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Academic writing

Critical thinking
ke Bjrke
Department for Global Development and Planning
University of Agder
Thinking critically skills
Do we believe all we see or hear?
What do we do when we try to find out
whether something is true or not?
How do we argue and persuade others?
How much information is required?
What level of doubt is acceptable under
the circumstances?

Identify when we need more

Select the right type and level of
Apply critical thinking to:

What you hear, see and do

Your interpretation of situations
What you write or say to others
The argument
Overall argument: your position
Contributing arguments: reasons
Line of reasoning: set of reasons
structured to support your overall
The line of reasoning
presents your reasons and evidence in order
to make it clear how to interpret your
Should lead forward with a clear direction,
with one piece of evidence leading to the
Helps avoid hopping back and forth randomly
Helps avoid going in circles
The line of reasoning helps you
when selecting the salient points: the points
relevant to the argument
Stick to your substantive point: the core of
the argument
Avoid marginal issues
Avoid tautologies: unnecessary repetitions in
different words
Brings in elements of polite doubt
Holds open the possibility that the
information you have might be flawed or
Constructive doubt brings
in other possibilites
or perspectives
Rational thought:
Know your own reasons

What are the reasons for

what we believe and do?
Evaluate your own beliefs
and actions
Are you able to present to others your
reasons for your beliefs and actions?
Critical analysis of others
Identify their position, reasons and conclusions
Analyse how they select and combine reasons to make
a line of reasoning
Assess whether their reasons support their conclusion
Assess whether their reasons are based on good
How do they know?
Why do they believe?
Identify positive and negative aspects
Is there another way of seeing this?
There is always another angle
The overall argument
(The main message)
Begging should be prohibited in Norway

Contributing arguments:
Beggars are a nuisance to businesses and
ordinary people
Beggars are often involved in crime
They make our streets look filthy
Crime syndicates are behind, organising the
Is it an argument?
1. Position: point of view / main message that you want
others to accept
2. Reasons / contributing arguments / propositions
support the conclusion
3. Line of reasoning: set of reasons in logical order
leading to a conclusion
4. Conclusion: the position you want others to accept
5. Persuasion: The argument should convince your
6. Signal words or phrases helps your audience follow
the direction of argument

Descriptions describe how something is done

or what something is.
In academic writing: Factual, accurate, no
value judgment, no reasoning.
Does not persuade to a point of view.
May include statements and reasons, leading
to a conclusion.
However: explanations do not try to persuade
to a point of view.
Account for why or how something occurs
Draw out the meaning of a theory or
argument or message

Reduced versions of longer messages

or texts
Repeats key points
Reminds you of what has been said
Make your position clear:
In the introduction
In the final sentences
The conclusion
The overall line of reasoning
An overall summary of the argument
Internal consistency
Clear position for
Consistent argument: all parts of the line of
reasoning contribute to the conclusion.
Inconsistencies make your line of reasoning
hard to follow, and weaken persuasion.
Apples are good for your teeth. Acid corrodes.
There is acid in apples, so they are bad for teeth.
Including opposing arguments
A good line of reasoning will include alternative
points of view because you show that you have
considered other views. This is managed by:
The line of reasoning makes your main
message clear
Counterarguments introduced by key words:
alternatively, it might be argued
Rebut by key words: however, nonetheless, on
the other hand
Logical order
Group similar points together
Present reasons that support your argument
first, to establish a good case
Consider opposing reasons after you have
established your own case
Something taken for granted in the
presentation of an argument. You ask your
audience to accept as true rather than spend
time and energy on arguing. E.g. Given
You must assess what is a reasonable
assumption and what is not
Assess this based on the context. Who is your
Assuming causal link and jump to conclusion.
I saw Jon and Sarah sitting on a bench talking together
yesterday evening. They must therefore have had sex last night!
False analogy comparison e.g. the heart functions as
a pump. The defendant was like a pressure cooker.
An analogy is false if the two items are not
comparable. E.g. Cloning of human cells is like creating
Frankenstein monsters
Ad hominem personal attacks.
Ignoring the main opposing reasons
Tautologies e.g. the car reversed backwards
Proof the sources
Primary sources:
The raw material or material originating from
the time and place of the event
The original source: document, article, report,
book, photo, recording, author/researcher
Secondary sources
Material produced at a later stage
about the event
Articles telling you about what others have
said e.g.
Daily mail informing the public about what the
Climate Research Institute or the IPCC has said
Good references enable you to check whether:
The source material actually exists
The source material has been presented in a
correct and accurate way
The source contains what the author has
The source contains additional information of
Literature search
Find out what has been written
Collate list of sources potentially relevant
Go down the list, selecting sources for initial
investigation for relevance
Browse selected items to find the most useful
Select the most relevant sources
Browse the abstracts
containing summaries
of the main arguments and findings
Critical questions
1. How do we know this is true?
2. How reliable is the source?
3. Are the examples given really representative?
4. Does this match what I already know?
5. Does this contradict other evidence?
6. What motive might the author have for saying this?
7. What are we not being told?
8. Other explanations possible?
9. Do the reasons support the conclusion?
10. Is the line of reasoning well supported by evidence?
Reputable sources
From authorities
High credibility. Source can be believed with
high degree of certainty
Source likely to give accurate information
Based on research, first hand knowledge
Recognised in the field or academic discipline
Scientific Journal peer reviewed articles
Critical questions
Recommended by a source you trust?
A clear line of reasoning with supporting
Includes detailed list of references?
Easy to find and check these references?
Primary source?
Does it use reputable sources or just popular
press and secondary sources?
Authenticity and validity
Authentic: of undisputed origin. It can be
proved that it is what it claims to be

Valid: the requirements agreed, or the

conventions are followed.
E.g. the correct research methods are followed.
Currency and reliability
Currency: still relevant in the present:
Recently published
Recently updated
Seminal work original and far-reaching
and influencing for a long time

Reliability can be trusted

Trustworthy source
Recognised expert
Author with no personal, vested interests in the outcome
A reputable source

The results of the experiment have been re-tested by others.
(Common in natural science)
Sources regarded as leading authorities
Refer to other sources in brief
Your main source material should be those that
contribute most to your
own line of reasoning
One or two seminal works
Show that you are able to
discriminate between the most
relevant sources and more marginal sources
Analytical writing
Looks at the evidence given in detail, weighing the relative strengths and
weaknesses of the evidence
Pointing these out
Assess clarity, validity, reliability, currency, authenticity and possible flaws
Select the most important points, avoiding too much detail, but balancing with
enough evidence
Avoid tautologies, waffle and flaws
Discuss controversial points
Present logically your own arguments first to make a case
Group similar points
Use signposts special words -to signal that the point is a main message, a
reason, an explanation, a description, a summary, a counteargument, a
Use definitions when there is more than one interpreation
Background information
Brief overview giving a context. Often 10% of
the thesis.
Identify two or three books, theories,
perpectives, previous research articles
providing the most relevant
bakground for your research
How the pieces of research
are linked
Signal words
Overall argument and Line of reasoning: first, to begin,
first and foremost, Initially, I will start
Indicate new information: in addition, besides,
furthermore, moreover
Adding similar reasons: similarly, likewise, equally, in
the same way
Alternative argument: alternatively, it might be argued
Contradicting: weigh up evidence for both sides
contrasting all the evidence.:
although, conversely, by contrast, on the other hand, in
Evaluation of essay
1. Writers position clear
2. The reasons for the writers position is clear
3. The writers position is clear and based on
4. Reasons are given logical as in line of reasoning
5. Argument well structured and easy to follow
6. Counterarguments discussed
7. Reasons are linked to each other and lead to the
8. All texts are relevant to the assignment
9. The main reasons and key points stand out
Evaluation of critical writing
1. Good use of others research and good sources for
supporting evidence and strenghten argument?
2. Make a reasoned evaluation of opposing views?
3. References provided?
4. When introducing other peoples ideas, are these
appropriately referenced?
5. List of references at the end?
6. Has non-essential, descriptive writings been removed?
7. Flaws removed?
8. Consistent line of reasoning?
9. Are the writers beliefs distorting the argument?
10. Good, easy to understand and engaging writing?
Main source:
Cottrell, S. (2005) Critical thinking skills,
Palgrave study guides
Good luck!

Enjoy writing!