Any time you read literary materials or experience something that requires you to comprehend it, you employ a variety of thinking skills. Thinking skills relate to the way in which you process and understand information, and you employ specific thinking skills based on what you wish to gain from your thoughts. Analytical and critical thinking are two styles of thinking skills that are commonly used, but employed for different purposes.
Analytical thinking describes a thinking style that enables a person to break down complex information or a series of comprehensive data. It uses a step-by-step method to analyze a problem and then come to an answer or solution. In essence, analytical thinking represents a cause and effect style of looking at a problem, and is sometimes referred to as perceiving something through multiple lenses. An example of analytical thinking involves understanding the relationship between leaves and the color green. One could ask "Why are leaves green?" and then use analytical thinking skills to tie the answer together.
Critical thinking has to do with evaluating information that is fed to you, and determining how to interpret it, what to believe and whether something appears to be right or wrong. In this style of thinking the thinker employs reasoning to come to a conclusion about how he wants to perceive the information. Critical thinking also takes outside information into account during the thought process. Rather than sticking strictly with the information presented, critical thinking lets the thinker explore other elements that could be of influence.
Analytical and critical thinking styles both look at facts, but those facts are then used for different purposes. When it comes to analytical thinking, facts are used to build on information and support evidence that leads to a logical conclusion. Critical thinking, on the other hand, uses facts to determine a belief, form an opinion or decide whether something makes sense.
The processes of analytical thinking and critical thinking are different. Analytical thinking uses a linear and focused process, with one thought following the other in a stream-like formation. Critical thinking occurs more in circles and can go around and around until a conclusion is stumbled upon.
The purposes of critical thinking and analytical thinking are not the same. You do not employ critical thinking strategies to figure out the solution to a complex question or to problem-solve. Rather, analytical thinking is used for this purpose. However, you would not use analytical thinking if your main goal was to come up with a belief or perception about something. In this case, you would use critical thinking methods.
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