Developing Analytical Thinking
How to think critically and analytically
As a student, you may be asked to think critically or for a critical or analytical analysis. This page explains what this means and how to do it.
Critical thinking is a process used to think about and evaluate information and reach a conclusion. Used in this context, the word 'critical' is not negative, it merely means that you shouldn't automatically accept that information is valid, true, applicable or correct. Instead, you should gather the evidence, analyze all aspects rationally and objectively, and with an open mind, so as to reach your own conclusion. Here are some guidelines to help you think critically:
Start with all the information you have
Make sure you include everything: what you've read, seen, heard, done or been told about the topic.
Do you have enough information, or do you need to do more reading/research?
What are the key points?
What are the arguments?
• Are there any assumptions (things accepted as true without proof)?
What do you have to do with the information?
Identify the problem you have to solve, or the issue you need to address.
Write it down - don't worry if you're not sure, this is just a draft.
Can you break down the problem/issue into parts?
Which part do think you should start with?
What do you think about the problem/issue?
Why do you think what you do?
Makes notes: writing things down often clarifies your thinking.
Analyse the information
How do the bits fit together and relate to one another?
Compare the various ideas: are there any similarities or differences?
Evaluate the various views
What evidence is there for the various viewpoints?
Which points are in agreement, which ones disagree?
Make sure you consider all sides of the argument, especially those you disagree with.
Are there logical connections between the various sources and ideas?
Compare what you've found with your initial thinking about the topic? Do you still think the same way or have your views changed at all?
Which of the ideas you've found are relevant to your needs?
Synthesize your ideas
This means bring your ideas together and develop a reasonable response.
Is there more than one response?
What works best in this situation?
Use these ideas
Construct an argument.
Reach a logical conclusion.
Apply your understanding
Answer the questions, and
Write your assignment.
When you think analytically you examine, or think about, the different parts or details of something in order to understand or explain it.
Analytical thinking may require you to think about some (or all) of the following:
Cause and effect
Similarities and differences
Associations between things
Inter-relationships between the parts
The sequence of events
Complex systems and how they work
Ways to solve complex problems
Steps within a process
•Examples of what is happening.
Techniques to help you think analytically ask questions
Where - Where does the information come from? Where can I find out more?
Who - Who developed this theory? Who's involved? etc.
When - When did it happen? When was the research done?
Why - Why did this happen? Why do/did people feel the way they do?
What - What happened before this, and after it? What does it really mean? What do others think about it?
What if - What if it hadn't happened? What if it had been done differently?
So what - Why does it matter?
Diagrams can help you see how the ideas relate to one another.
For example, diagrams can show relationships such as cause and effect or sequence (e.g. using flow diagrams), and hierarchy (e.g. using an organizational chart).
Try mind maps
Mind maps are branching diagrams.
Start with the topic in the middle and add subtopics and relevant details.
In science, there are two ways of arriving at a conclusion: deductive reasoning and inductive reasoning.
Deductive reasoning happens when a researcher works from the more general information to the more specific. Sometimes this is called the "top-down" approach because the researcher starts at the top with a very broad spectrum of information and they work their way down to a specific conclusion. For instance, a researcher might begin with a theory about his or her topic of interest. From there, he or she would narrow that down into more specific hypotheses that can be tested.
The hypotheses are then narrowed down even further when observations are collected to test the hypotheses. This ultimately leads the researcher to be able to test the hypotheses with specific data, leading to a confirmation (or not) of the original theory and arriving at a conclusion.
An example of deductive reasoning can be seen in this set of statements: Every day, I leave for work in my car at eight o'clock. Every day, the drive to work takes 45 minutes I arrive to work on time. Therefore, if I leave for work at eight o'clock today, I will be on time.
The deductive statement above is a perfect logical statement, but it does rely on the initial premise being correct. Perhaps today there is construction on the way to work and you will end up being late. This is why any hypothesis can never be completely proved, because there is always the possibility for the initial premise to be wrong.
Inductive reasoning works the opposite way, moving from specific observations to broader generalizations and theories. This is sometimes called a "bottom up" approach. The researcher begins with specific observations and measures, begins to then detect patterns and regularities, formulate some tentative hypotheses to explore, and finally ends up developing some general conclusions or theories.
An example of inductive reasoning can be seen in this set of statements: Today, I left for work at eight o'clock and I arrived on time. Therefore, every day that I leave the house at eight o'clock, I will arrive to work on time.
While inductive reasoning is commonly used in science, it is not always logically valid because it is not always accurate to assume that a general principle is correct. In the example above, perhaps 'today' is a weekend with less traffic, so if you left the house at eight o'clock on a Monday, it would take longer and you would be late for work. It is illogical to assume an entire premise just because one specific data set seems to suggest it.
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