As a university student, you will often be asked to “think critically” or to develop your “critical thinking” skills. This handout will outline some basic first steps to critical thinking—a skill you will need not only in university, but also in your life!
Helpful tips and strategies for critical thinking
Step 1: Decide what you think and why you think it
Before you begin your research paper/presentation, etc. you will need to do some reflection.
- As you read your textbooks and review your notes keep a notebook with your thoughts and impressions. Also, practice writing “I think….because” sentences. This will help you formulate some ideas about the topic, and give you a better sense of what you would like to learn more about. Remember, there is no “right” or “wrong” way to think about your ideas.
- Don’t worry about grammar or spelling as your write your ideas down. Allow yourself to “free associate”. This provides you more freedom to just write down what you think, and allows you to expand new horizons. It is not about staying within the confines of what you already know.
- Generate a list of questions you have about the topic you are learning about. These questions can guide your thinking as you read, and can help you identify missing pieces of information in the literature.
- Give yourself time to reflect on what you are learning. Becoming a critical thinker does not happen overnight. You need to spend some time thinking about what you’ve read/heard/written in order to develop your thoughts and questions on the subject.
Step 2: Seek other views and more evidence
Now that you’ve thought about your issue deeply, it’s time to seek out other perspectives.
- Speak with your professor, classmates, friends and family about their perspectives on your issue. Asking someone for their opinion can be very helpful because they can help you see the subject in a way you may have never considered before.
- Go to the library! Find academic/literary sources on your topic. Speak to a librarian for help if you have difficulty finding useful materials. They are a great resource!
Self-doubt is OK. Rethink some of the conclusions you arrived at. Think about:
- Am I too rash?
- Am I so desperate to find the “right” answer that I just decided not to look any further?
- Did I interpret my evidence correctly?
Step 3: Decide which view is most reasonable
Once you have completed your research and collected your “evidence”, it is time to evaluate it and take a position.
- Take your time to distinguish the different perspectives. Make a list of pros and cons and likes/dislikes for each perspective. In most cases, there may be arguments that you may like and arguments you may not agree with within each perspective.
- Try to consider your research evidence without bias. For example, do not only find evidence that supports your original position only. Instead, look for evidence that may conflict with your position and evaluate the evidence carefully.
- Evaluate the evidence you have found first and use your evaluation to form a position first. If these are important areas that are lacking within the evidence, offer reasons some reasons why you think these areas or views should be considered.
Some characteristics of critical thinkers
- Critical thinkers are honest with themselves
- Critical thinkers take action!
- Critical thinkers never think a question is stupid
- Critical thinkers are flexible in their thinking
- Critical thinkers are hard workers
- Critical thinkers welcome criticism
- Being a Critical Thinker: Basic Approaches to Critical Thinking - provides a more in-depth look at critical thinking skills.
- SFU Library Research Guides
- SFU Library Askaway – A great online chat tool for students regarding finding resources and evidence