How To Improve Critical Thinking Essay Format

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Some Guidelines for
Critical Thinking and Writing:


Critical thinking is a lot more than merely following a format for construing a paper, "challenging assumptions," and observing "different perspectives," to name a couple of biggies. It is still all a matter of what and how - the important, elusive dimensions rooted in values and abilities. You could for instance follow the pattern below and still praise some proto-Nazi perspective.

The following six parts may be viewed as a rough outline for a research paper. They also constitute the six dimensions that must find expression in any substantial, critical development of analysis and opinion. Not just for research papers - these six dimensions of critical thinking and writing should also be applied when writing a shorter review or contemplative essay.

Shorter texts also need structure, progression, and focus, all of which the six dimensions will assist in establishing. I encourage you to apply these dimensions to any writing assignment in my classes, from the very first one early on in the semester to the final assignment; whether a grand research paper, a review, or an essay.

Your work with the material (a novel, a scholarly text, a philosophical treatise, a poem, a film, a saga, or an idea - or two or more of the above) is at the very heart of class, and will, when pursued conscientiously, transform itself from lesser to greater confidence and ability.

It is therefore important that from the outset, with every writing assignment, you consider the implemention of each of these dimensions of critical thinking. Then, with every assignment, you will familiarize yourself with their dynamic, strengthen your communicative abilities, and make your contribution to critical thinking and writing.


IIdentify the basics of the topic
This is the introduction to your paper. Present the importance of the issue, outline context and potential ramifications. End your intro with a paragraph providing an overview of the following paper.

II Analyze the material
Analysis may be employed in different ways using different methods. Define your concepts and discuss your method. Analysis is about examination and synthesis: investigating components, identifying their qualities, strengths, and weaknesses, and connecting those in a coherent manner, demonstrating their relevance and importance for the whole. Always question content and relevance!

IIIAddress different perspectives
Consider different viewpoints on the material. Never assume a certain perspective to be self-evident and obvious. Different analytical perspectives may reveal different ideas and understandings of the same event or idea. This analytical dimension requires examination and critique of scholarly opinions on your material.

IVExamine contexts
Identify and assess assumptions and ideological perspectives to be found in historical and social contexts. Interpretation is also conditioned by your own assumptions, cultural, and ideological bias. Analysis and interpretation is ultimately about disclosing and examining such contextually determined points of view.

V Identify own position
Your own opinion on the material in opposition to those of other sources, may be presented in a particular section, for instance after your objective analysis of the material and your discussion of different perspectives. You may also choose to inject your voice as a discussant throughout your paper. This is most effectively done in an objectifying manner without continuous use of the pronouns "I" and "my."

VI Conclusion
Consider the importance of your findings and their implications. Tie all strings together in an overview. Emphasize the qualities and importance of your investigation, and briefly outline directions for further study.

Good writing!
Good writing is to good thinking what a functional suitcase is to travel: it enables you to focus on your journey!

In other words, even if you are "on the right track," or have genuinely grasped the essence of something, but then, unfortunately, deliver it in a "muddled" way, unstructured, "all over the place" - then you cut yourself short.

In contrast, reading and understanding is a pleasure, when intriguing observations are displayed in flowing, grammatically correct language, with a varied vocabulary and sentence structure, and within a logical outline. Clear writing and composition always enhance the impression of thoughts.

Check out different approaches in the Great student papers list.


Kim Andersen, Honors College
Washington State University


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