Critical thinking requires you to approach a subject from multiple angles. The word "critical" suggests that you should come to the topic with heightened awareness of fallacies, missing information and contradictions. You should also be aware of assumptions and generalizations that have been made about the topic in the past. As a writer, when you use critical thinking, you enable yourself to create new knowledge rather that simply reporting on what already exists.
At the very root of critical thinking are questions. You must have a truth you want to search for in order to set out on a path of purposeful thinking and writing. Deciding on research questions is crucial to narrowing your focus in writing. For example, if you want to write about bullying, you'll have to focus your topic quite a bit to avoid overwhelming yourself with a project much to vast to capture in any reasonable-length document . Research questions might include, "How does bullying affect high school students?" or "What methods should be tested to prevent bullying in schools?" These questions get you thinking about the specifics of a topic rather than wading through broad, abstract ideas.
Once you've narrowed your topic to a specific question, you'll want to research and analyze. Researching is a part of writing that involves surveying the field of data and knowledge that's already out there. You won't know what you have to add to the conversation until you familiarize yourself with the work that has already been completed on the topic. Use online databases relevant to your field, which can be found through your professors, your campus library or an online search. Once you have compiled your research, you can begin to comb through it and find the facts, the assumptions and the conclusions already drawn in the field.
Analyzing means looking at information with an open mind and finding inherent limitations, flaws and connections. For example, if you read a study about how zero-tolerance methods fail to prevent bullying in schools, you can analyze the reasons why and apply those reasons to another method of bullying prevention that hasn't been tested yet. Your analysis would involve measuring a set of ideas against a new method to hopefully create new knowledge.
Once you've analyzed the data and research already available on your topic, you also want to assess the validity of your information, as well as your own proposed ideas. Writing is about adding to an ongoing conversation, and your goal is not to "solve" the problem but to add some new knowledge to the field. Therefore, you must assess your own ideas and address their limitations. Perhaps if you are writing about anti-bullying strategies, you might address their shortcomings or unknowns. Or you might write about further research that could be done to advance knowledge in the field. Your job is not to end the conversation. Your job is to add to it and to keep the exploration alive.
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