbiased conclusions. In order to do that, you first need to acknowledge the biases that you currently have. Does someone on your team think they know the answer? Are you making assumptions that aren’t necessarily true? Identifying these details helps you later on in the process. 

2. Gather relevant information

At this point, you likely have a general idea of the problem—but in order to come up with the best solution, you need to dig deeper. 

During the research process, collect information relating to the problem, including data, statistics, historical project information, team input, and more. Make sure you gather information from a variety of sources, especially if those sources go against your personal ideas about what the problem is or how to solve it.

Gathering varied information is essential for your ability to apply the critical thinking process. If you don’t get enough information, your ability to make a final decision will be skewed. Remember that critical thinking is about helping you identify the objective best conclusion. You aren’t going with your gut—you’re doing research to find the best option

3. Analyze and evaluate data

Just as it’s important to gather a variety of information, it is also important to determine how relevant the different information sources are. After all, just because there is data doesn’t mean it’s relevant. 

Once you’ve gathered all of the information, sift through the noise and identify what information is relevant and what information isn’t. Synthesizing all of this information and establishing significance helps you weigh different data sources and come to the best conclusion later on in the critical thinking process. 

To determine data relevance, ask yourself:

How reliable is this information? 

How significant is this information? 

Is this information outdated? Is it specialized in a specific field? 

4. Consider alternative points of view

One of the most useful parts of the critical thinking process is coming to a decision without bias. In order to do so, you need to take a step back from the process and challenge the assumptions you’re making. 

We all have bias—and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Unconscious biases (also known as cognitive biases) often serve as mental shortcuts to simplify problem solving and aid decision making. But even when biases aren’t inherently bad, you must be aware of your biases in order to put them aside when necessary. 

Before coming to a solution, ask yourself:

Am I making any assumptions about this information? 

Are there additional variables I haven’t considered? 

Have I evaluated the information from every perspective? 

Are there any viewpoints I missed?

5. Draw logical conclusions

Finally, you’re ready to come to a conclusion. To identify the best solution, draw connections between causes and effects. Use the facts you’ve gathered to evaluate the most objective conclusion. 

Keep in mind that there may be more than one solution. Often, the problems you’re facing are complex and intricate. The critical thinking process doesn’t necessarily lead to a cut-and-dry solution—instead, the process helps you understand the different variables at play so you can make an informed decision. 

6. Develop and communication solutions

Communication is a key skill for critical thinkers. It isn’t enough to think for yourself—you also need to share your conclusion with other project stakeholders. If there are multiple solutions, present them all. There may be a case where you implement one solution, then test to see if it works before implementing another solution. 

This process of communicating and sharing ideas is key in promoting critical thinking within a team or organization. By encouraging open dialogue and collaborative problem-solving, you create an environment that fosters the development of critical thinking skills in others.

7. Reflect and learn from the process

The seven-step critical thinking process yields a result—and you then need to put that solution into place. After you’ve implemented your decision, evaluate whether or not it was effective. Did it solve the initial problem? What lessons—whether positive or negative—can you learn from this experience to improve your critical thinking for next time? 

By engaging in this metacognitive reflective thinking process, you're essentially teaching critical thinking to yourself, refining your methodology with each iteration. This reflective practice is fundamental in developing a more robust and adaptable approach to problem-solving.

Depending on how your team shares information, consider documenting lessons learned in a central source of truth. That way, team members that are making similar or related decisions in the future can understand why you made the decision you made and what the outcome was.

Example of critical thinking in the workplace

Imagine you work in user experience design (UX). Your team is focused on pricing and packaging and ensuring customers have a clear understanding of the different services your company offers. Here’s how to apply the critical thinking process in the workplace in seven steps: 

Step 1: Start by identifying the problem

Your current pricing page isn’t performing as well as you want. You’ve heard from customers that your services aren’t clear, and that the page doesn’t answer the questions they have. This page is really important for your company, since it’s where your customers sign up for your service. You and your team have a few theories about why your current page isn’t performing well, but you decide to apply the critical thinking process to ensure you come to the best decision for the page. 

Gather information about how the problem started

Part of identifying the problem includes understanding how the problem started. The pricing and packaging page is important—so when your team initially designed the page, they certainly put a lot of thought into it. Before you begin researching how to improve the page, ask yourself: 

Why did you design the pricing page the way you did? 

Which stakeholders need to be involved in the decision making process? 

Where are users getting stuck on the page?

Are any features currently working?

Step 2: Then gather information and research

In addition to understanding the history of the pricing and packaging page, it’s important to understand what works well. Part of this research means taking a look at what your competitor’s pricing pages look like. 

Ask yourself: 

How have our competitors set up their pricing pages?

Are there any pricing page best practices? 

How does color, positioning, and animation impact navigation? 

Are there any standard page layouts customers expect to see? 

Step 3: Organize and analyze information

You’ve gathered all of the information you need—now you need to organize and analyze it. What trends, if any, are you noticing? Is there any particularly relevant or important information that you have to consider? 

Step 4: Consider alternative viewpoints to reduce bias

In the case of critical thinking, it’s important to address and set bias aside as much as possible. Ask yourself: 

Is there anything I’m missing? 

Have I connected with the right stakeholders? 

Are there any other viewpoints I should consider? 

Step 5: Determine the most logical solution for your team

You now have all of the information you need to design the best pricing page. Depending on the complexity of the design, you may want to design a few options to present to a small group of customers or A/B test on the live website.

Step 6: Communicate your solution to stakeholders

Critical thinking can help you in every element of your life, but in the workplace, you must also involve key project stakeholders . Stakeholders help you determine next steps, like whether you’ll A/B test the page first. Depending on the complexity of the issue, consider hosting a meeting or sharing a status report to get everyone on the same page. 

Step 7: Reflect on the results

No process is complete without evaluating the results. Once the new page has been live for some time, evaluate whether it did better than the previous page. What worked? What didn’t? This also helps you make better critical decisions later on.

Tools and techniques to improve critical thinking skills

As the importance of critical thinking continues to grow in academic and professional settings, numerous tools and resources have been developed to help individuals enhance their critical thinking skills. Here are some notable contributions from experts and institutions in the field:

Mind mapping for better analysis

Mind mapping is a visual technique that helps organize and structure information. It's particularly useful for synthesizing complex ideas and identifying connections between different concepts. The benefits of mind mapping include:

Enhancing creativity by encouraging non-linear thinking

Improving memory and retention of information

Facilitating brainstorming and idea generation

Providing a clear overview of complex topics

To create a mind map:

Start with a central idea or concept.

Branch out with related sub topics or ideas.

Use colors, symbols, and images to enhance visual appeal and memorability.

Draw connections between related ideas across different branches.

Mind mapping can be particularly effective in project planning , content creation, and studying complex subjects.

The Socratic Method for deeper understanding

The Socratic Method, named after the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates, involves asking probing questions to stimulate critical thinking and illuminate ideas. This technique is widely used in higher education to teach critical thinking. Key aspects of the Socratic Method include:

Asking open-ended questions that encourage deeper reflection

Challenging assumptions and preconceived notions

Exploring the implications and consequences of ideas

Fostering intellectual curiosity and continuous inquiry

The Socratic Method can be applied in various settings:

In education, to encourage students to think deeply about subject matter

In business, it is important to challenge team members to consider multiple points of view.

In personal development, to examine one's own beliefs and decisions

Example: A high school teacher might use the Socratic Method to guide students through a complex ethical dilemma, asking questions like "What principles are at stake here?" and "How might this decision affect different stakeholders?"

SWOT analysis for comprehensive evaluation

SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis is a strategic planning tool that can be applied to critical thinking. It helps in evaluating situations from multiple angles, promoting a more thorough understanding of complex issues. The components of SWOT analysis are:

Strengths: internal positive attributes or assets

Weaknesses: internal negative attributes or limitations

Opportunities: External factors that could be beneficial

Threats: External factors that could be harmful

To conduct a SWOT analysis:

Clearly define the subject of analysis (e.g., a project, organization, or decision).

Brainstorm and list items for each category.

Analyze the interactions between different factors.

Use the analysis to inform strategy or decision-making.

Example: A startup might use SWOT analysis to evaluate its position before seeking investment, identifying its innovative technology as a strength, limited capital as a weakness, growing market demand as an opportunity, and established competitors as a threat.

Critical thinking resources

The Foundation for Critical Thinking : Based in California, this organization offers a wide range of resources, including books, articles, and workshops on critical thinking.

The National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking : This council provides guidelines and standards for critical thinking instruction and assessment.

University of Louisville : Their Critical Thinking Initiative offers various resources and tools for developing critical thinking skills.

The New York Times Learning Network provides lesson plans and activities to help develop critical thinking skills through current events and news analysis.

Critical thinking frameworks and tools

Paul-Elder Critical Thinking Framework : Developed by Dr. Richard Paul and Dr. Linda Elder, this framework provides a comprehensive approach to developing critical thinking skills.

Bloom's Taxonomy : While not exclusively for critical thinking, this classification system is widely used in education to promote higher-order thinking skills.

The California Critical Thinking Disposition Inventory (CCTDI) : This assessment tool measures the disposition to engage in problems and make decisions using critical thinking.

The Ennis-Weir Critical Thinking Essay Test : Developed by Robert Ennis, this test assesses a person's ability to appraise an argument and to formulate a written argument.

By incorporating these tools and techniques into regular practice, individuals can significantly enhance their critical thinking capabilities, leading to more effective problem-solving, decision-making, and overall cognitive performance.

Critically successful 

Critical thinking takes time to build, but with effort and patience you can apply an unbiased, analytical mind to any situation. Critical thinking makes up one of many soft skills that makes you an effective team member, manager, and worker. If you’re looking to hone your skills further, read our article on the 25 project management skills you need to succeed .

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What is Critical Thinking?

Critical thinking is the ability to think clearly and rationally, understanding the logical connection between ideas.  Critical thinking has been the subject of much debate and thought since the time of early Greek philosophers such as Plato and Socrates and has continued to be a subject of discussion into the modern age, for example the ability to recognise fake news .

Critical thinking might be described as the ability to engage in reflective and independent thinking.

In essence, critical thinking requires you to use your ability to reason. It is about being an active learner rather than a passive recipient of information.

Critical thinkers rigorously question ideas and assumptions rather than accepting them at face value. They will always seek to determine whether the ideas, arguments and findings represent the entire picture and are open to finding that they do not.

Critical thinkers will identify, analyse and solve problems systematically rather than by intuition or instinct.

Someone with critical thinking skills can:

Understand the links between ideas.

Determine the importance and relevance of arguments and ideas.

Recognise, build and appraise arguments.

Identify inconsistencies and errors in reasoning.

Approach problems in a consistent and systematic way.

Reflect on the justification of their own assumptions, beliefs and values.

Critical thinking is thinking about things in certain ways so as to arrive at the best possible solution in the circumstances that the thinker is aware of. In more everyday language, it is a way of thinking about whatever is presently occupying your mind so that you come to the best possible conclusion.

Critical Thinking is:

A way of thinking about particular things at a particular time; it is not the accumulation of facts and knowledge or something that you can learn once and then use in that form forever, such as the nine times table you learn and use in school.

The Skills We Need for Critical Thinking

The skills that we need in order to be able to think critically are varied and include observation, analysis, interpretation, reflection, evaluation, inference, explanation, problem solving, and decision making.

Specifically we need to be able to:

Think about a topic or issue in an objective and critical way.

Identify the different arguments there are in relation to a particular issue.

Evaluate a point of view to determine how strong or valid it is.

Recognise any weaknesses or negative points that there are in the evidence or argument.

Notice what implications there might be behind a statement or argument.

Provide structured reasoning and support for an argument that we wish to make.

The Critical Thinking Process

You should be aware that none of us think critically all the time.

Sometimes we think in almost any way but critically, for example when our self-control is affected by anger, grief or joy or when we are feeling just plain ‘bloody minded’.

On the other hand, the good news is that, since our critical thinking ability varies according to our current mindset, most of the time we can learn to improve our critical thinking ability by developing certain routine activities and applying them to all problems that present themselves.

Once you understand the theory of critical thinking, improving your critical thinking skills takes persistence and practice.

Try this simple exercise to help you to start thinking critically.

Think of something that someone has recently told you. Then ask yourself the following questions:

Who said it?

Someone you know? Someone in a position of authority or power? Does it matter who told you this?

What did they say?

Did they give facts or opinions? Did they provide all the facts? Did they leave anything out?

Where did they say it?

Was it in public or in private? Did other people have a chance to respond an provide an alternative account?

When did they say it?

Was it before, during or after an important event? Is timing important?

Why did they say it?

Did they explain the reasoning behind their opinion? Were they trying to make someone look good or bad?

How did they say it?

Were they happy or sad, angry or indifferent? Did they write it or say it? Could you understand what was said?

What are you Aiming to Achieve?

One of the most important aspects of critical thinking is to decide what you are aiming to achieve and then make a decision based on a range of possibilities.

Once you have clarified that aim for yourself you should use it as the starting point in all future situations requiring thought and, possibly, further decision making. Where needed, make your workmates, family or those around you aware of your intention to pursue this goal. You must then discipline yourself to keep on track until changing circumstances mean you have to revisit the start of the decision making process.

However, there are things that get in the way of simple decision making. We all carry with us a range of likes and dislikes, learnt behaviours and personal preferences developed throughout our lives; they are the hallmarks of being human. A major contribution to ensuring we think critically is to be aware of these personal characteristics, preferences and biases and make allowance for them when considering possible next steps, whether they are at the pre-action consideration stage or as part of a rethink caused by unexpected or unforeseen impediments to continued progress.

The more clearly we are aware of ourselves, our strengths and weaknesses, the more likely our critical thinking will be productive.

The Benefit of Foresight

Perhaps the most important element of thinking critically is foresight.

Almost all decisions we make and implement don’t prove disastrous if we find reasons to abandon them. However, our decision making will be infinitely better and more likely to lead to success if, when we reach a tentative conclusion, we pause and consider the impact on the people and activities around us.

The elements needing consideration are generally numerous and varied. In many cases, consideration of one element from a different perspective will reveal potential dangers in pursuing our decision.

For instance, moving a business activity to a new location may improve potential output considerably but it may also lead to the loss of skilled workers if the distance moved is too great. Which of these is the more important consideration? Is there some way of lessening the conflict?

These are the sort of problems that may arise from incomplete critical thinking, a demonstration perhaps of the critical importance of good critical thinking.

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In Summary:

Critical thinking is aimed at achieving the best possible outcomes in any situation. In order to achieve this it must involve gathering and evaluating information from as many different sources possible.

Critical thinking requires a clear, often uncomfortable, assessment of your personal strengths, weaknesses and preferences and their possible impact on decisions you may make.

Critical thinking requires the development and use of foresight as far as this is possible. As Doris Day sang, “the future’s not ours to see”.

Implementing the decisions made arising from critical thinking must take into account an assessment of possible outcomes and ways of avoiding potentially negative outcomes, or at least lessening their impact.

  • Critical thinking involves reviewing the results of the application of decisions made and implementing change where possible.

It might be thought that we are overextending our demands on critical thinking in expecting that it can help to construct focused meaning rather than examining the information given and the knowledge we have acquired to see if we can, if necessary, construct a meaning that will be acceptable and useful.

After all, almost no information we have available to us, either externally or internally, carries any guarantee of its life or appropriateness.  Neat step-by-step instructions may provide some sort of trellis on which our basic understanding of critical thinking can blossom but it doesn’t and cannot provide any assurance of certainty, utility or longevity.

Continue to: Critical Thinking and Fake News Critical Reading

See also: Analytical Skills Understanding and Addressing Conspiracy Theories Introduction to Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP)

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What is critical thinking?

5 characteristics of critical thinking, what are critical thinking skills, and why are they important, 6 key critical thinking skills, critical thinking example in real-life, 13 ways to start thinking critically.

Whether you’re aiming to improve your performance at work or simply trying to live a more fulfilling life , you’ll need a variety of hard and soft skills to move the needle. Some skills come naturally to some people, while others need to develop them actively.

One of these skills is critical thinking. But critical thinking itself is made up of several types of skills that contribute to solving problems more effectively.

Let’s explore the different types of critical thinking skills and how you can start improving them to level up your career.

Critical thinking is the ability to analyze facts objectively and form a judgment. It is a form of emotional intelligence .

Someone with critical thinking skills can think clearly and rationally when the situation demands it. It allows them to perform problem-solving and decision-making more effectively. 

As a result, you can look further than what you see at face value. You’re able to analyze what you see from a situation and gain some insight that goes further than what’s obvious to anyone from the outside.

Critical thinking also requires being able to understand the logical connection between two or more ideas or concepts. For example, a team working on a company’s pricing strategy needs to think critically about several concepts. 

Both the marketing and sales teams must work together. They need to analyze how to maximize sales. But they need to do so while also meeting profit goals. It’s important to understand the logical connection between sales strategy and marketing logistics. It’s the only way to get a good outcome.

Critical thinking is different from creative thinking . Creative thinking is the ability to generate brand new, innovative ideas. On the other hand, critical thinking requires you to carefully and logically analyze what information is given to you. Both are important to maximize results in any given situation.


What defines critical thinking? How does it affect the decision-making process? Here are five characteristics that make up the ability to think critically.

1. Dispositions

Critical thinkers have specific traits that allow them to think the way they do. Some people are predisposed to these traits, while others need to develop them actively.

Some of these dispositions include:

  • Open-mindedness
  • Respecting evidence and reasoning
  • Being able to consider different perspectives and points of view: in other words, having cognitive flexibility
  • Not being stuck in one position
  • Clarity and precision

2. Argument

Good critical thinkers need to make solid arguments. 

An argument is making a statement aided by supporting evidence. It’s important to use well thought-out arguments when you’re in a constructive conflict . When analyzing a situation critically, you’ll need to make several arguments in your own mind to come to a judgment. 

3. Reasoning

In addition to arguments, critical thinking also requires inferring conclusions. From the facts and arguments presented to you, you need to use reasoning skills to come to a logical conclusion. 

This conclusion will determine the best course of action to take.


4. Criteria

Critical thinking is sometimes a matter of discerning truth from fiction. Not all facts presented to you may have the same level of truth. Certain conditions need to be met for something to be considered believable, and a critical thinker needs to be able to understand that.

5. Metacognition

Metacognition is the ability to think about your own thinking. Critical thinkers should be able to analyze their thoughts so that they can judge whether or not they’ve thought everything through. This helps them come up with better hypotheses.

The critical thinking skills definition is: soft skills that help you in the critical thinking process. Developing these skills can improve your ability to think critically.

Critical thinking skills are considered one of many durable skills in the workplace . Many of these are soft skills that are also useful in other situations.

According to research by America Succeeds, critical thinking is in the top five most requested durable skills in job postings. Those top five durable skills get requested 2.6x more often than the top five hard skills. This goes to show that soft skills like critical thinking skills are in demand in the workplace.

Critical thinking skills are important for several reasons. These include helping you work independently and solve problems . Not all positions require ongoing critical thinking. But, those skills definitely matter to anyone who wants to uplevel their career. And even the most easygoing positions require at least some level of critical thinking skills.

For example, working as an accountant can be straightforward in most cases. But it may require critical thinking skills. For instance, what if certain expenses aren’t easily distributed in simple categories? Without critical thinking skills, an accountant will struggle to work independently and solve problems on their own.

Critical thinking abilities also matter in everyday life. Having a foundation for critical thinking can help you analyze several possible solutions for problems that pop up in the home. It can also help you:

  • Analyze different viewpoints
  • Come up with the best solution for complex problems
  • Become a better learner

The key critical thinking skills are identifying biases, inference, research, identification, curiosity, and judging relevance.

Let’s explore these six critical thinking skills you should learn and why they’re so important to the critical thinking process.

1. Identifying biases

This critical thinking skill is necessary for metacognition, which is the fifth characteristic of critical thinking. It involves knowing when others have a cognitive bias and when you have one yourself.

Biases can influence how someone understands the facts presented to them. But when you’re aware of those biases, you can question yourself on those biases and consider other points of view.

Identifying biases is especially important for people who make hiring decisions. That’s because biases against groups of minorities can lead to inequalities in the workplace when not identified. 

For example, imagine a hiring manager comparing two resumes. Their gut feeling could guide them to discount one of the resumes due to a bias against the opposite gender. But let’s say this hiring manager realizes they have this bias. They can then question themselves on whether or not this bias is influencing their judgment. 

2. Inference

Inference is the ability to draw conclusions based on the information you have. Without inference, it can be difficult to take action once you’ve analyzed the facts presented to you. Processing information is key to coming up with a reasoned judgment.

For example, let’s go back to the accountant struggling to assign the correct category to a business expense. They can analyze other similar situations and infer the most logical category based on that information.

3. Research

Before you analyze facts and infer a conclusion, you need to find out what those facts are. Researching skills allow you to discover facts and figures to make an argument.

Not all situations will have the required information available to you. Researching skills are necessary to dig into a situation and gather the information you need to think critically.

Some situations don’t require further research. For example, a first responder who arrives on the scene of an automobile accident won’t perform further research. They’ll have to analyze what they see in front of them and decide which injuries are the most urgent to care for. 

On the other hand, someone performing a market analysis will need to research competitors and gather information before coming up with an opinion. 

4. Identification

Identification is different from inference and research. It involves being able to identify a problem but also what’s influencing that problem.

In short, identification is necessary for someone to realize that they need to think critically about something. Without proper identification skills, it will be difficult for someone to know when it’s time to analyze a situation. 

For example, let’s say you’re entering numbers in a spreadsheet. The numbers aren’t coming out as they usually do. Without identification skills, you could easily keep going without realizing there’s an issue. But when you identify what’s going on, you can see that something is broken in the spreadsheet’s formula.

Only once you identify the fact that the formula is broken can you start analyzing what’s going on to solve the issue.

5. Curiosity

Don’t be afraid to question everything and explore what you’re curious about. That’s because intellectual curiosity is a valuable skill, especially when it comes to critical thinking.

One way to practice curiosity is to adopt a beginner’s mindset . When you come into every situation with the mindset of a beginner, you’re able to keep an open mind. You’ll be able to perceive things you may not have noticed when keeping your mind closed.

6. Judging relevance

Not all information is equally pertinent. In order to make a critical judgment, it’s important to be able to judge the relevance of the information you have.

Take, for instance, basic online researching skills. You have access to a plethora of information on virtually every topic imaginable. But performing online research requires you to constantly judge the relevance of what you see. 

Without judging relevance, you’d spend too much time on details that don’t matter as much for the final desired outcome. But when you’re able to discern what’s most pertinent, you can give that information more weight as you’re thinking critically.


So what would critical thinking skills look like in a real-life situation?

Let’s imagine you’re working in software quality assurance (QA) as a team lead. But every time your team needs to enter bug regression, everyone gets bottlenecked because you must manually populate the spreadsheet used for the regression. While you do this task, your team cannot be productive without you.

This process happens once a week and easily wastes half an hour for each team member.

First, you must identify what’s going on. The team gets bottlenecked because only you, as the team lead, can access the information required to fill in the regression spreadsheet.

Next, you can research information. You can inquire to higher-ups about the reason why only you have access to this information. You can also speak to other teams about what potential solutions they’ve come up with to solve this problem.

Once you’ve done your research, it’s time to analyze the information and judge relevance. Some teams have solutions that don’t apply to you, so that information isn’t relevant anymore. 

Figure out if there are any personal biases before you analyze your information. 

For example, it’s possible that you don’t get along with one of the other team leads. As a result, you could discount the information they’ve given you. But by identifying this bias, you can look past your personal opinion of this person and see how valuable their solution is.

Based on what you’ve analyzed, it’s time to brainstorm and come up with a solution. You realize that creating a simple, automated script will save your team’s time. And it will do so without consuming too many resources from the engineering department.

Next, present your solution to your manager. Explain how you came to this conclusion. 

Now, let’s say your spreadsheet automation solution is approved. It’s important to go back and analyze what happens after implementing the solution. But only do this once the spreadsheet has been in place for long enough to gather plenty of information. 

Here’s an example. You could realize that the solution did solve the bottleneck. But, the script also slows down the spreadsheet and makes it difficult to work with. This would require you to go back to the drawing board and start the process all over again.

Want to start improving your own critical thinking skill sets? Here’s how you can improve critical thinking skills using 13 techniques:

  • Play games that require critical thinking skills
  • Ask more questions, even basic ones
  • Question your assumptions
  • Develop your technical skills so that you can identify problems more easily
  • Find ways to solve more problems (at work and at home)
  • Become aware of your mental processes, like the availability heuristic
  • Think for yourself: don’t adopt other people’s opinions without questioning them first
  • Seek out diversity of thought
  • Start developing foresight
  • Try active listening
  • Weigh the consequences of different actions before you act
  • Seek a mentor who can help you develop these skills
  • Get professional coaching


How to improve your critical thinking skills 

Critical thinking skills aren’t always easy to develop. But it’s much easier to start thinking critically when you have someone to work with. Try a custom BetterUp demo to see how a coach can help you develop your critical thinking skills today.

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Maggie Wooll, MBA

Maggie Wooll is a researcher, author, and speaker focused on the evolving future of work. Formerly the lead researcher at the Deloitte Center for the Edge, she holds a Bachelor of Science in Education from Princeton University and an MBA from the University of Virginia Darden School of Business. Maggie is passionate about creating better work and greater opportunities for all.

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3 Core Critical Thinking Skills Every Thinker Should Have

Critically thinking about critical thinking skills..

Posted March 13, 2020 | Reviewed by Ekua Hagan

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I recently received an email from an educator friend, asking me to briefly describe the skills necessary for critical thinking. They were happy to fill in the blanks themselves from outside reading but wanted to know what specific skills they should focus on teaching their students. I took this as a good opportunity to dedicate a post here to such discussion, in order to provide my friend and any other interested parties with an overview.

To understand critical thinking skills and how they factor into critical thinking, one first needs a definition of the latter. Critical thinking (CT) is a metacognitive process, consisting of a number of skills and dispositions, that when used through self-regulatory reflective judgment, increases the chances of producing a logical conclusion to an argument or solution to a problem (Dwyer, 2017; Dwyer, Hogan & Stewart, 2014). On the surface, this definition clarifies two issues. First, critical thinking is metacognitive—simply, it requires the individual to think about thinking; second, its main components are reflective judgment, dispositions, and skills.

Below the surface, this description requires clarification; hence the impetus for this entry—what is meant by reflective judgment, disposition towards CT, and CT skills? Reflective judgment (i.e. an individuals' understanding of the nature, limits, and certainty of knowing and how this can affect their judgments [King & Kitchener, 1994]) and disposition towards CT (i.e. an inclination, tendency or willingness to perform a given thinking skill [Dwyer, 2017; Facione, Facione & Giancarlo, 1997; Ku, 2009; Norris, 1992; Siegel, 1999; Valenzuela, Nieto & Saiz, 2011]) have both already been covered in my posts; so, consistent with the aim of this piece, let’s discuss CT skills.

CT skills allow individuals to transcend lower-order, memorization-based learning strategies to gain a more complex understanding of the information or problems they encounter (Halpern, 2014). Though debate is ongoing over the definition of CT, one list stands out as a reasonable consensus conceptualization of CT skills. In 1988, a committee of 46 experts in the field of CT gathered to discuss CT conceptualisations, resulting in the Delphi Report; within which was overwhelmingly agreement (i.e. 95% consensus) that analysis , evaluation and inference were the core skills necessary for CT (Facione, 1990). Indeed, over 30 years later, these three CT skills remain the most commonly cited.

1. Analysis

Analysis is a core CT skill used to identify and examine the structure of an argument, the propositions within an argument and the role they play (e.g. the main conclusion, the premises and reasons provided to support the conclusion, objections to the conclusion and inferential relationships among propositions), as well as the sources of the propositions (e.g. personal experience, common belief, and research).

When it comes to analysing the basis for a standpoint, the structure of the argument can be extracted for subsequent evaluation (e.g. from dialogue and text). This can be accomplished through looking for propositions that either support or refute the central claim or other reasons and objections. Through analysis, the argument’s hierarchical structure begins to appear. Notably, argument mapping can aid the visual representation of this hierarchical structure and is supported by research as having positive effects on critical thinking (Butchart et al., 2009; Dwyer, 2011; Dwyer, Hogan & Stewart, 2012; van Gelder, Bisset & Cumming, 2004).

2. Evaluation

Evaluation is a core CT skill that is used in the assessment of propositions and claims (identified through the previous analysis ) with respect to their credibility; relevance; balance, bias (and potential omissions); as well as the logical strength amongst propositions (i.e. the strength of the inferential relationships). Such assessment allows for informed judgment regarding the overall strength or weakness of an argument (Dwyer, 2017; Facione, 1990). If an argument (or its propositions) is not credible, relevant, logical, and unbiased, you should consider excluding it or discussing its weaknesses as an objection.

Evaluating the credibility of claims and arguments involves progressing beyond merely identifying the source of propositions in an argument, to actually examining the "trustworthiness" of those identified sources (e.g. personal experiences, common beliefs/opinions, expert/authority opinion and scientific evidence). This is particularly important because some sources are more credible than others. Evaluation also implies deep consideration of the relevance of claims within an argument, which is accomplished by assessing the contextual relevance of claims and premises—that is, the pertinence or applicability of one proposition to another.

With respect to balance, bias (and potential omissions), it's important to consider the "slant" of an argument—if it seems imbalanced in favour of one line of thinking, then it’s quite possible that the argument has omitted key, opposing points that should also be considered. Imbalance may also imply some level of bias in the argument—another factor that should also be assessed.

what to do in critical thinking

However, just because an argument is balanced does not mean that it isn’t biased. It may very well be the case that the "opposing views" presented have been "cherry-picked" because they are easily disputed (akin to building a strawman ); thus, making supporting reasons appear stronger than they may actually be—and this is just one example of how a balanced argument may, in fact, be biased. The take-home message regarding balance, bias, and potential omissions should be that, in any argument, you should construct an understanding of the author or speaker’s motivations and consider how these might influence the structure and contents of the argument.

Finally, evaluating the logical strength of an argument is accomplished through monitoring both the logical relationships amongst propositions and the claims they infer. Assessment of logical strength can actually be aided through subsequent inference, as a means of double-checking the logical strength. For example, this can be checked by asking whether or not a particular proposition can actually be inferred based on the propositions that precede it. A useful means of developing this sub-skill is through practicing syllogistic reasoning .

3. Inference

Similar to other educational concepts like synthesis (e.g., see Bloom et al., 1956; Dwyer, 2011; 2017), the final core CT skill, inference , involves the “gathering” of credible, relevant and logical evidence based on the previous analysis and evaluation, for the purpose of drawing a reasonable conclusion (Dwyer, 2017; Facione, 1990). Drawing a conclusion always implies some act of synthesis (i.e. the ability to put parts of information together to form a new whole; see Dwyer, 2011). However, inference is a unique form of synthesis in that it involves the formulation of a set of conclusions derived from a series of arguments or a body of evidence. This inference may imply accepting a conclusion pointed to by an author in light of the evidence they present, or "conjecturing an alternative," equally logical, conclusion or argument based on the available evidence (Facione, 1990). The ability to infer a conclusion in this manner can be completed through formal logic strategies, informal logic strategies (or both) in order to derive intermediate conclusions, as well as central claims.

Another important aspect of inference involves the querying of available evidence, for example, by recognising the need for additional information, gathering it and judging the plausibility of utilising such information for the purpose of drawing a conclusion. Notably, in the context of querying evidence and conjecturing alternative conclusions, inference overlaps with evaluation to a certain degree in that both skills are used to judge the relevance and acceptability of a claim or argument. Furthermore, after inferring a conclusion, the resulting argument should be re-evaluated to ensure that it is reasonable to draw the conclusion that was derived.

Overall, the application of critical thinking skills is a process—one must analyse, evaluate and then infer; and this process can be repeated to ensure that a reasonable conclusion has been drawn. In an effort to simplify the description of this process, for the past few years, I’ve used the analogy of picking apples for baking . We begin by picking apples from a tree. Consider the tree as an analogy, in its own right, for an argument, which is often hierarchically structured like a tree-diagram. By picking apples, I mean identifying propositions and the role they play (i.e. analysis). Once we pick an apple, we evaluate it—we make sure it isn’t rotten (i.e. lacks credibility, is biased) and is suitable for baking (i.e. relevant and logically strong). Finally, we infer— we gather the apples in a basket and bring them home and group them together based on some rationale for construction— maybe four for a pie, three for a crumble and another four for a tart. By the end of the process, we have baked some apple-based goods, or developed a conclusion, solution or decision through critical thinking.

Of course, there is more to critical thinking than the application of skills—a critical thinker must also have the disposition to think critically and engage reflective judgment. However, without the appropriate skills—analysis, evaluation, and inference, it is not likely that CT will be applied. For example, though one might be willing to use CT skills and engage reflective judgment, they may not know how to do so. Conversely, though one might be aware of which CT skills to use in a given context and may have the capacity to perform well when using these skills, they may not be disposed to use them (Valenzuela, Nieto & Saiz, 2011). Though the core CT skills of analysis, evaluation, and inference are not the only important aspects of CT, they are essential for its application.

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Dwyer, C.P. (2011). The evaluation of argument mapping as a learning tool. Doctoral Thesis. National University of Ireland, Galway.

Dwyer, C.P. (2017). Critical thinking: Conceptual perspectives and practical guidelines.Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Dwyer, C.P., Hogan, M.J., & Stewart, I. (2012). An evaluation of argument mapping as a method of enhancing critical thinking performance in e-learning environments. Metacognition and Learning, 7, 219-244.

Dwyer, C. P., Hogan, M. J., & Stewart, I. (2014). An integrated critical thinking framework for the 21st century. Thinking Skills & Creativity, 12, 43–52.

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Siegel, H. (1999). What (good) are thinking dispositions? Educational Theory, 49, 2, 207-221.

Valenzuela, J., Nieto, A.M., & Saiz, C. (2011). Critical thinking motivational scale: A contribution to the study of relationship between critical thinking and motivation. Journal of Research in Educational Psychology, 9, 2, 823-848.

van Gelder, T.J., Bissett, M., & Cumming, G. (2004). Enhancing expertise in informal reasoning. Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology 58, 142-52.

Christopher Dwyer Ph.D.

Christopher Dwyer, Ph.D., is a lecturer at the Technological University of the Shannon in Athlone, Ireland.

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critical thinking

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  • Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy - Critical Thinking
  • Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy - Critical Thinking
  • Monash University - Student Academic Success - What is critical thinking?
  • Oklahoma State University Pressbooks - Critical Thinking - Introduction to Critical Thinking
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critical thinking , in educational theory, mode of cognition using deliberative reasoning and impartial scrutiny of information to arrive at a possible solution to a problem. From the perspective of educators, critical thinking encompasses both a set of logical skills that can be taught and a disposition toward reflective open inquiry that can be cultivated . The term critical thinking was coined by American philosopher and educator John Dewey in the book How We Think (1910) and was adopted by the progressive education movement as a core instructional goal that offered a dynamic modern alternative to traditional educational methods such as rote memorization.

Critical thinking is characterized by a broad set of related skills usually including the abilities to


  • break down a problem into its constituent parts to reveal its underlying logic and assumptions
  • recognize and account for one’s own biases in judgment and experience
  • collect and assess relevant evidence from either personal observations and experimentation or by gathering external information
  • adjust and reevaluate one’s own thinking in response to what one has learned
  • form a reasoned assessment in order to propose a solution to a problem or a more accurate understanding of the topic at hand

Theorists have noted that such skills are only valuable insofar as a person is inclined to use them. Consequently, they emphasize that certain habits of mind are necessary components of critical thinking. This disposition may include curiosity, open-mindedness, self-awareness, empathy , and persistence.

Although there is a generally accepted set of qualities that are associated with critical thinking, scholarly writing about the term has highlighted disagreements over its exact definition and whether and how it differs from related concepts such as problem solving . In addition, some theorists have insisted that critical thinking be regarded and valued as a process and not as a goal-oriented skill set to be used to solve problems. Critical-thinking theory has also been accused of reflecting patriarchal assumptions about knowledge and ways of knowing that are inherently biased against women.

Dewey, who also used the term reflective thinking , connected critical thinking to a tradition of rational inquiry associated with modern science. From the turn of the 20th century, he and others working in the overlapping fields of psychology , philosophy , and educational theory sought to rigorously apply the scientific method to understand and define the process of thinking. They conceived critical thinking to be related to the scientific method but more open, flexible, and self-correcting; instead of a recipe or a series of steps, critical thinking would be a wider set of skills, patterns, and strategies that allow someone to reason through an intellectual topic, constantly reassessing assumptions and potential explanations in order to arrive at a sound judgment and understanding.

In the progressive education movement in the United States , critical thinking was seen as a crucial component of raising citizens in a democratic society. Instead of imparting a particular series of lessons or teaching only canonical subject matter, theorists thought that teachers should train students in how to think. As critical thinkers, such students would be equipped to be productive and engaged citizens who could cooperate and rationally overcome differences inherent in a pluralistic society.

Beginning in the 1970s and ’80s, critical thinking as a key outcome of school and university curriculum leapt to the forefront of U.S. education policy. In an atmosphere of renewed Cold War competition and amid reports of declining U.S. test scores, there were growing fears that the quality of education in the United States was falling and that students were unprepared. In response, a concerted effort was made to systematically define curriculum goals and implement standardized testing regimens , and critical-thinking skills were frequently included as a crucially important outcome of a successful education. A notable event in this movement was the release of the 1980 report of the Rockefeller Commission on the Humanities that called for the U.S. Department of Education to include critical thinking on its list of “basic skills.” Three years later the California State University system implemented a policy that required every undergraduate student to complete a course in critical thinking.

Critical thinking continued to be put forward as a central goal of education in the early 21st century. Its ubiquity in the language of education policy and in such guidelines as the Common Core State Standards in the United States generated some criticism that the concept itself was both overused and ill-defined. In addition, an argument was made by teachers, theorists, and others that educators were not being adequately trained to teach critical thinking.

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12 common barriers to critical thinking (and how to overcome them).

As you know, critical thinking is a vital skill necessary for success in life and work. Unfortunately,  barriers to critical thinking  can hinder a person’s ability. This piece will discuss some of the most common  internal and external barriers to critical thinking  and what you should do if one of them hinders your ability to think critically.

Critical Thinking Challenges

You already know that  critical thinking  is the process of analyzing and evaluating a situation or person so that you can make a sound judgment. You normally use the judgment you derive from your critical thinking process to make crucial decisions, and the choices you make affect you in workplaces, relationships, and life’s goals and achievements.

Several  barriers to critical thinking  can cause you to skew your judgment. This could happen even if you have a large amount of data and information to the contrary. The result might be that you make a poor or ineffective decision instead of a choice that could improve your life quality. These are some of the top obstacles that hinder and distort the ability to think critically:

1. Using Emotions Instead of Logic

Failing to remove one’s emotions from a critical thinking analysis is one of the hugest barriers to the process. People make these mistakes mainly in the relationship realm when choosing partners based on how they “make them feel” instead of the information collected.

The correct way to decide about a relationship is to use all facts, data, opinions, and situations to make a final judgment call. More times than not, individuals use their hearts instead of their minds.

Emotions can hinder critical thinking in the employment realm as well. One example is an employee who reacts negatively to a business decision, change, or process without gathering more information. The relationship between that person and the employer could become severed by her  lack of critical thinking  instead of being salvaged by further investigations and rational reactions.

2. Personal Biases

Personal biases can come from past negative experiences, skewed teachings, and peer pressure. They create a huge obstacle in critical thinking because they overshadow open-mindedness and fairness.

One example is failing to hire someone because of a specific race, age, religious preference, or perceived attitude. The hiring person circumvents using critical thinking by accepting his or her biases as truth. Thus, the entire processes of information gathering and objective analysis get lost in the mix.

3. Obstinance

Stubbornness almost always ruins the critical thinking procedure. Sometimes, people get so wrapped up in being right that they fail to look at the big picture. Big-picture thinking is a large part of critical thinking; without it, all judgments and choices are rash and incomplete.

4. Unbelief

It’s difficult for a person to do something he or she doesn’t believe in. It’s also challenging to engage in something that seems complex. Many people don’t think critically because they believe they must be scholarly to do so. The truth is that  anyone  can think critically by practicing the following steps:

  • 1. Gather as much data as possible.
  • 2. Have an opinion, but be open to changing it.
  • 3. Understand that assumptions are not the truth, and opinions are not facts.
  • 4. Think about the scenario, person, or problem from different angles.
  • 5. Evaluate all the information thoroughly.
  • 6. Ask simple, precise, and abundant questions.
  • 7. Take time to observe.
  • 8. Don’t be afraid to spend time on the problem or issue.
  • 9. Ask for input or additional information.
  • 10. Make it make sense.

5. Fear of Failure or Change

Fear of change and failure often hinders a person’s critical thinking process because it doesn’t allow thinking outside the box. Sometimes, the most efficient way to resolve a problem is to be open to changing something.

That change might be a different way of doing something, a relationship termination, or a shift of positions at a workplace. Fear can block out all possible scenarios in the critical thinking cycle. The result is often one-dimensional thinking, tunnel vision, or proverbial head-banging.

6. Egocentric Thinking

Egocentric thinking is also one of the main barriers to critical thinking. It occurs when a person examines everything through a “me” lens. Evaluating something properly requires an individual to understand and consider other people’s perspectives, plights, goals, input, etc.

7. Assumptions

Assumptions are one of the negative  factors that affect critical thinking . They are detrimental to the process because they cause distortions and misguided judgments. When using assumptions, an individual could unknowingly insert an invalid prejudgment into a stage of the thought process and sway the final decision.

It’s never wise to assume anything about a person, entity, or situation because it could be 100 percent wrong. The correct way to deal with assumptions is to store them in a separate thought category of possibilities and then use the data and other evidence to validate or nullify them.

XYZ  might  be why ABC happened, but there isn’t enough information or data to conclude it. The same concept is true for the rest of the possibilities, and thus, it’s necessary to research and analyze the facts before accepting them as truths.

8. Group Thinking

Group thinking is another one of the  barriers to critical thinking  that can block sound decisions and muddy judgments. It’s similar to peer pressure, where the person takes on the viewpoint of the people around him or her to avoid seeming “different.”

This barrier is dangerous because it affects how some people think about right and wrong. It’s most prevalent among teens. One example is the “everybody’s doing it (drugs, bullying), so I should too” mindset.

Unfortunately, this barrier can sometimes spill over into the workplace and darken the environment when workers can’t think for themselves. Workers may end up breaking policies, engaging in negative behavior, or harassing the workers who don’t conform.

Group thinking can also skew someone’s opinion of another person before the individual gets a chance to collect facts and evaluate the person for himself. You’ve probably heard of smear campaigns. They work so well against targets because the parties involved don’t use the critical thinking process at all.

9. Impulsivity

Impulsivity is the tendency to do things without thinking, and it’s a bona fide critical thinking killer. It skips right by  every  step in the critical thinking process and goes directly to what feels good in the moment.

Alleviating the habit takes practice and dedication. The first step is to set time aside when impulsive urges come to think about all aspects of the situation. It may take an impulsive person a while to develop a good critical thinking strategy, but it can work with time.

10. Not Knowing What’s Fact and Opinion

Critical thinking requires the thinker to know the difference between facts and opinions. Opinions are statements based on other people’s evaluative processes, and those processes may not be critical or analytical. Facts are an unemotional and unbiased piece of data that one can verify. Statistics and governmental texts are examples.

11. Having a Highly Competitive Nature

A “winning” mindset can overshadow the fair and objective evaluation of a problem, task, or person and undermine critical thinking. People who  think competitively  could lose sight of what’s right and wrong to meet a selfish goal that way.

12. Basing Statements on Popularity

This problem is prevalent in today’s world. Many people will accept anything a celebrity, political figure, or popular person says as gospel, but discredit or discount other people’s input. An adept critical thinker knows how to separate  what’s  being said from  who  said it and perform the necessary verification steps.

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How To Overcome Barriers in Critical Thinking

If you can identify any of the above-mentioned  barriers , your critical thinking may be flawed. These are some tips for overcoming such barriers:

1. Know your flaws.

The very first step toward improving anything is to know and admit your flaws. If you can do that, you are halfway to using better critical thinking strategies.

2. Park your emotions.

Use logic, not emotion, when you are evaluating something to form a judgment. It’s not the time to think with your heart.

3. Be mindful of others.

Try to put yourself in other people’s shoes to understand their stance. A little empathy goes a long way.

4. Avoid black-and-white thinking.

Understand that there’s always more than one way to solve a problem or achieve a goal. Additionally, consider that not every person is all bad or all good.

5. Dare to be unpopular.

Avoid making decisions to please other people. Instead, evaluate the full lot of information and make the decision you feel is best.

6. Don’t assign unjustified merit.

Don’t assume someone is telling the truth or giving you more accurate information because of his or her name or status. Evaluate  all  people’s input equally.

7. Avoid judging others.

Try to keep biases and prejudices out of your decision-making processes. That will make them fair and just.

8. Be patient with yourself.

Take all the days you need to pick apart a situation or problem and resolve it. Don’t rush to make hasty decisions.

9. Accept different points of view.

Not everyone will agree with you or tell you what you want to hear.

10. Embrace change.

Don’t ever be afraid of changing something or trying something new. Thinking outside the box is an integral part of the critical thinking process.

Now you know the answers to the question,  “What are the challenges of critical thinking?”  Use the information about the  barriers to critical thinking  to improve your critical thinking process and make healthier and more beneficial decisions for everyone.

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Our Concept and Definition of Critical Thinking

Identify its purpose, and question at issue, as well as its information, inferences(s), assumptions, implications, main concept(s), and point of view.

Check it for clarity, accuracy, precision, relevance, depth, breadth, significance, logic, and fairness.

attempts to reason at the highest level of quality in a fair-minded way. People who think critically consistently attempt to live rationally, reasonably, empathically. They are keenly aware of the inherently flawed nature of human thinking when left unchecked. They strive to diminish the power of their egocentric and sociocentric tendencies. They use the intellectual tools that critical thinking offers – concepts and principles that enable them to analyze, assess, and improve thinking. They work diligently to develop the intellectual virtues of intellectual integrity, intellectual humility, intellectual civility, intellectual empathy, intellectual sense of justice and confidence in reason. 
~ Linda Elder, September 2007

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What is Critical Thinking?

Critical Thinking Definition

September 2, 2005, by The Critical Thinking Co. Staff

The Critical Thinking Co.™ "Critical thinking is the identification and evaluation of evidence to guide decision making. A critical thinker uses broad in-depth analysis of evidence to make decisions and communicate their beliefs clearly and accurately."

Other Definitions of Critical Thinking: Robert H. Ennis , Author of The Cornell Critical Thinking Tests "Critical thinking is reasonable, reflective thinking that is focused on deciding what to believe and do."


Assuming that critical thinking is reasonable reflective thinking focused on deciding what to believe or do, a critical thinker:

1. Is open-minded and mindful of alternatives 2. Tries to be well-informed 3. Judges well the credibility of sources 4. Identifies conclusions, reasons, and assumptions 5. Judges well the quality of an argument, including the acceptability of its reasons, assumptions, and evidence 6. Can well develop and defend a reasonable position 7. Asks appropriate clarifying questions 8. Formulates plausible hypotheses; plans experiments well 9. Defines terms in a way appropriate for the context 10. Draws conclusions when warranted, but with caution 11. Integrates all items in this list when deciding what to believe or do

Critical Thinkers are disposed to:

1. Care that their beliefs be true, and that their decisions be justified; that is, care to "get it right" to the extent possible. This includes the dispositions to

a. Seek alternative hypotheses, explanations, conclusions, plans, sources, etc., and be open to them b. Endorse a position to the extent that, but only to the extent that, it is justified by the information that is available c. Be well informed d. Consider seriously other points of view than their own

2. Care to present a position honestly and clearly, theirs as well as others'. This includes the dispositions to

a. Be clear about the intended meaning of what is said, written, or otherwise communicated, seeking as much precision as the situation requires b. Determine, and maintain focus on, the conclusion or question c. Seek and offer reasons d. Take into account the total situation e. Be reflectively aware of their own basic beliefs

3. Care about the dignity and worth of every person (a correlative disposition). This includes the dispositions to

a. Discover and listen to others' view and reasons b. Avoid intimidating or confusing others with their critical thinking prowess, taking into account others' feelings and level of understanding c. Be concerned about others' welfare

Critical Thinking Abilities:

Ideal critical thinkers have the ability to (The first three items involve elementary clarification.)

1. Focus on a question

a. Identify or formulate a question b. Identify or formulate criteria for judging possible answers c. Keep the situation in mind

2. Analyze arguments

a. Identify conclusions b. Identify stated reasons c. Identify unstated reasons d. Identify and handle irrelevance e. See the structure of an argument f. Summarize

3. Ask and answer questions of clarification and/or challenge, such as,

a. Why? b. What is your main point? c. What do you mean by…? d. What would be an example? e. What would not be an example (though close to being one)? f. How does that apply to this case (describe a case, which might well appear to be a counter example)? g. What difference does it make? h. What are the facts? i. Is this what you are saying: ____________? j. Would you say some more about that?

(The next two involve the basis for the decision.)

4. Judge the credibility of a source. Major criteria (but not necessary conditions):

a. Expertise b. Lack of conflict of interest c. Agreement among sources d. Reputation e. Use of established procedures f. Known risk to reputation g. Ability to give reasons h. Careful habits

5. Observe, and judge observation reports. Major criteria (but not necessary conditions, except for the first):

a. Minimal inferring involved b. Short time interval between observation and report c. Report by the observer, rather than someone else (that is, the report is not hearsay) d. Provision of records. e. Corroboration f. Possibility of corroboration g. Good access h. Competent employment of technology, if technology is useful i. Satisfaction by observer (and reporter, if a different person) of the credibility criteria in Ability # 4 above.

(The next three involve inference.)

6. Deduce, and judge deduction

a. Class logic b. Conditional logic c. Interpretation of logical terminology in statements, including (1) Negation and double negation (2) Necessary and sufficient condition language (3) Such words as "only", "if and only if", "or", "some", "unless", "not both".

7. Induce, and judge induction

a. To generalizations. Broad considerations: (1) Typicality of data, including sampling where appropriate (2) Breadth of coverage (3) Acceptability of evidence b. To explanatory conclusions (including hypotheses) (1) Major types of explanatory conclusions and hypotheses: (a) Causal claims (b) Claims about the beliefs and attitudes of people (c) Interpretation of authors’ intended meanings (d) Historical claims that certain things happened (including criminal accusations) (e) Reported definitions (f) Claims that some proposition is an unstated reason that the person actually used (2) Characteristic investigative activities (a) Designing experiments, including planning to control variables (b) Seeking evidence and counter-evidence (c) Seeking other possible explanations (3) Criteria, the first five being essential, the sixth being desirable (a) The proposed conclusion would explain the evidence (b) The proposed conclusion is consistent with all known facts (c) Competitive alternative explanations are inconsistent with facts (d) The evidence on which the hypothesis depends is acceptable. (e) A legitimate effort should have been made to uncover counter-evidence (f) The proposed conclusion seems plausible

8. Make and judge value judgments: Important factors:

a. Background facts b. Consequences of accepting or rejecting the judgment c. Prima facie application of acceptable principles d. Alternatives e. Balancing, weighing, deciding

(The next two abilities involve advanced clarification.)

9. Define terms and judge definitions. Three dimensions are form, strategy, and content.

a. Form. Some useful forms are: (1) Synonym (2) Classification (3) Range (4) Equivalent expression (5) Operational (6) Example and non-example b. Definitional strategy (1) Acts (a) Report a meaning (b) Stipulate a meaning (c) Express a position on an issue (including "programmatic" and "persuasive" definitions) (2) Identifying and handling equivocation c. Content of the definition

10. Attribute unstated assumptions (an ability that belongs under both clarification and, in a way, inference)

(The next two abilities involve supposition and integration.)

11. Consider and reason from premises, reasons, assumptions, positions, and other propositions with which they disagree or about which they are in doubt -- without letting the disagreement or doubt interfere with their thinking ("suppositional thinking")

12. Integrate the other abilities and dispositions in making and defending a decision

(The first twelve abilities are constitutive abilities. The next three are auxiliary critical thinking abilities: Having them, though very helpful in various ways, is not constitutive of being a critical thinker.)

13. Proceed in an orderly manner appropriate to the situation. For example:

a. Follow problem solving steps b. Monitor one's own thinking (that is, engage in metacognition) c. Employ a reasonable critical thinking checklist

14. Be sensitive to the feelings, level of knowledge, and degree of sophistication of others

15. Employ appropriate rhetorical strategies in discussion and presentation (orally and in writing), including employing and reacting to "fallacy" labels in an appropriate manner.

Examples of fallacy labels are "circularity," "bandwagon," "post hoc," "equivocation," "non sequitur," and "straw person."

Dewey, John Critical thinking is "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 1933: 118)."

Glaser (1) an attitude of being disposed to consider in a thoughtful way the problems and subjects that come within the range of one's experiences, (2) knowledge of the methods of logical inquiry and reasoning, and (3) some skill in applying those methods. Critical thinking calls for a persistent effort to examine any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the evidence that supports it and the further conclusions to which it tends. (Glaser 1941, pp. 5-6).

Abilities include: "(a) to recognize problems, (b) to find workable means for meeting those problems, (c) to gather and marshal pertinent information, (d) to recognize unstated assumptions and values, (e) to comprehend and use language with accuracy, clarity and discrimination, (f) to interpret data, (g) to appraise evidence and evaluate statements, (h) to recognize the existence of logical relationships between propositions, (i) to draw warranted conclusions and generalizations, (j) to put to test the generalizations and conclusions at which one arrives, (k) to reconstruct one's patterns of beliefs on the basis of wider experience; and (l) to render accurate judgments about specific things and qualities in everyday life." (p.6)

MCC General Education Initiatives "Critical thinking includes the ability to respond to material by distinguishing between facts and opinions or personal feelings, judgments and inferences, inductive and deductive arguments, and the objective and subjective. It also includes the ability to generate questions, construct, and recognize the structure of arguments, and adequately support arguments; define, analyze, and devise solutions for problems and issues; sort, organize, classify, correlate, and analyze materials and data; integrate information and see relationships; evaluate information, materials, and data by drawing inferences, arriving at reasonable and informed conclusions, applying understanding and knowledge to new and different problems, developing rational and reasonable interpretations, suspending beliefs and remaining open to new information, methods, cultural systems, values and beliefs and by assimilating information."

Nickerson, Perkins and Smith (1985) "The ability to judge the plausibility of specific assertions, to weigh evidence, to assess the logical soundness of inferences, to construct counter-arguments and alternative hypotheses."

Moore and Parker , Critical Thinking Critical Thinking is "the careful, deliberate determination of whether we should accept, reject, or suspend judgment about a claim, and the degree of confidence with which we accept or reject it."

Delphi Report "We understand critical thinking to be purposeful, self-regulatory judgment which results in interpretation, analysis, evaluation, and inference, as well as explanation of the evidential, conceptual, methodological, criteriological, or contextual considerations upon which that judgment is based. CT is essential as a tool of inquiry. As such, CT is a liberating force in education and a powerful resource in one's personal and civic life. While not synonymous with good thinking, CT is a pervasive and self-rectifying human phenomenon. The ideal critical thinker is habitually inquisitive, well-informed, trustful of reason, open-minded, flexible, fair-minded in evaluation, honest in facing personal biases, prudent in making judgments, willing to reconsider, clear about issues, orderly in complex matters, diligent in seeking relevant information, reasonable in the selection of criteria, focused in inquiry, and persistent in seeking results which are as precise as the subject and the circumstances of inquiry permit. Thus, educating good critical thinkers means working toward this ideal. It combines developing CT skills with nurturing those dispositions which consistently yield useful insights and which are the basis of a rational and democratic society."

A little reformatting helps make this definition more comprehensible:

We understand critical thinking to be purposeful, self-regulatory judgment which results in

  • interpretation

as well as explanation of the

  • methodological
  • criteriological

considerations upon which that judgment is based.

Francis Bacon (1605) "For myself, I found that I was fitted for nothing so well as for the study of Truth; as having a mind nimble and versatile enough to catch the resemblances of things … and at the same time steady enough to fix and distinguish their subtler differences; as being gifted by nature with desire to seek, patience to doubt, fondness to meditate, slowness to assert, readiness to consider, carefulness to dispose and set in order; and as being a man that neither affects what is new nor admires what is old, and that hates every kind of imposture."

A shorter version is "the art of being right."

Or, more prosaically: critical thinking is "the skillful application of a repertoire of validated general techniques for deciding the level of confidence you should have in a proposition in the light of the available evidence."

HELPFUL REFERENCE: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/logic-informal/

More From Forbes

Critical thinking: what is it and how can you develop this skill.

Forbes Human Resources Council

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Founder and Head of the international IT recruitment company Lucky Hunter .

I have already raised the issue of the importance of developing emotional intelligence in previous pieces, and today I would like to talk about why critical thinking also matters for employees—especially top managers of companies.

First of all, let's define what critical thinking is. In general, it is the ability to objectively analyze events, incoming information and arguments; approach an issue from different sides; and form conclusions based on the analysis. Developing critical thinking is relevant not only for work but also for life—today we're inundated with huge amounts of information every day, and in order to be able to analyze this information and determine our position based on balanced facts, it is important to look at situations critically.

Critical thinking allows you to always soberly assess the situations taking place in your work, give an objective assessment, including your own actions and the actions of others, effectively negotiate and find the best way out of ambiguous situations. That is why large companies, when hiring employees, pay close attention to the soft skills of a candidate, especially if they are applying for top positions.

So, how can you develop critical thinking?

Practice analyzing.

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Turn the events happening around you into facts. Learn to separate them from emotions. Emotions often prevent us from thinking critically, because they reduce everything to the emotional component, which cannot be relied on. Study different points of view on a specific topic. Read more, broaden your horizons and work with information—the more you “dissect” any information material, the more chances you have to get to the bottom of it.

Pay attention to self-criticism.

There should always be a certain amount of healthy self-criticism in your actions and behavior. The keyword here is healthy because it is important to maintain balance and not slip into self-flagellation. Learn to adequately evaluate yourself and your actions, and determine your strengths and growth areas. I work in recruiting, so I will give an example from my practice: In the work of a recruiter, self-criticism is vital for an objective assessment of a candidate, because, in order to evaluate others, you must first be able to objectively evaluate yourself.

Build productive communication.

If you conduct a dialogue calmly and kindly, without insults and rudeness, truly listening and hearing the interlocutor, you thereby increase the chances of getting some useful insight into the process of interaction. It can give you the opportunity to look at the situation from a new angle and come to a conclusion that you would not have come to otherwise. Therefore, the ability to conduct effective, productive communication also affects the development of critical thinking.

Develop your forecasting skills.

This point is quite closely related to the first one. Analyze information and build forecasts based on the analysis, think over the likely development of events and try to answer for yourself why it will be exactly like this. Such forecasting, again, allows you to study a specific situation from different sides, get certain insights into the process and come to an objective conclusion.

Today, it's crucial for employees and managers to develop the skill of thinking critically—all you need to do is start. The result could have a positive impact on all fields of your life, both personal and professional, because a high level of critical thinking has a good effect on communication (including business). It allows you to form objective conclusions and cut off the excess of information garbage, focusing on facts and analyzing them.

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what to do in critical thinking

Course details

Problem solving and critical thinking.

The ability to problem solve and think critically has never been more important. As the speed of decision making and the accuracy of information vary across both personal and organisational life, having the chance to problem solve is difficult. Thinking critically is hugely important to balance longer term consequences with current day action, avoiding the ramifications of poor decision making in an instant. 

Critical Thinking is therefore a vital skill to learn, practice and refresh.

By following a disciplined process, understanding what critical thinking is and why it can be so difficult, this interactive day event will allow you to raise issues or challenges you currently have and use new tools to think these through from an unbiased perspective.

Please note: this event will close to enrolments at 23:59 UTC on 26 February 2025.

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10.15am Registration at Rewley House reception

10.30am Problem solving: what is a problem and how to define it?

11.45am Tea/coffee

12.15pm Problem solving: tools and tips

1.30pm Lunch

2.30pm Critical thinking: how we as humans think and process information 

3.45pm Tea/coffee

4.15pm Critical thinking: tools and tips to improve 

5.30pm End of day

Recommended reading

Conn, C., Bulletproof Problem-Solving  (Wiley March, 2019) 

Atkinson, I., The Creative Problem Solver  (Pearson Business, 2014)

Kahneman, D., Thinking, Fast and Slow (Penguin, 2012)

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Prior to establishing his HR/Coaching Consultancy, Sean worked as an operations manager within one of the UK’s largest retailers. After taking his MSc in Organisational Psychology and then his degree in Coaching, Sean worked with a leading Training and Development organisation. Sean was able to utilise his skills in psychometric testing, leadership and development before working with this organisation in Europe and Asia at a senior level with directors and senior teams.     

Since 2003, Sean has worked across private, public and voluntary sectors helping them to transmit ideas into actions. He has trained/coached and worked alongside managers and directors within all three sectors enabling them to recognise/work with and be aware of working practices at the highest level. This has enabled them to improve within their area of operation and own performance.


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what to do in critical thinking

what to do in critical thinking

10 Critical thinking exercises to keep your team sharp

what to do in critical thinking

Sometimes common sense doesn’t seem so common. In an increasingly digital age, it’s important that people can form their own opinions and problem solve using the facts at hand - otherwise known as critical thinking. 

When everyone on your team is able to think critically, you’re more likely to have improved collaboration and cooperation, problem solve quickly, and make better decisions. While common sense isn’t really something that can be learned - critical thinking definitely is. Business leaders and smart managers will find that investing in critical thinking improvement is always worth their time. Here are some of our favorite critical thinking exercises to help your work team enhance their cognitive skills. 

10 Critical thinking exercises for work teams

What is a critical thinking exercise, anyway? Simply put, they are activities designed to help people build and flex their brain muscle. Having better critical thinking capability is helpful in many areas, both personally, and professionally. When it comes to the workforce specifically, critical thinking helps with comprehending or analyzing data, problem solving, breaking down abstract ideas - and generally working smarter, not harder. 

If you feel like your team could use a boost in these areas, why not pull them together for some fun and engaging critical thinking exercise?

1. Explain the problem

You can’t solve a problem that you don’t understand fully. Many times, this is why proposed solutions don’t end up working - they’re not addressing the real issue at hand. To help with that, try this activity with your team. Come up with a problem for them to solve. It can be a generic “what if” scenario, or a specific case study for a real client. If there is a problem you all have been challenged with for a while, you might start there. Explain everything clearly, and then have the next person explain to the group as well. Did they capture the correct information? Do they have a clear understanding of what the issues are? Then have the person they explained to pass along the information. The goal isn’t for this to become a game of telephone, but to see if each person explaining truly comprehends the issue to such a degree that they can explain it to someone else. This exercise is great for not only critical thinking, but also communication skills and general problem solving. You never know, by the end of this session, you may have solved a problem that’s been plaguing you! 

2. Work backwards

Few things in the workplace are as frustrating as working on a problem for a long time without coming to a conclusion. In many instances, people hit a form of mental block if they’ve been working on a certain challenge for a while without much forward momentum. In these cases, use this exercise to get everyone to think of things in a different way. A new perspective might be just what everyone needs. Rather than having all of your previous work and information in your mind, start with the end result that you want to achieve. For example, if you have been trying to get your sales team to adopt a new CRM system, but they aren’t using it, you might pause and figure out what the end goal really is. Why is it that you need them to use this CRM system? What are you trying to achieve? You’ll likely find that what you want is a system populated with accurate and consistent customer data. Once you know that this result is the true goal you need to reach, you might start thinking about other ways to get there. Maybe the CRM adoption isn’t the problem at all; maybe there is another reason the sales team isn’t using it. The point is: stop working under the pretenses you already labored under. Go straight to what you hope will happen and start working backwards to see what new scenarios you can uncover. 

3. Develop a mind map

Visual aids can be a powerful tool when addressing new challenges or seeing things in a new way. One simple way to start is with a mind map that plots different outcomes based on different scenarios or arguments. It’s essentially one big “If this, then that” scenario, where you can get a visual understanding of what could potentially happen based on several different paths. As an example, let's say you’re trying to figure out if a troublesome client is worth keeping on. Map out a few different scenarios, such as “no, let them go”, “yes, keep them”, “keep them in a limited capacity”, etc. For each of these, address the potential outcomes and what those options might look like. It’s best to do this on a real or digital white board, or some people like to use several post-it notes that can be moved and placed where appropriate. This makes it easier to not only capture all of your options, but to consider some of the effects you may not have thought of before. Plus, it gives your team a great visual to return to for conversations. 

4. Read - and read some more

Though this seems overly simple and not like an “exercise” at all, it’s great advice for nearly all teams. Reading various materials exposes everyone to new ideas, new concepts, and new perspectives. Plus, it’s an important way of making sure your brain gets at least some exercise every day. All types of reading are beneficial, from a morning newspaper to an in-depth historical novel. Choose some reading material that you’ve found particularly helpful, along with some that pertain to your industry or subject matter, and set them out in a resource section in the office. You might also consider starting a monthly book club or even a group message board where people can leave reviews, ask questions, and generally discuss reading material. If you want to take things a step further, create a reading challenge where people can get points and earn prizes for time spent reading. 

5. Host a debate

Competitive debate is something many people are passionate about - but even for those who don’t particularly enjoy it, there are benefits. Organize your team into two groups and give them a topic to debate. We suggest avoiding topics that are overly sensitive like politics or hot-button cultural issues. Ideally, it’s a subject that’s new to both of them, so that no one has an unfair advantage. Give them time to complete some research and prepare their thoughts, and then debate with each other in good faith. This is great practice for creating more structured arguments and organizing a variety of information. We suggest avoiding topics that are overly sensitive like politics or hot-button cultural issues. 

6. Learn about logical fallacies

In formal logic circles, experts have identified several common fallacies that tend to occur over and over in arguments. If you can learn about these, and be able to pick them out of arguments, you have a much better chance of thinking critically through an issue. You can find them in conversations or even your own thoughts, which adds a lot of value to intense discussions. You might host a workshop or a lunch and learn where these are covered in detail, and then have a quiz or engaging activity where arguments are presented and people must pick out the fallacies present. 

Here are the most common logical fallacies: 

  • Ad hominem: When a position is attacked based on an individual’s personal character or other attributes, rather than its own merit. 
  • Non sequitur: When the conclusion of an argument doesn’t logically follow from the original premise. 
  • Slippery slope: In this fallacy, someone asserts that a chain of extraneous events is bound to occur if they allow their opponent's argument.
  • Motte and Bailey: This happens when a debater defends a controversial position by intentionally confusing it with a similar but less controversial assertion.
  • Appeal to authority: This can often occur when an individual asserts the truth of their argument simply by citing an authoritative source.
  • Begging the question: This is a common fallacy in which an individual assumes the conclusion of their argument on their premises.

7. Ladder of inference exercise

Each of us naturally makes inferences as part of our human decision-making process, and understanding how we do that can be really helpful. Start by discussing a common scenario, and then write down the assumptions that might be used to draw conclusions. For example, if you see a professional contact at a networking event, but they turn away when they see you, what could that mean? Our brains immediately start to infer things, such as “They are mad at my company”, or “They don’t like me.” Have your team list out the possible reasons this could have happened, and then talk about other reasons that they did not automatically conclude. This is a great practice for helping people to think critically through everyday situations, rather than letting their own minds run away with them. For more problem solving games or team-building brain teasers , make sure to follow our blog. 

8. The “Five Whys” technique

This is an analytical skill that can help people to  uncover the source of a problem. The core tenant of the concept is repeatedly asking “why?” when a problem is encountered to determine its root cause. You may need several rounds of questioning; just keep going. The most beneficial part that helps you practice critical thinking is the process of asking "why?" and uncovering the deeper issues affecting a situation. Here’s a simple example. Your computer keeps crashing. Why? Because the computer keeps running out of memory. Why? Because I have too many programs running at once. Why? Because I’m trying to multitask. Why? Etc. Come up with some scenarios and help your team to work through several scenarios as practice. 

9. Practice inversion

This is a form of critical thinking that can be used in almost any situation, and involves playing the role of devil’s advocate in a situation. To try it, adopt the opposite view of whatever the general consensus is on an issue. This helps you to explore and also consider other options than the ones that immediately come to mind. For example, if you are considering developing a new product line, start by listing all of the reasons why that might be a bad idea (limited resources, too expensive, etc). Only when you clearly understand these potential negatives can you fully work through the pros and cons of such a decision. 

10. Opinion vs. fact

Our current digital world makes it increasingly common to confuse opinions with facts. Sensationalist articles and click-bait headlines are huge contributors to this problem. It’s essential that your team can discern fact from opinion - in their personal and professional lives. Practice this skill by reading an article or listening to the news with your team, and having them go through each statement sharing what is opinion and what is fact. For example, “The DOW hit this number on Friday.” is a fact, while “This market is tremendous for stock-holders” is an opinion. You can even make copies of an article and have everyone use different colored highlighters to show what is fact vs. opinion. 

👉 For more team building activities for work , such as team-building puzzles or games for creativity and innovation, make sure to subscribe to our blog.

Make critical thinking a component of your team retreats

A great team-building retreat is a robust combination of fun, learning, and skill building. These critical thinking exercises, along with activities like team-building activities, leadership activities , and team ideation techniques can all go a long way toward building your best team. A series of fun and engaging activities that helps your staff to get to know each other and the company better is ideal.

If you aren’t sure how to put together an effective agenda, reach out to Surf Office . We help companies of all sizes to pull off memorable work retreats that teams look forward to each year.

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what to do in critical thinking

How do you counter misinformation? Critical thinking is step one

what to do in critical thinking

Late last year, in the days before the Slovakian parliamentary elections, two viral audio clips threatened to derail the campaign of a pro-Western, liberal party leader named Michal Šimečka. The first was a clip of Šimečka announcing he wanted to double the price of beer, which, in a nation known for its love of lagers and pilsners, is not exactly a popular policy position.

In a second clip, Šimečka can be heard telling a journalist about his intentions to commit fraud and rig the election. Talk about career suicide, especially for someone known as a champion of liberal democracy.

There was, however, just one issue with these audio clips: They were completely fake.

The International Press Institute has called this episode in Slovakia the first time that AI deepfakes — fake audio clips, images, or videos generated by artificial intelligence — have played a prominent role in a national election. While it's unclear whether these bogus audio clips were decisive in Slovakia's electoral contest, the fact is Šimečka's party lost the election, and a pro-Kremlin populist now leads Slovakia.

In January, a report from the World Economic Forum found that over 1,400 security experts consider misinformation and disinformation (misinformation created with the intention to mislead) the biggest global risk in the next two years — more dangerous than war, extreme weather events, inflation, and everything else that's scary. There are a bevy of new books and a constant stream of articles that wrestle with this issue. Now even economists are working to figure out how to fight misinformation.

In a new study , "Toward an Understanding of the Economics of Misinformation: Evidence from a Demand Side Field Experiment on Critical Thinking," economists John A. List, Lina M. Ramírez, Julia Seither, Jaime Unda and Beatriz Vallejo conduct a real-world experiment to see whether simple, low-cost nudges can be effective in helping consumers to reject misinformation. (Side note: List is a groundbreaking empirical economist at the University of Chicago, and he's a longtime friend of the show and this newsletter ).

While most studies have focused on the supply side of misinformation — social media platforms, nefarious suppliers of lies and hoaxes, and so on — these authors say much less attention has been paid to the demand side: increasing our capacity, as individuals, to identify and think critically about the bogus information that we may encounter in our daily lives.

A Real-Life Experiment To Fight Misinformation

The economists conducted their field experiment in the run-up to the 2022 presidential election in Colombia. Like the United States, Colombia is grappling with political polarization. Within a context of extreme tribalism, the authors suggest, truth becomes more disposable and the demand for misinformation rises. People become willing to believe and share anything in their quest for their political tribe to win.

To figure out effective ways to lower the demand for misinformation, the economists recruited over 2,000 Colombians to participate in an online experiment. These participants were randomly distributed into four different groups.

One group was shown a video demonstrating "how automatic thinking and misperceptions can affect our everyday lives." The video shows an interaction between two people from politically antagonistic social groups who, before interacting, express negative stereotypes about the other's group. The video shows a convincing journey of these two people overcoming their differences. Ultimately, they express regret over unthinkingly using stereotypes to dehumanize one another. The video ends by encouraging viewers to question their own biases by "slowing down" their thinking and thinking more critically.

Another group completed a "a personality test that shows them their cognitive traits and how this makes them prone to behavioral biases." The basic idea is they see their biases in action and become more self-aware and critical of them, thereby decreasing their demand for misinformation.

A third group both watched the video and took the personality test.

Finally, there was a control group, which neither watched the video nor took the personality test.

To gauge whether these nudges get participants to be more critical of misinformation, each group was shown a series of headlines, some completely fake and some real. Some of these headlines leaned left, others leaned right, and some were politically neutral. The participants were then asked to determine whether these headlines were fake. In addition, the participants were shown two untrue tweets, one political and one not. They were asked whether they were truthful and whether they would report either to social media moderators as misinformation.

What They Found

The economists find that the simple intervention of showing a short video of people from politically antagonistic backgrounds getting along inspires viewers to be more skeptical of and less susceptible to misinformation. They find that participants who watch the video are over 30 percent less likely to "consider fake news reliable." At the same time, the video did little to encourage viewers to report fake tweets as misinformation.

Meanwhile, the researchers find that the personality test, which forces participants to confront their own biases, has little or no effect on their propensity to believe or reject fake news. It turns out being called out on our lizard brain tribalism and other biases doesn't necessarily improve our thinking.

In a concerning twist, the economists found that participants who both took the test and watched the video became so skeptical that they were about 31 percent less likely to view true headlines as reliable. In other words, they became so distrustful that even the truth became suspect. As has become increasingly clear, this is a danger in the new world of deepfakes: not only do they make people believe untrue things, they also may make people so disoriented that they don't believe true things.

As for why the videos are successful in helping to fight misinformation, the researchers suggest that it's because they encourage people to stop dehumanizing their political opponents, think more critically, and be less willing to accept bogus narratives even when it bolsters their political beliefs or goals. Often — in a sort of kumbaya way — centrist political leaders encourage us to recognize our commonalities as fellow countrymen and work together across partisan lines. It turns out that may also help us sharpen our thinking skills and improve our ability to recognize and reject misinformation.

Critical Thinking In The Age Of AI

Of course, this study was conducted back in 2022. Back then, misinformation, for the most part, was pretty low-tech. Misinformation may now be getting turbocharged with the rapid proliferation and advancement of artificial intelligence.

List and his colleagues are far from the first scholars to suggest that helping us become more critical thinkers is an effective way to combat misinformation. University of Cambridge psychologist Sander van der Linden has done a lot of work in the realm of what's known as "psychological inoculation," basically getting people to recognize how and why we're susceptible to misinformation as a way to make us less likely to believe it when we encounter it. He's the author of a new book called Foolproof: Why Misinformation Infects Our Minds and How to Build Immunity . Drawing an analogy to how vaccinations work, Van der Linden advocates exposing people to misinformation and showing how it's false as a way to help them spot and to reject misinformation in the wild. He calls it "prebunking" (as in debunking something before it happens).

Of course, especially with the advent of AI deepfakes, misinformation cannot only be combated on the demand side. Social media platforms, AI companies, and the government will all likely have to play an important role. There's clearly a long way to go to overcoming this problem, but we have recently seen some progress. For example, OpenAI recently began "watermarking" AI-generated images that their software produces to help people spot pictures that aren't real. And the federal government recently encouraged four companies to create new technologies to help people distinguish between authentic human speech and AI deepfakes.

This new world where the truth is harder to believe may be pretty scary. But, as this new study suggests, nudges and incentives to get us to slow our thinking, think more critically, and be less tribal could be an important part of the solution.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

what to do in critical thinking

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The Importance of Critical Thinking in Nursing: Enhancing Decision-Making Skills

  • July 3, 2024

Modern nursing presents its fair share of hardships, but nurses enjoy great respect and the simple reward of knowing they make a difference, too. Top career challenges stem, in part, from the sheer variety of tasks nurses handle, not to mention the many settings in which they work and the different types of patients they help.

From assessment to care plans to patient education, nurses must draw not only on their extensive clinical knowledge but also a wide range of soft skills that allow them to plan their day, communicate with patients, and find viable solutions as they handle all kinds of complex situations. One of the most essential yet difficult-to-develop skills? Critical thinking.

Aspiring healthcare professionals might wonder, then: Why is critical thinking important for nurses? We answer this common question below while touching on barriers to critical thinking for nurses—and opportunities to break through these roadblocks.

Why Do Nurses Need to Be Able to Think Critically?

Nursing is a dynamic and demanding field, presenting scenarios that are hard to anticipate. To do their jobs effectively, nurses must make sense of a wealth of information while also abiding by industry best practices and maintaining a high standard of care. [1]

Balancing all this calls for critical thinking: the ability to synthesize information from several sources, including foundational frameworks, cutting-edge research, and feedback from fellow clinical professionals and patients. If nurses cannot think critically, they will not know what to do with all this information or how to make decisions that promote positive patient outcomes. [2]

Handle Various Situations

Every day brings new and uniquely complex challenges to the healthcare environment. Though this keeps nurses engaged, there is no room for working on autopilot. Rather, every situation must be carefully thought through to ensure all patient signs and symptoms are observed, details are recorded properly for billing purposes, and the nurse’s bedside manner remains impeccable.

With so much to consider, it is understandable that nurses (especially new or aspiring nurses) may struggle to handle so many sources of information. This is where highly developed critical thinking comes into play; while extensive stimuli may initially seem like barriers to critical thinking, they can actually provide valuable insight and lead to excellent decision-making, so long as nurses have mastered skills such as synthesis and prioritization.

When nurses can efficiently absorb and interpret information, they are better equipped to navigate the many different scenarios they may encounter in a typical day, without relying entirely on regimented processes or instructions from others. As a result, nurses are better positioned to exhibit autonomy, but within the scope of their defined roles or levels of nursing.

Pivot With Change

Today’s nurses need to be highly adaptable. The healthcare environment is constantly changing, with new research, tools, technologies, and responsibilities shaping the nursing career path in ways that can be difficult to anticipate. These changes emerge on a near-daily basis, and if nurses struggle to adjust accordingly, previously manageable tasks may come to feel overwhelming. [3]

Agility is a must in modern nursing, and it can be achieved through the power of critical thinking. Because critical thinkers can quickly and effectively synthesize new information from various sources, they should not feel intimidated or particularly surprised when sudden changes are required.

Critical thinking may even render many changes downright welcome, as nurses with this skill are better able to compare and contrast emerging solutions with their predecessors and discern why these changes are actually favorable.

For example, a new electronic health record (EHR) system might seem frustrating to adopt at the outset, but strong critical thinkers will draw on far-reaching insights to recognize that there can be considerable long-term benefits of implementing these systems, such as providing better access to critical information and swift reductions in issues like medication errors.

How to Gain Critical Thinking Skills

Critical thinking skills are best acquired through the power of practice. Although there’s no denying the importance of developing a solid foundation in topics such as anatomy and pharmacology, it is through experience that nurses gain the ability to properly analyze difficult situations and develop effective strategies for dealing with urgent challenges.

Complex Clinical Situations

It is crucial for both aspiring and current nurses to flex their critical thinking muscles in a clinical capacity. Thankfully, there are plenty of opportunities to build these skills while enrolled in an associate’s or bachelor’s nursing program. [4] Critical thinking and decision-making are core components of clinical experiences, which provide much-needed immersion in the fast-paced and dynamic healthcare environment in addition to plenty of support along the way.

Each hour spent in clinical rotations means yet another opportunity to see complex clinical concerns play out in a real-world setting. Nurses in training do not simply rest on the sidelines, however; they are actively involved in the process of thinking through these situations critically and helping find and apply viable solutions. Following graduation, new nurses can draw on previous clinical experiences to help them think critically and confidently about new and unexpected scenarios.

Assessing the Situation

Patient assessments provide valuable details about their health history and current condition. These insights can then contribute to the critical thinking process by ensuring nurses are able to draw on all available details as they develop relevant care plans. Although formal assessments bring structure to this process, there should be some degree of assessment involved in every task nurses take on. Simply pausing a moment to understand the reality of the situation can prove transformative.

How Do I Use Self-Awareness?

Self-awareness is a key component of critical thinking. This makes nurses and nursing students more willing to question their assumptions and reevaluate their thought processes, as they can acknowledge and work around their weaknesses while playing to their strengths.

It may take years to develop genuine self-awareness, but nursing school provides a solid start. The following qualities can produce more accurate and actionable insights into personal attitudes and behaviors:

Self-awareness begins with mindfulness—being fully present in the moment rather than fixating on past missteps or future concerns. Instead, nurses must fully commit to each interaction and task. This may occasionally mean stepping back for a moment and using mindfulness techniques such as deep breathing to cut through the tension and gain a clear head.

Focus on the Emotional Health of the Patient

Awareness of one’s own on-the-job conduct should not stand in the way of patient awareness. Rather, these forms of awareness coalesce to complement critical thinking. This can begin with a focus on observing and supporting the patient’s emotional health.

Often, this can be as straightforward as building a sincere rapport with patients and getting to know them. Additionally, empathy is key, as it builds connection and trust while helping nurses stay grounded in the present.

Focus on the Physical Health of the Patient

Upon establishing a stronger emotional connection with patients, nurses should set their sights on markers of physical health. Many of these are revealed during physical assessments, which involve not only monitoring vitals but also closely observing for numerous signs and symptoms. A methodical, detail-oriented process is vital and allows nurses to absorb the full scope of the patient’s situation before analyzing and synthesizing this information to contribute to an eventual care plan.

Remove Self Biases

Concerning research published in the Future Healthcare Journal reveals that bias is a major problem in the modern healthcare system. [5] Implicit stereotypes can determine how patients are assessed and treated. Unfortunately, deeply held biases may lead to inaccurate diagnoses or a problematic bedside manner.

Nurses must be continually prepared to determine where their biases exist and take steps to address them. Practice should begin early on, with nursing students participating in self-awareness activities that press them to reflect on their attitudes and assumptions. These are among the most sensitive and difficult critical thinking exercises, but they can also be the most impactful.

Awareness of Bias

Biases cannot be properly addressed unless nurses are aware they exist in the first place. There is no easy way to develop this awareness; constant self-evaluation is essential as well as exposure to a variety of perspectives.

Many nurses benefit greatly from ongoing ethical training initiatives that encourage them to determine where they hold deeply ingrained biases and make progress toward overcoming them. In addition, mentorship can be helpful, as mentors can pinpoint ongoing biases that nurses might otherwise struggle to unveil.

Avoid False Assumptions

Nurses should avoid the temptation to make knee-jerk assumptions about their patients. Because such a wide range of issues can underscore symptoms and behaviors, it is imperative that nurses assess patients thoroughly to reveal the full scope of any given complaint.

By drawing on a number of resources (including health histories, patient questionnaires, lab tests, and physical assessments), nurses can make the most of tangible evidence that combats problematic assumptions. Think of each patient as a blank slate: Yes, their medical history may influence diagnoses and care, but no two situations look exactly alike, and every patient deserves careful attention and a nuanced response.

Master Critical Thinking

Take your nursing career to the next level by learning to master critical thinking for better patient care. Learn how to pursue your degree in nursing with Carrington College.

[1] Papathanasiou, I. et al. “Critical Thinking: The Development of an Essential Skill for Nursing Students.” Acta Informatica Medica. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4216424/

[2] Morris, G. “The Value of Critical Thinking in Nursing.” NurseJournal . https://nursejournal.org/articles/the-value-of-critical-thinking-in-nursing/

[3] Raso, R. “Embracing agility.” Nursing Management. https://journals.lww.com/nursingmanagement/Fulltext/2021/07000/Embracing_agility.1.aspx

[4] Carrington College. “2022-2023 Academic Catalog.” https://docs.carrington.edu/catalog/2022-2023-Carrington-College-Catalog-Volume-VIII-III.pdf

[5] Gopal, D. et al. “Implicit bias in healthcare: clinical practice, research and decision making.” Future Healthcare Journal. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8004354/

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