Why might you need to do this?
Do you get feedback from your tutor which says:
‘Need to develop more critical analysis’, ‘be less descriptive – more critical’, ‘critically analyse …’, ’too little critical analysis’. If so, you may need to read this.
Research evidence suggests that: ‘The presence of ‘critical analysis, perspective and argument (with supporting evidence)’ made the strongest and most favourable impression in students’ assignments’ (Greasley & Cassidy, 2010, p.185) You will gain higher marks in your assignments if you are able to write critically!
What does this mean?
Critical thinking is about questioning, and is associated with Socrates, the Greek philosopher (470-399 BC), who continually questioned his students and others. Questioning beliefs or knowledge is the foundation of reflective thinking (Dewey, 1997) and it should affect what we do (Deane & Borg, 2011). Critical writing is therefore writing in a questioning manner.
How do you do this?
In order to develop critical writing, you must first become a critical reader and thinker.
It needs to become a habit to ask questions, especially the WHY questions. It involves reflecting on your own thinking: reasons and motivations. What evidence did you use to base your decisions on? Reading widely, with an open mind, will help you to do this. Question and critique what you read. Be sceptical (Descartes, 1636) – examine the arguments. Deane and Borg (2011, p.58) provide useful questions to interrogate a source and there are many guides available on critiquing research papers.
What questions might you ask yourself about what you read?
Take a topic for example; are there different definitions about what is being presented? If so, what are they? Who wrote these and why? What qualifications/experience do they have? Have they been sponsored/paid to write this? Does this matter? Is the evidence convincing? Is it interpreted correctly? Do their reasons support the conclusions they draw? Does it make sense? Is it ‘true’ to what you know/understand?
Yes, but how do I write critically?
Rather than just describing something (which you may need to do at first of course), you need to analyse it. This means to study something in detail and break it down into parts in order to examine it. You will need to weigh up the strengths and weaknesses of the evidence. Look for different definitions about the topic/idea. Do authors have different views about it? You need to compare and contrast these different sources. Select the most important or controversial points, but make it clear to the reader that you are aware of the other debates around the topic. ‘Strong critical writing uses a good balance of detailed analysis and sections that summarise arguments and evidence’ (Cottrell, 2005, p.168).
In order to write critically you will also need to use ‘evidence’ – material you have read to illustrate a point or support your argument. You may argue a point of view and provide supporting evidence for this by using research or other appropriate sources in the subject area. (Cottrell, 2005, p.172).
Read and question, write and question. Good luck in your assignments.
Cottrell, S. (2005), Critical Thinking Skills. Developing Effective Analysis and Argument. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Deane, M. & Borg, E. (2011). Critical Thinking and Analysis. Harlow: Pearson.
Dewey, J. (1997/1910), How We Think. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications.
Greasley, P. and Cassidy, A. (2010), When it comes round to marking assignments: How to impress and how to ‘distress’ lecturers. Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education 35: 173-189.