Main Critical Thinking Skills: Developing Effective Analysis and Argument

Critical Thinking Skills: Developing Effective Analysis and Argument

Critical Thinking Skills has taken the seemingly baffling art of analysis and broken it down into easy to understand blocks, with clear explanations, good examples, and plenty of activities to develop understanding at each stage. This easy to follow, step-by step guide to developing reasoning skills even applies the techniques to tasks such as reading, note-taking, and writing.
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Critical Thinking Skills
Developing Effective Analysis and Argument
Stella Cottrell


O Stella Cottrell2005

All rights reserved. No reproduction, copy or transmission of this
publication may be made without written permission.
No paragraph of this publication may be reproduced, copied or transmitted
save with written permission or in accordance with the provisions of the
Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, or under the terms of any licence
permitting limited copying issued by the Copyright Licensing Agency,
90 Tottenham Court Road, London W I T 4LP.
Any person who does any unauthorised act in relation t o this publication
may be liable t o criminal prosecution and civil claims for damages.
The author has asserted her right t o be identified as the author of this
work in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
First published 2005 by
Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire RG2l 6x5 and
175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010
Companies and representatives throughout the world
PALCRAVE MACMILLAN is the global academic imprint of the Palgrave
Macmillan division of St. Martin's Press, LLC and of Palgrave Macmillan Ltd.
Macmillanm is a registered trademark in the United States, United Kingdom
and other countries. Palgrave is a registered trademark in the European
Union and other countries.
ISBN-13: 978-1-4039-9685-5
ISBN-10: 1-4039-9685-7
This book is printed on paper suitable for recycling and made from fully
managed and sustained forest sources.
A catalogue record for this book is ava~lablefrom the British Library.
A catalog record for this book is available from the Library of Congress
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 200501 171

Printed in China

Self-evaluation sheets, planners and activity sheets may be photocopied
by individual students for their personal use only.


1 What is critical thinking?

What is critical thinking?
Why develop critical thinking skills?
Under; lying skills and attitudes
Self-awarenessfor accurate judgement
Personal strategies for critical thinking
Critical thinking in academic contexts
Barriers to critical thinking
Critical thinking: knowledge, skills and
Priorities: developing critical thinking
2 How well do you think? Develop
your thinking skills

Assess your thinking skills
Scoring Sheet
Focusing attention
Focusing attention: Identifying difference
Focusing attention: Recognising sequence
Activity: Categorising text
Close reading
Information about the sources
Answers to activities in Chapter 2
3 What's their point? Identifying

The author's position


Activity: Capturing the author's position
Argument: Persuasion through reasons
Identifying the argument
Activity: Identifying simple arguments
Activity: Reasons and conclusions
Hunting out the conclusion
Summary of features
Information about the sources
Answers to activities in Chapter 3
4 I s it an argument? Argument and

Argument and disagreement
Activity: Argument and disagreement
Non-arguments: Description
Non-arguments: Explanations and
Activity: What type of message?
Distinguishing argument from other
Activity: Selecting out the argument
Information about the sources
Answers to activities in Chapter 4
5 How well do they say it?Clarity,
consistency and structure

How clear is the author's position?
Internal consistency
Activity: Internal consistency
Logical consistency
Activity: Logical consistency
Independent reasons and joint reasons
Activity: Independent and joint reasons
Intermediate conclusions
Intermediate conclusions used as reasons

Activity: Intermediate conclusions
Summative and logical conclusions
Activity: Summative and logical
Logical order
Activity: Logical order
Information about the sources
Answers to activities in Chapter 5
6 Reading between the lines:
Recognising underlying assumptions
and implicit arguments

Activity: Identify the underlying
Identifying hidden assumptions
Implicit assumptions used as reasons
Activity: Implicit assumptions used as
False premises
Activity: False premises
Implicit arguments
Activity: Implicit arguments
Denoted and connoted meanings
Activities: Associations and stereotypes
Activity: Denoted and connoted meanings
Information about the sources
Answers to activities in Chapter 6


7 Does it add up? Identifying flaws
in the argument


Assuming a causal link
Correlations and false correlations
Activity: Identify the nature of the link
Not meeting the necessary conditions
Not meeting sufficient conditions
Activity: Necessary and sufficient
False analogies
Activity: False analogies
Deflection, complicity and exclusion
Other types of flawed argument
Unwarranted leaps and 'castle of cards'
Emotive language; Attacking the person
More flaws
Misrepresentation and trivialisation
Tautology; Two wrongs don't make a right



Information about the sources
Answers to activities in Chapter 7


8 Where's the proof? Finding and
evaluating sources of evidence


Primary and secondary source materials
Searching for evidence
Literature searches
Reputable sources
Authenticity and validity
Currency and reliability
Selecting the best evidence
Relevant and irrelevant evidence
Activity: Relevant and irrelevant evidence
Representative samples
Activity: Representative samples
Certainty and probability
Sample sizes and statistical significance
Controlling for variables
Facts and opinions
Eye-witness testimony
Evaluating a body of evidence
Information about the sources
Answers to activities in Chapter 8


9 Critical reading and note-making:
Critical selection, interpretation and
noting of source material

Preparing for critical reading
Identifying the theoretical perspective
The relation of theory to argument
Categorising and selecting
Accurate interpretation when reading
Making notes to support critical reading
Reading and noting for a purpose
Concise critical notes: Analysing argument
Concise critical notes: Books
Concise critical notes: Articles and papers
Critical selection when note-making
Activity: Critical selection
Commentary on critical selection
Note your source of information
Information about the sources
Answers to activities in Chapter 9


1 0 Critical, analytical writing:
Critical thinking when writing

Characteristics of critical, analytical
Setting the scene for the reader
Activity: Setting the scene for the reader
Writing up the literature search
Words used to introduce the line of
Words used to reinforce the line of
reasoning (2)
Signposting alternative points of view
Words used to signpost conclusions
Words and phrases used to structure
the line of reasoning
Drawing tentative conclusions
Activity: Writing conclusions
Information about the sources
Answers to activities in Chapter 10
1 1 Where's the analysis? Evaluating
critical writing

Checklist for Essay 1
Evaluate Essay 1
Evaluation of Essay 1
Commentary for Essay 1
Checklist for evaluating Essay 2
Evaluate Essay 2
Evaluation of Essay 2
Commentary on Essay 2

Evaluating your writing for critical


Texts for activities in Chapters 8, 9
and 11


Practice activities on longer texts


Practice 1: Features of an argument
Answers to Practice 1: Features of an


Practice 2: Finding flaws in the

Answers to Practice 2: Finding flaws in
the argument
Practice 3: Features of an argument
Answers to Practice 3: Features of an


Practice 4: Finding flaws in the

Answers to Practice 4: Finding flaws in
the argument


Appendix: Selected search engines
and databases for on-line literature



Nobody is an absolute beginner when it comes
to critical thinking. Our most everyday activities
require us to make use of some of the basic skills
involved in critical thinking, such as:
working out whether we believe what we see
or hear;
taking steps to find out whether something is
likely to be true;
arguing our own case if someone doesn't
believe us.
However, just because we can think critically
this doesn't mean we always do, or that we do it
well. This is to be expected, as we don't need to
employ the same level of critical thinking for
everything we do.
For everyday activities, we take a certain amount
on trust, and this saves us from having to
recheck every detail. We have to decide on how
much information is really required and what
level of doubt is acceptable for each new
circumstance. The levels and types of knowledge
we need vary depending on the task, such as
whether we are simply switching on a light,
inventing a new form of electrical circuit or
treating someone for electrocution. Similarly,
critical thinking involves:
identifying correctly when we need to gain
more information;
selecting effectivelythe right type and level of
information for the purpose.
Success in most professions requires good critical
thinking skills. Academic study also requires
increasingly sophisticated levels of critical
analysis at every level of study. Whether for
work or for study, you may be expected to apply
critical thinking to:
what you hear, see, and do;
the material you read;


Critical Thinking Skills

how you interpret new situations and events;
what you write, say or present to other

Aims of this book
This book aims to help readers develop an
understanding of what is meant by critical
thinking and to develop their own reasoning
skills. These skills are essential to those
progressing to higher levels of academic study,
whether at advanced or degree level. However,
the underlying concepts are useful to anyone
who wishes to:
understand the concepts used in critical
develop clearer thinking;
interpret and produce argument more
@ be more observant of what they see and hear.
This book focuses mainly on aspects of critical
thinking that can be applied to work and study,
and which help individuals to think about how
they think. It is not intended to be an advanced
study of abstract reasoning or logic. For these,
the reader is referred to works such as
A. Garnham and J. Oakhill (1994), Thinking and
Reasoning, and A. Fisher (1988), The Logic of Real
Argzments. Rather, its purpose is to focus on the
basics of clear thinking.

For those new to critical thinking
The book will assist you in practical ways such
as helping you to:
recognise and understand the technical terms
in critical thinking so you know what other


people are referring to when they mention
these, and so you can apply them yourself as
build confidence in your own ability to apply
critical thinking techniques;
examine closely the opinions, views and
arguments presented by other people;
challenge other people's views from an
informed perspective when this is

For students
Students will find the book particularly useful in
developing the ability to:
recognise the arguments of specialist authors;
locate arguments in key texts with greater
engage with the arguments used by both
experts and their peers;
produce better critical analytical writing of
their own for marked assignments;
recognise the difference between critical
analysis and other kinds of writing, such as

Activities in the book
Critical thinking is an activity. It isn't sufficient
to read about it: it has to be practised. The book
offers activities to apply the concepts it
introduces and to practise new skills. It may be
that, after completing one or two of the
activities that accompany a new concept, you
find that aspect very easy. If so, move on to the
next aspect. However, many people find some or
all aspects of critical thinking to be difficult at
first. If this is true of you, be reassured that this
way of thinking becomes easier with practice.
The answers pages do not simply provide a
correct answer: they also explain the reasons
behind the answers so as to develop further the
concept that has been practised. Reading
through these should help you to clarify your
understanding about that aspect of critical

A wide range of topics is used as examples and
as practice material. You do not need any
background knowledge of the subjects covered

in these. It is possible to do all the activities no
matter what your subject discipline or area of
interest. The activities require you only to apply
critical thinking to the material provided.

Passages used in the book
All of the passages in the book have been
specially designed to illustrate the key points of
each chapter and to provide appropriate practice
material. They draw on a range of different
academic disciplines but are written in such a
way that you do not need to be an expert in the
subject to understand the material.
These passages are short to enable you to
identify the key points more easily, and to
provide many practice examples. In real life, it is
likely that you will need to identify arguments
and evaluate reasoning in much longer texts.
Some chapters provide more extended passages
to enable you to work on several aspects of
critical thinking simultaneously by working with
longer texts.
None of the passages in this book is reproduced
from any other text. However, some draw on
the writing of others for background
information. Where this is the case, details of
the original source are given at the end of the
chapter to enable you to follow up subjects that
interest you.

Terminology: author and
The different aspects of critical thinking covered
in this book can be applied to material in varied
media, whether written, audio or televisual.
However, in order to simplify the text, the terms
'author' and 'audience' are used throughout,
irrespective of the type of media.

This refers to the person who creates the
message, whether this is written, spoken or
delivered through another medium. It doesn't
necessarily mean the 'author' of a book.



This refers to whoever receives the message,
whether through conversation, books,
television, DVD or other medium. The audience,
in this respect, may be a viewer, a reader, a
listener, or an observer.

A glossary of technical terms used in critical
thinking is provided on page xii.

Contents of the chapters
The book is organised to help you build your
skills in critical thinking, starting from a basic
understanding of what critical thinking is
through to applying techniques and strategies
when reading and producing your own critical
Chapter 1introduces critical thinking, looking
at the range of underlying skills and attitudes
associated with critical thinking, and why it is
beneficial to develop critical thinking skills. It
emphasises the importance of self-awareness as
an aspect of making accurate judgements and
bringing suitable objectivity to critical
reasoning. Many people find critical thinking to
be a challenging activity when they first begin.
The chapter looks at the barriers that might
prevent you from developing critical thinking
skills and ways of overcoming these. You are
invited to evaluate your current skills in order to
focus on those aspects of the book that are the
most useful for you.
Chapter 2 looks at aspects of thinking skills such
as focusing your attention, identifylng
similarities and differences, sequencing,
categorising, and close reading. These are skills
that underlie more advanced critical thinking as
well as personal management skills, so
improving these can benefit many aspects of
academic work and personal and working life.
The chapter provides an opportunity for you to
evaluate these skills and then to practise those
aspects which need further development.
The third chapter, 'What's their point?',
introduces argument as a central aspect of
critical reading. It identifies the main features

Critical Thinking Skills

and components of arguments within critical
thinking, and provides practice in identifying
these different elements. This is useful in
helping you to find the most important aspects
of your specialist texts, and to do so more
Chapter 4 builds on the previous chapter,
looking at the differences between critical
arguments and other types of writing that may
appear to be arguments, such as disagreements.
It also looks at how, when reading, to
distinguish critical argument from summaries,
explanations and descriptions. As arguments can
become lost within other details, this chapter
gives practice in identifylng more easily the
material relevant to the main argument. Such
skills are also useful for improving reading speed
and accuracy and in helping you to identify
whether your own writing has a sufficiently
critical focus.
Chapter 5 focuses on the quality of reasoning. It
gives you practice in evaluating how well
authors present their arguments in terms of
structure, logical order, internal consistency, the
way in which reasons are used to support each
other, and the use of interim concIusions.
Understanding the structure of an argument is
beneficial both in making reading faster and
more effective, and in structuring your own
Chapters 6 and 7 develop skills in analysing the
details of an argument. These skills help you to
read texts and interpret arguments at a deeper
rather than a superficial level. This is especially
important for evaluating academic arguments
or, for example, checking that you understand
the implications of contracts in the workplace or
the nuances of political arguments used at
election time. As you develop these skills, you
will be better able to engage in debating the
issues raised by experts or by specialist authors,
checking whether they are consistent in what
they are saying and whether their arguments
contain flaws that are not immediately obvious.
Chapter 6 focuses on 'reading between the
lines', identifying aspects of the author's
position and argument that are not directly
stated. These include underlying assumptions
and 'implicit arguments'. The chapter also looks
at what is meant by the 'premises' on which
arguments are predicated and at identifying

'false premises'. Finally, it examines what is
meant by denoted and connoted meanings, and
the importance of identifying hidden
connotations within an argument.
Chapter 7 provides a different perspective on
evaluating an argument, this time focusing on
flaws within the reasoning. It looks at
confusions that are made between cause and
effect, and introduces the concept of 'meeting
necessary and sufficient conditions'. It also
introduces many of the most common types of
flawed argument, such as false analogies, unfair
use of emotive language, tautology, and
Chapter 8 focuses on finding and evaluating
sources of evidence to support an argument. It
examines the difference between primary and
secondary sources, looks at how to conduct a
literature search, and provides criteria for
evaluating and selecting different kinds of
evidence. Concepts such as authenticity,
validity, currency and reliability are introduced.
It also looks at a range of methods used to
ensure the evidence is robust, such as checking
for representative sample sizes and levels of
probability, and triangulating evidence.
Chapter 9 looks at specific ways of applying
critical thinking to reading and note-making,
such as orientating to the task of critical
reading, making accurate interpretations, and
categorising and selecting material in order to
make the process of reading and note-making
more effective. It examines the relationship of
theory to argument, and looks at ways of
categorising theories in order to ease comparison
between different arguments. The chapter also
emphasises the importance of noting the sources
of evidence, as an essential aspect of critical
The final two chapters focus on the application
of critical thinking to the act of writing. Chapter
10 looks at characteristics of critical writing, and

especially the importance of maintaining a focus
on your own potential readers. The chapter
looks at ways of setting the scene for the reader.
It gives details about how to use language to
structure and signpost arguments so that the
reader is clear which stage of the argument is
being presented and the direction of your
argument. Critical writing uses tentative
language to express conclusions and this is also
examined in Chapter 10.
Finally, Chapter 11 provides an opportunity to
evaluate two critical essays. The emphasis in
this chapter is not on identifying and
evaluating arguments, but rather on evaluating
texts as pieces of critical writing. The two
essays differ in how effective they are at
applying the conventions required for critical,
analytical writing. Checklists and
commentaries are provided to help you
approach the task and to evaluate your
responses. A further checklist is provided as an
optional tool for you to use, or adapt, to
evaluate your own critical writing. Additional
practice activities are provided at the end of
the chapter.

Reflection on the implications
As with all academic work and professional good
practice, you will benefit from reflecting upon
the points raised in each chapter and, in
particular, your own current ways of
approaching these. Some chapters provide
prompts to assist such reflection. In other cases,
it is up to you to identify where you need to
stop and consider the relevance of the strategy
to your own study or area of work. It is well
worth taking such time to pause and consider
the implications of the key points in order to
help you see the significance and relevance of
the materials and critical strategies to your own
work or study.




When we discuss arguments, a number of
specific terms are sometimes employed. Some
that are useful to know in the initial stages of
learning about critical thinking are:
Argument Using reasons to support a point of
view, so that known or unknown audiences may
be persuaded to agree. An argument may
include disagreement, but is more than simply
disagreement if it is based on reasons.
Argument - the overall argument The overall
argument presents the author's position. It is
composed of contributing arguments, or
reasons. The term 'line of reasoning' is used to
refer to a set of reasons, or contributing
arguments, structured to support the overall
Arguments - contributing arguments
Individual reasons are referred to as arguments
or 'contributing arguments'.
Assertions Statements which are made
without any supporting evidence or
Conclusion Reasoning should lead towards an
end point, which is the conclusion. The
conclusion should normally relate closely to the
author's main position. In critical thinking, a
conclusion is usually a deduction drawn from
the reasons, or evidence.
Conclusion - intermediate conclusions The
author may draw interim conclusions during the
course of an argument, before arriving at final
conclusions. Each interim conclusion is based
on only some of the evidence or a particular set
of reasons. These intermediate conclusions may
be used to provide evidence or to serve as
reasons, in the next stage of the argument.

~ i i Critical Thinking Skills

Consistency - internal consistency An
argument is inte7nally consistent when all parts of
the line of reasoning contribute to the
conclusion. Nothing then contradicts or
undermines the main message. An argument
may be internally consistent but still be
inconsistent in other respects, such as not being
consistent with the evidence or with the
opinions of experts in the field.
Consistency - logical consistency An
argument is logically consistent when the
reasons are provided in a logical manner - that
is, in the best order, with each linked to
previous or following arguments so as to build
up a case. A logically consistent argument will
be internally consistent. In a logically consistent
argument, the reasons support the conclusion.
Line of reasoning The line of reasoning is
established through the order in which reasons
and evidence are presented. This order should
make it clear to the reader how the argument is
to be interpreted and what the structure of the
argument is. The line of reasoning should lead
forwards with a clear direction, with one piece
of reasoning leading in an obvious way to the
next, rather than hopping from one point to
another in a random way, or leading the
audience round in circles.
Logical order Good arguments present reasons
and evidence in a structured way, so that
information builds on what has already been
said. See 'line of reasoning' above.
Position A point of view, supported by
Predicate The foundation of the argument;
the aims of the argument; an underlying point
of view; the assumption that underlies the
argument. For example: the argument was

predicated on a Marxist interpretation of wealth; the
progrnmine was predicated on the asszltnption that
the prisoner was innocent.
premises Propositions believed to be true and
used as the bases for the argument; the basic
building blocks for the argument. Premises that
are not well-founded are referred to as false
Propositions Statements believed to be true
and presented as arguments or reasons for
consideration by the audience. A proposition
may turn out to be true or false.
Reasons The contributing arguments put
forward to support the overalI argument or line
of reasoning.
Reasons - independent reasons The author
may use several reasons to support the
conclusion, each of which may be valid in its
own right but may have nothing to do with the
other reasons given.
Reasons - joint reasons The reasons provided
to support an argument when they are
connected in some way and mutually reinforce
each other.
Salience 'Salient' simply means 'relevant to
the argument'.
Substantive point The central point that is
being made, or the core of the argument. This
expression is used to focus attention on the
main point, especially if an argument has been
diverted towards more minor issues and when
the key message is becoming obscured.
Tautology Unnecessary repetition, when the
author makes the same point but in different
words. For example, in poor arguments, a
tautology may be used to make it appear as if
there are two reasons to support a conclusion,
when the first reason has merely been
reproduced in a different way.

Proposition 3: The mountainside can be
dangerous during some storms.
Propositiorz 4: Some members of the team are
not familiar with the area or with
Conchsion: It isn't a good moment to launch
an expedition into the mountains.
It is not a good time for the expedition to go
into the mountains as a storm is expected and
some of the team may not have the health or
experience to cope with this.

False premises
The argument against launching the expedition
sounds convincing. However, it could be based
on false premises: a storm may not be due, the
dangers might be exaggerated, or the team may
be more experienced than described, or the team
member may have only a minor cold. In that
case, the argument against launching the
expedition would be based on false premises.

The argument against the expedition is
predicated on an assumption that the safety of
the team should take priority over the
requirements of the expedition.

The question of safety is salient to the debate
about whether to launch the expedition. Other
things may not be salient to that argument. For
example, the facts that a team member was
good at sports at school 20 years ago, or had
hiccups yesterday, are probably not salient to
the discussion.

Example of key terms used
toget her
Proposition 1: One of the expedition team is
suspected of having pneumonia.
Proposition 2: A serious storm has been
predicted in the area.



I offer many thanks to all those who have
contributed to bringing this book into being.
First of all, I thank all those students who used
study skills sessions with me to develop
strategies for improving their own critical
thinking skills. For many, this involved taking
courageous steps in asking for help. I hope that
their efforts and bravery may now also help
others, especially those who find the
mysterious words 'more critical analysis
needed' on feedback to their work. Secondly, I
thank the lecturers who took the trouble to
point out to students that they needed to
improve their critical and analytical abilities
and sent them in the direction of help. Thirdly,
I thank the readers of the early draft of the
book, who made excellent suggestions for its
improvements: any remaining errors and

X ~ V Critical Thinking Skills

weaknesses are my own. I owe a great deal to
the research into various disciplines undertaken
by others. Where I have drawn on this as
background reading, this is acknowledged at
the end of the chapter or the bibliography. I
am grateful, as ever, to the many staff at
Palgrave Macmillan who work so hard behind
the scenes to pull together all the different
aspects of the book, and to Suzannah Burywood
in particular, for making everything run so
smoothly, I am grateful, too, to Valery Rose and
Jocelyn Stockley for editing the script and
preparing it for the printers, and for the
enormous care they take with the small details.
Above all, I thank my partner 'for everything',
but especially for all the good things to eat as I
laboured and for endless patience.

Chapter 1

What i s critical thinking?

This chapter gives you opportunities to:
understand what critical thinking is
recognise some of the benefits associated with critical thinking skills
recognise the personal qualities associated with critical thinking
recognise barriers to the development of good critical thinking skills
assess your current understanding of critical thinking and identify your priorities for improvement

This chapter provides a general orientation to
critical thinking. It examines what is meant by
'critical thinking', the skills associated with it,
and the barriers that can hinder effective
development of critical approaches. Many
people can find it difficult to order their
thoughts in a logical, consistent, and reasoned
way. This book starts from the premise that
skills in reasoning can be developed through a
better understanding of what critical thinking
entails, and by practice.
Critical thinking is a cognitive activity,
associated with using the mind. Learning to

think in critically analytical and evaluative ways
means using mental processes such as attention,
categorisation, selection, and judgement.
However, many people who have the potential
to develop more effective critical thinking can
be prevented from doing so for a variety of
reasons apart from a lack of ability. In particular,
personal and emotional, or 'affective', reasons
can create barriers. You are invited to consider,
in this chapter, how far such barriers could be
affecting your own thinking abilities and how
you will manage these.

What i s critical thinking?


What is critical thinking?
Critical thinking gives you the tools to use
scepticism and doubt constructively so that you
can analyse what is before you. It helps you to
make better and more informed decisions about
whether something is liliely to be true, effective
or productive. Ultimately, in order to function
in the world, we have to accept the probability
that at least some things are as they seem. This
requires trust. If we can analyse clearly the basis
of what we take as true, we are more able to
discern when it is reasonable to be trusting and
where it is useful to be sceptical.


Critical thinking as a process

Critical thinkinq- is a complex process of deliberation
which irivolves a mride range I3f skills and attitudes.
It includles:

r ~aentifyingother people's positions, a rguments


and conclusions;
evaluating the evidence fc)r alternathfe points o
. ..
we1ghing up 01 vposing argruments and evidence
fair ly;
, .
oelng aa~eto reaa aerween the lines, ~ ~. ~ i n
lind surfacces, and identifying fal:re or unfair
-I--:-.,-..-A +- --I,*
u>ru LU tttant: crt Latl I
ggnising te~ririryur>
f ~ ~ j i t imore
o n ~ appealinp than others, such as
false logic and persuasivc2 devices;
reflecting on issues in a structured w,ay, bringinlg
lnnic and insight to bear,
drawing conclusions about whether arguments
are valid and justifiable, based on giood
evildence and sensible assumptions;
presenting a point of viem in a struct.ured, clear
we1Il-reasoned way that (:onvinces c~thers.
, r




Method rather than personality trait
Some people seem to be more naturally sceptical
whilst others find it easier to be trusting. These
differences may be because of past experiences
or personality traits. However, critical thinking
is not about natural traits or personality; it is
about a certain set of methods aimed at
exploring evidence in a particular way. Sceptical
people can require structured approaches that
help them to trust in the probability of an
outcome, just as those who are more trusting
require methods to help them use doubt

Scepticism and trust
Ennis (1987) identified a range of dispositions
and abilities associated with critical thinking.
These focused on:
the ability to reflect sceptically;
the ability to think in a reasoned way.
Scepticism in critical thinking means bringing
an element of polite doubt. In this context,
scepticism doesn't mean you must go through
life never believing anything you hear and see.
That would not be helpful. It does mean
holding open the possibility that what you
know at a given time may be only part of the


Critical Thinking Skills

Critical thinking and argument
The focus of critical thinking is often referred to
as the 'argument'. Chapter 3 identifies the
features of an argument in critical thinking. The
argument can be thought of as the message that
is being conveyed, whether through speech,
writing, performance, or other media. Critical
thinking helps you to identify the obvious and
the hidden messages more accurately, and to
understand the process by which an argument is

O Stella Cottrell (ZOOS), Critical Tl~inkbgSkills,

I'algrave Macmillan Ltd

Knowing our own reasons


Critical thinking is associated with reasoning or
with our capacity for rational thought. The word
'rational' means 'using reasons' to solve
problems. Reasoning starts with ourselves. It
8 having reasons for what we believe and do,
and being aware of what these are;
8 critically evaluating our own beliefs and
8 being able to present to others the reasons for
our beliefs and actions.

This may sound easy, as we all assume we know
what we believe and why. However, sometimes,
when we are challenged on why we believe that
something is true, it becomes obvious to us that
we haven't really thought through whether
what we have seen or heard is the whole story
or is just one point of view. There are also likely
to be occasions when we find we are not sure
what we consider to be the right course of
action or a correct interpretation. It is important
to examine the basis of our own beliefs and
reasoning, as these will be the main vantage
points from which we begin any critical

Critical analysis of other people's
Critical reasoning usually involves considering
other people's reasoning. This requires the skill
of grasping an overall argument, but also skills
in analysing and evaluating it in detail.

Criltical anallysis of a~therpec
reasons can involve:


8 identifying their reasons and conclusions;
8 analysing how they select, combine and order

reasons to construct a line of reasoning;
8 evaluating whether t heir reason s support t he
conclusions they dra!+J;
8 evaluating whether t heir reason s are well.,
founded, based on gooa evlaer1,-0.
8 identifyingI flaws in tlieir reason,ing.



Constructing and presenting
Reasoning involves analysing evidence and
drawing conclusions from it. The evidence may
then be presented to support the conclusion. For
example, we may consider that it is a cold day.
Someone who disagrees may ask why we believe
this. We may use evidence such as a
thermometer reading and observation of
weather conditions. Our reasons may be that the
temperature is low and there is ice on the
ground. We use basic examples of reasoning
such as this every day. For professional and
academic work, we are usually required to
present such reasoning using formal structures
such as essays, or reports with
recommendations. This requires additional skills
such as knowing how to:
8 select and structure reasons to support a

8 present an argument in a consistent way;
8 use logical order;
8 use language effectively to present the line of


O Stella Cottrell (ZOOS), Critical

Palgrave Macmxllan Ltd


What i s critical thinking?


Why develop critical thinking skills?

itical t h inking
s kills




. SKIIISrrrlng numerous.uenerits
crltlcal rnlnKlng




VIUVCU a u e l ti on and ULJ3Cl v a i l v l I
mc3re focuseci reading
improved ability to iden~tifythe ke) points in a
te:~ctor other message ri3ther than becoming
. ,,
. . ' .,
di:itraaea ~y less Important materla1
im proved ability to respond to the appropria.te
PClints in a message
,... n ooint
e ..
~-... uvv
kn owledae of how to a "'
a L ross more I
skiIls of analysis that yo1.I can choose to apply
in a variety of situations






Benefits in professional and
everyday life
Skills in critical thinking bring precision to the
way you think and work. You will find that
practice in critical thinking helps you to be
more accurate and specific in noting what is
relevant and what is not. The skills listed above
are useful to problem-solving and to project
management, bringing greater precision and
accuracy to different parts of a task.

Realistic self-appraisal
It is likely that you already possess some or all of
these skills in order to cope with everyday life,
work or previous study. However, the more
advanced the level of study or the professional
area, the more refined these skills need to be.
The better these skills are, the more able you are
to take on complex problems and projects with
confidence of a successful outcome.
It is likely that many people over-estimate the
quality of the critical thinking they bring to
activities such as reading, watching television,
using the internet, or to work and study. It is
not unusual to assume our point of view is wellfounded, that we know best, and that we are
logical and reasonable. Other people observing
us may not share this view. A lack of selfawareness and weak reasoning skills can result
in unsatisfactory appraisals at work or poor
marks for academic work. Certainly, comments
from lecturers indicate that many students are
prevented from gaining better marks because
their work lacks evidence of rigorous critical

Although critical thinking can seem like a slow
process because it is precise, once you have
acquired good skills, they save you time because
you learn to identify the most relevant
information more quickly and accurately.

Ancillary skills
Critical thinking invoIves the development of a
range of ancillary skills such as:


Critical Thinking Skills


have excellent skills in construction.
marketing sltills and self-presentat~on.
Fortunately for you, my poor crit~cal
thinking skills force me t o agree.

O Stella Cottrell (2005), Criticnl

Palgrave Macmillan Ltd

Underlying skills and attitudes
Critical thinking rarely takes place i n a vacuum.
Higher-level critical thinking skills usually
require some or all of the skills and attitudes
listed below.

Underlying thinking skills
Critical thinking assumes abilities in a range of
skills such as categorising, selection and
differentiation, comparing and contrasting.
These skills are examined in Chapter 2.

Ice, accuracy andI precisia

Critical thinking involves: w>ur-ru,, a L y A.,a. 1 IU .-,..-.-:-:
I ~
this can requir e dedication to finding the rigian!swer. It includes:
#,-, , . .#,

. 10
. note
. small
A teen tion to detail: t aking the t:!me

clues that throw grleater light on the overall
.rl VuLrrrrrrJ.
n n c c n m r . this mav t
u c # t r , , y t r lq
!- trends orlu
through careful ma pping of iriformation,
analysis (l f data, or identifying repetition

Knowledge and research

Repetitiol7: going biick over th~same grouna
several ti mes to chc!ck that nothing has been
I unrrry ur r r r r r r r r ,UKl3,UCLllVK3. ~uoking
at the
same infcxmation from several points of view.
Objectivity: putting your own likes, belief's and
. . .
Interests to one side with the aim of gainling
the most accurate c
. a deeper
Considering implications and di

Good critical thinkers can often detect a poor
argument without a good knowledge of the
subject. However, critical thinking usually
benefits from background research. Finding out
more about a subject helps you to make a more
informed judgement about whether relevant
facts, alternative explanations and options have
been covered sufficiently.








in the sh~
ort term, fcl r example, might ha
long-ternn effects th at are less desirable.

Emotional self-management
Critical thinking sounds like a dispassionate
process but it can engage emotions and even
passionate responses. This should not surprise us
when we consider that reasoning requires us to
decide between opposing points of view. In
particular, we may not like evidence that
contradicts our own opinions or beliefs. If the
evidence points in a direction that is unexpected
and challenging, that can rouse unexpected
feelings of anger, frustration or anxiety.

For me, the emotions that are most difficult to
manage when others disagree with me are:

I deal with these by:

The academic world traditionally likes t o
consider itself as logical and immune to
emotions, so if feelings do emerge, this can be
especially difficult. Being able to manage your
emotions under such circumstances is a useful
skill. If you can remain calm, and present your
reasons logically, you will be better able to argue
your point of view in a convincing way.

O Stella Cottrell (ZOOS), Criticfll Tlzir~kiizgSkills,

Palgrave Macmillan Ltd

What is critical thinking?


Self-awareness for accurate judgement
Good critical thinking involves making accurate
judgements. We noted above that our thinking
might not be accurate if we are not fully aware
of the influences that affect it. These can include
such things as our own assumptions,
preconceptions, bias, dislikes, beliefs, things we
take for granted as normal and acceptable, and
all those things about our selves and our world
that we have never questioned.
People who are outstanding at critical thinking
tend to be particularly self-aware. They reflect
upon and evaluate their personal motivations,
interests, prejudices, expertise and gaps in their
knowledge. They question their own point of
view and check the evidence used to support it.

Becoming more self-aware takes courage. It can
be unsettling to find out things about ourselves
we didn't know, as most of us like to think we
know ourselves very well. It is also challenging
to question our belief systems. We think of
these as part of our identity and it can be
unsettling if we feel our identity is called into
Furthermore, the result of your critical thinking
might place you in a minority amongst your
friends, family or colleagues. Nobody else might
interpret the evidence in the same way as you. It
takes courage to argue an alternative point of
view, especially when it is possible that you
might be wrong.

need to be most aware of so they don't prejudice

I will deal with this by:


Critical Thinking Skills

I deal with these by:

O Stella Cottrell (2005), Criticnl Thinking Skills,

Palgrave Mamillan Ltd

Personal strategies for critical thinking
Below, three lecturers describe h o w they view
critical thinking.

I may make a quick first reading to get the overall
picture and check my initial response. 1 see
whether it rings true or contradicts what I believe
to be true.
I compare what I read with what I already know
about the topic and with my experience.
I summarise as I go along, and hold the overall
argument in my head to make sense of what comes
I look for the author's position or point of view,
asking 'What are they trying to "sell me"?'
As I read, I check each section and ask myself if I
know what it means. If not, I check again sometimes it is clearer when I read the second time.
If it is still unclear, I remind myself to come back to
it later as the rest of the passage may make it
I then read more carefully, seeing what reasons the
writers present and checking whether I am
persuaded by these.
If I am persuaded, I consider why. Is it because they
make use of experts in the field? Is there research
evidence that looks thorough and convincing?
If I am not persuaded, then why not? I check if this
i s a 'gut level' thing or whether I have good reasons
for not being convinced. If I have relied on a gut
response, I check for hard evidence such as whether
I have read other material that contradicts it.
I then create my own position, and check that my
own point of view is convincing. Could I support it
if I was challenged?

Here the lecturer is describing an overall critical
thinking strategy for reading and analysing the
text. The example below indicates that, as well
as the words o n the page or other material being
critiqued, there are wider considerations t o be
taken i n t o account.

O Stella Cottrell (ZOOS), Critical Tlzinking Skills,

Palgrave Macmillan Ltd

I put my energy into looking for the heart of the issue:
what is really being said, and why? The answers may
not be on the page; they may be in the wider history
of a debate, a cultural clash, or conflicting bids for
project money. It is surprising how often the wider
context, popular debates, even a desire to be seen to
be saying what is currently in fashion, have a bearing
on what a given passage is really saying.

The t h i r d lecturer wouldn't disagree w i t h what
has gone before, but adds another dimension.

The trick is being able to see the wood for the trees;
identifying what is relevant amongst a mass of less
relevant information. It isn't enough just to
understand; you have to be constantly evaluating
whether something is accurate, whether it gets to the
heart of the issue, whether it is the most important
aspect on which to focus, whether it is the best
example to use - and whether what you are saying
about it is a fair representation of it.

All three examples illustrate different aspects of
the critical thinking process:
an analytical strategy for the material;
understanding of the wider context;
an evaluative and selective approach;
being self-critical about your o w n
and evaluation.

What i s critical thinking?


Critical thinking in academic contexts
Development of understanding
Students are expected to develop critical
thinking skills so that they can dig deeper below
the surface of the subjects they are studying and
engage in critical dialogue with its main theories
and arguments. This is usually through engaging
in critical debate in seminars, presentations or
writing produced for assessment or publication.

Do you recognise anything of yourself in Bodner's
description of students? What effect would the

One of the best ways of arriving at a point
where we really understand something is by
doing, or replicating, the underlying research for
ourselves. However, as undergraduates, and
indeed in everyday life, there simply isn't the
time to research everything we encounter. The
depth of understanding that comes through
direct experience, practice and experimentation
has to be replaced, at times, by critical analysis
of the work of other people.
Students need to develop the ability to critically
evaluate the work of others. Whilst some find
this easy, others tend to accept or apply the
results of other people's research too readily,
without analysing it sufficiently to check that
the evidence and the reasoning really support
the main points being made. Bodner (1988), for
example, describes chemistry students as being
unable to 'apply their knowledge outside the
narrow domain in which it was learnt. They
"know" without understanding.' Bodner
suggests that, instead of focusing primarily on
standard chemical calculations in books,
students should be looking for answers to
questions such as 'How do we know . . . ?' and
'Why do we believe . . ?'

Both positives and negatives
In academic contexts, 'criticism' refers to an
analysis of positive features as well as negative
ones. It is important to identify strengths and
satisfactory aspects rather than just weaknesses,
to evaluate what works as well as what does not.
Good critical analysis accounts for wlzy
something is good or poor, why it works or fails.
It is not enough merely to list good and bad


Bodner's description is likely to be just as true of
students in other subjects. It is not unusual for
students, and for people generally, to rely
unquestioningly on research that is based on a
small sample of the population, or that is based
on faulty reasoning, or that is now out of date.
Evidence from small or isolated projects is often
treated as if it were irrefutable proof of a general
principle, and is sometimes quoted year after
year as if it were an absolute truth. Chapter 8
looks further at critically examining and
evaluating evidence.


Critical Thinking Skills

Comprehensive: nothing i s
At most English-speaking universities, students
are expected to take a critical approach to what
they hear, see and read, even when considering
the theories of respected academics. Normally,
any theory, perspective, data, area of research or
approach to a discipline could be subjected to
critical analysis. Some colleges, such as religious
foundations, may consider certain subjects to be
out of bounds, but this is not typical.

O Stella Cotrrell (2005), Critical Tl~inkirrgSkills,

Palgrave Macmillan Ltd

The idea or the action, not the
A distinction is usually drawn between the idea,
work, text, theory or behaviour, on the one
hand and, on the other, the person associated
with these. This is also true when making
critical analyses of other students' work, if this is
a requirement of your course. Even so, it is
worth remembering that people identify closely
with their work and may take criticism of it
personally. Tact and a constructive approach are
needed. Giving difficult messages in a way other
people can accept is an important aspect of
critical evaluation.
Your work's rubbish, of course but as
a human being, you'll do, I suppose!

complicated and sophisticated, and which do
not lend themselves to straightforward
responses. You may have noticed yourself that
the more you know about a subject, the more
difficult it becomes to give simple answers.

Dealing with ambiguity and
With the internet at our fingertips, we are more
used to obtaining answers within minutes of
formulating a question. However, in the
academic world, questions are raised in new
areas and answers may not be found for years,
or even lifetimes. This can feel uncomfortable if
you are used to ready answers.
This does not mean, though, that vague answers
are acceptable. If you look at articles in
academic journals, you will see that they are
very closely argued, often focusing on a minute
aspect of the subject in great detail and with
precision. Students, too, are expected to develop
skills in using evidence, even if drawn from
other people's research, to support a detailed
line of reasoning.
It is worth remembering that in academic work,
including professional research for business and
industry, researchers often need to pursue lines
of enquiry knowing that:
no clear answers may emerge;
it may take decades to gain an answer;
they may contribute only a very small part to
a much larger picture.

' Critical thinking as a student means:


a finding ()ut where ithe best evidence lies for the
subject )IOU are disc:ussing;
- .
ig the strength of the,
support different arguments;
coming to an interim conclusrion about \
. . ,
the available evidence appears to read;
constructing a line of reasonirig to guide your
audience through t he evidenc:e and lead them
towards your conclusion;
' +',-lyI the best e:xalI I ~ I C ~ ,
ence to illu strate your
and pro\





In our day-to-day lives, we can slip into
thinking everything is right or wrong, black or
white. In the academic world, answers may
occur at a point on a continuum of possibilities.
One of the purposes of higher-level thinking is
to address questions which are more

0 Stella Cottrell (2005),

Palgrave Macrnillan Ltd

Critical Thinking Skills,




What i s critical thinking?


Barriers to critical thinking (1)
Critical thinking does not come easily to
everyone. Barriers vary from person to person,
but can usually be overcome. This section looks
at some key barriers to critical thinking and
encourages you to consider whether these might
be having an impact on you.

to Napoleon as 'she' throughout. What
a marvellously unique and creative

Misunderstanding of what i s
meant by criticism
Some people assume that 'criticism' means
making negative comments. As a result, they
refer only to negative aspects when making an
analysis. This is a misunderstanding of the term.
As we saw above, critical evaluation means
identifying positive as well as negative aspects,
what works as well as what does not.

colour, emotion, conceptual development,
originality - it's lop-sided and hasn't got

Over-estimating our own
reasoning abilities
Most of us like to think of ourselves as rational
beings. We tend to believe our own belief
systems are the best (otherwise we wouldn't
hold those beliefs) and that we have good
reasons for what we do and think.
Although this is true of most of us for some of
the time, it isn't an accurate picture of how
humans behave. Most of the time our thinking
runs on automatic. This makes us more efficient
in our everyday lives: we don't have to doubt
the safety of a tooth-brush every time we brush
our teeth.

Others feel that it is not good to engage in
criticism because it is an intrinsically negative
activity. Some worry that they will be regarded
as an unpleasant sort of person if they are good
at criticism. As a result, they avoid making any
comments they feel are negative and make only
positive comments. They may not provide
feedback on what can be improved. This is often
an unhelpful approach, as constructive criticism
can clarify a situation and help people to excel.


Critical Thinking Skills

However, it is easy to fall into poor thinking
habits. People who get their own way, or simply
get by, with poor reasoning, may believe their
reasoning must be good as nobody has said it
isn't. Those who are good at winning arguments
can mistake this for good reasoning ability'.
Winning an argument does not necessarily
mean that you have the best case. It may simply
mean that your opponents didn't recognise a
poor argument, or chose to yield the point for
their own reasons, such as to avoid conflict.
Imprecise, inaccurate and illogical thinking does
not help to develop the mental abilities required
for higher-level academic and professional work.

O Stella Cottrell (ZOOS), Critical'Titinking Skills,

Palgrave Macmillan Ltd

Barriers to critical thinking (2)
Lack of methods, strategies or
Although willing to be more critical, some
people don't know which steps to take next in
order to improve their critical thinking skills.
Others are unaware that strategies used for study
at school and in everyday situations are not
sufficiently rigorous for higher-level academic
thinking and professional work. With practice,
most people can develop their skills in critical

Affective reasons
We saw above that emotional self-management
can play an important part in critical thinking.
To be able to critique means being able to
acknowledge that there is more than one way of
looking at an issue. In academic contexts, the
implications of a theory can challenge deeply
held beliefs and long-held assumptions. This can
be difficult to accept, irrespective of how
intelligent a student might be.

Reluctance to critique experts
There can be a natural anxiety about critically
analysing texts or other works by people that
you respect. It can seem strange for students
who know little about their subject, to be asked
to critique works by those who are clearly more
experienced. Some students can find it alien,
rude or nonsensical to offer criticism of
practitioners they know to be more expert than
If this is true of you, it may help to bear in mind
that this is part of the way teaching works in
most English-speaking universities. Critical
analysis is a typical and expected activity.
Researchers and lecturers expect students to
question and challenge even published material.
It can take time to adapt to this way of thinking.
If you are confident about critical thinking, bear
in mind that there are others who find this
difficult. In many parts of the world, students
are expected to demonstrate respect for known
experts by behaviours such as learning text off
by heart, repeating the exact words used by an
expert, copying images precisely, or imitating
movements as closely as possible. Students of
martial arts such as tai chi or karate may be
familiar with this approach to teaching and

O Stella Cottrell (ZOOS), Critical Tl~inkingSkills,
Palgrave Macrnillan Ltd

This is especially so if 'common-sense' or
'normality' appears to be challenged by other
intelligent people or by academic research. It
can be hard to hear deeply held religious,
political and ideological beliefs challenged in
any way at all. Other sensitive issues include
views on bringing up children, criminal justice,
genetic modification, and sexuality.
When we are distressed by what we are learning,
the emotional response may help to focus our
thinking but very often it can inhibit our
capacity to think clearly. Emotional content can
add power to an argument, but it can also
undermine an argument, especially if emotions
seem to take the place of the reasoning and
evidence that could convince others. Critical
thinking does not mean that you must abandon
beliefs that are important to you. It may mean
giving more consideration to the evidence that
supports the arguments based on those beliefs,
so that you do justice to your point of view.

What i s critical thinking?


Barriers to critical thinking (3)
Mistaking information for
Learning is a process that develops
understanding and insight. Many lecturers set
activities to develop expertise in methods used
within the discipline. However, students can
misunderstand the purpose of such teaching
methods, preferring facts and answers rather
than learning the skills that help them to make
well-founded judgements for themselves.
Cowell, Keeley, Shemberg and Zinnbauer (1995)
write about 'students' natural resistance to
learning to think critically', which can mean
acquiring new learning behaviours. Cowell et al.
outline the problem through the following

When critically evaluating arguments, it is
important to remember that you can find an
argument to be good or effective even if you
don't agree with it.

Which barriers have an effect
upon you?
On the table below, tick all those barriers that
you consider might be affecting your critical
thinking abilities.

Misunderstanding c

'I want you (the expert) to give me
answers to the qtiestions; I want to know the
right answer.'
Teachers: 'I want you to become critical
thinkers, which means I want you to challenge
experts' answers and purszle your own answers
through active questioning. This means lots of
hard work.'





If you feel that critical thinking is hard work at
times, then you are right. There are lecturers
who would agree with you. However, if it wasn't
difficult, you would not be developing your
thinking skills into new areas. In effect, you are
developing- your
'mental muscle' when you
improve your critical thinking skills.

Has an


id strategies

Keluctance to crmcl

lith more

Affective reasons
Mistaking informatiIon tor understanding

-*. . .
TOCUS arid attention to detail





Insufficient focus and attention
to detail
Critical thinking involves precision and accuracy
and this, in turn, requires good attention to
detail. Poor criticism can result from making
judgements based on too general an overview of
the subject matter. Critical thinking activities
require focus on the exact task in hand, rather
than becoming distracted by other interesting


Critical Thinking Skills

Consider what you could do to manage these
barriers in the next few months.

O Stella Cottrell (2005), Critical Thinking Skills,

Palgrave Macmillan Ltd


Critical thinking: Knowledge, skills and attitudes
Self evl

For eachI of the fol
carries no score.

esponses e1s outlined below. Note that 's trongly di!

tements, r



v r uyrcc,


, -- 'drsagree' 0 = 'strc






el comtortable pointlnq out potential weaknesses In the work of expert.
rn remain focused oin the
t requirerr\ents of anI activity
the word 'argument:' in critical thinking
low the different me
5. 1 can offer criticism without feeling this makes me a bad person
6. 1 know what is meant by a line of reasoning
7. 1 am aware of how my current beliefs might prejudice fair consideration of an issue
in identifyin g the line of reasorling in an argument
8. 1 ar
the sigrials used to indicate stages in ,an argumr
9. 1 arn good a t recognisirig
10. l firi d it separatc key points from otlher material
ing over tkl e facts in order to cr :ach an ac
n very pat
g unfair te chniques I
rsuade rea
n good at
e lines
n good a t
..Ir easy to evaluate the evidence ro support a point of view
14. 1 f i n ~
15. 1 usually pay attention to small dc
16. 1 find it easy to weigh up different points oi
I am not sure about somethinq,
- I will research to f~ndout mot=
In present my own ;lrguments clearly
iderstand how to st1wcture an argument
I ..,






in spot inconsistencies in an ar
n good at identifying patterns
n aware of how my own up-brlng~ng
- mlght prejudice fair consideration of an issue
low how t.o evaluateI source materials
I papers
iderstand why ambiguous Ian!page is often used I

out of 100



Interpreting your score

Going through the questionnaire may have raised some questions about what you know or don't know
about critical thinking. The lower the score, the more likely you are to need to develop your critical thinking
skills. A score over 75 suggests you are very confident about your critical thinking ability. It is worth checking
this against objective feedback such as from your tutors or colleagues. If your score is less than 100, there is
still room for improvement! If your score is under 45 and remains so after completing the book, you may
find it helpful to speak to an academic counsellor, your tutor or a supervisor to root out the difficulty.

@ Stella Cottrell (2005), Critical Tlziizkitzg Skills,

Palgrave Macrnillan Ltd

What i s critical thinking?


Priorities: Developing critical thinking abilities
In column A, identify which aspects of critical thinking you want to know more about. Give a rating
between 5 and 0, giving 5 for 'very important' and 0 for 'not important at all'.
In column B, consider how essential it is that you develop this aspect soon. Give a rating between 5 and 0,
where 5 is 'very essential' and 0 is 'not essential at all'.
Add scores in columns A and B to gain an idea of where your priorities are likely to lie.
Column D directs you where to look for more information on that point.
Aspects I


How es!

\dd scores
4 and B.

le exact
3ay better attention to small dletails
<nowwha t is meant by a line (l f

argumenit from diszigreement
t from sun

i t s from

d informal
Je able to analyse th
hether arc
naerstana wnat IS meant ~y an
ntermediate conclus
(now how to structu
3e better 2


Critical Thinking Skills

O Stella Cottrell (ZOOS), Critical Thinking Skills,
Palgrave Macm~llanLtd

low esser
know more? 1 to develo~
r now?
,ate frorr
ate from 01 to 5 Adc1 scores
I. .,..".
= 'verv
for 1- - I . ....




l connotecl meaning
aware of hO W cause,
l coinciderIce can be
?ckfor 'ne cessary an

wade reaclers



'ce materii
~ nby
t auttienticity,

ck for leve
. .. .
more effecctively to

Priorities for action
Look back over the priorities table above. Identify the three aspects to which you gave the highest scores. If
more than three have the highest score, select 3 to start with.
Write the three priorities here as actions starting with 'I will . . .', using words that are meaningful to you e.g. 'I will find out what tautology means.'
1 l will
2 l will



0 Stella Cottrell (ZOOS), Critical Tltiriking Skills,

algrave Macmiilan Ltd

What i s critical thinking?


Critical thinking is a process that relies upon, and develops, a wide range of skills and personal qualities.
Like other forms of activity, it improves with practice and with a proper sense of what is required. For
some people, this may mean changing behaviours such as paying attention to detail or taking a more
sceptical approach to what they see, hear and read. Some need to focus on developing critical thinking
techniques, and this is the main purpose of the book.
For others, weaknesses in critical thinking abilities may stem from attitudes to criticism, and anxiety about
potential consequences. Barriers associated with attitudinal and affective responses to critical approaches
were considered in this chapter. Sometimes, it is sufficient to become more aware of these barriers, and to
recognise the blocks to effective thinking, for the anxiety to subside. If you find that these difficulties
persist, it is worth speaking to a student counsellor about your concerns. They will be familiar with such
responses and may be able to help you to find a solution that fits your personal circumstances.
Developing good critical thinking skills can take patience and application. On the other hand, the rewards
lie in improved abilities in making judgements, seeing more easily through flawed reasoning, making
choices from a more informed position and improving your ability to influence others.
Having undertaken an initial personal evaluation of your critical thinking skills, you may now wish to follow
up the priorities you identified. This is a particularly useful approach if you have already worked on your
critical thinking skills. If you are new to critical thinking, you may find it useful to progress directly to
Chapter 2 in order to test, and practise, your underlying thinking skills. Alternatively, proceed now to
Chapter 3 and work through the chapters in turn.


Critical Thinking Skills

6 Stella Cottrell (ZOOS), Critical TIzinking Skills,
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Chapter 2

How well do you think?
Develop your thinking skills



This chapter offers you opportunities to:
identify foundation thinking skills which contribute to critical thinking
assess your recognition of patterns and your attention to detail
practise focusing attention

We use basic thinking skills in everyday life,
usually with little difficulty. However, many
people find it difficult to apply these same skills
automatically to new contexts, such as more
abstract problem-solving and academic study.
This is partly because, although people use these
skills in contexts familiar to them, they are not
always sufficiently aware of the underlying
strategies that they are using so as to be able to
adapt them to new circumstances. The more
used we are to applying skills easily in one
context, the more difficult it can be to identify
the underlying skills.
Critical thinking skills are based on underlying
sets of thinking skills such as:
focusing attention so as to recognise the
significance of fine details;
using attention to fine detail in order to
recognise patterns, such as similarities and
differences, absence and presence, order and

using recognition of pattern in order to
compare and contrast items and to predict
possible outcomes;
sorting and labelling items into groups, so
that they form categories;
using an understanding of categories to
identify the characteristics of new
phenomena and make judgements about
These skills are not only useful for critical
thinking in academic and professional life, but
are tested as part of the procedures for selecting
job applicants for interviews.
The next pages provide several short selfassessment activities for you to assess how good
you are already at these skills. If you find the
assessment easy, then progress to a chapter that
is more useful for you. Otherwise, use the rest of
this chapter to practise these skills further.

How well do you think?


Argument and disagreement
Argument is not the same as disagreement. You
can disagree with someone else's position
without pointing out why you disagree or
persuading them to think differently. In critical
thinking, there is a distinction between a
position, an agreement, a disagreement, and an

Key terms

Position A point of view.
Agreement To concur with some-one
else's point of view.
Disagreement To hold a different
point of view from someone else.
Argument Using reasons to support a
point of view, so that known or
unknown audiences may be persuaded to
agree. An argument may include
disagreement, but is more than simply
disagreement if it is based o n reasons.

Stop arguing!
Technically speaking,
we were only disagreeing


Critical Thinking Skills

Position: Genetic engineering really worries me. I
don't think it should be allowed. [No reasons are
given so this is simply a position.]
Agreement I: I don't know much about genetic
engineering but I agree with you.
Agreement 2: 1 know a lot about this subject and I
agree with you. [No reasons are given so these are
simply agreements.]
Disagreement: That doesn't convince me. I think
genetic engineering is really exciting. [No reasons
are given so this is simply a disagreement.]
Argument 1 : Genetic engineering should be
curtailed because there hasn't been sufficient
research into what happens when new varieties are
created without natural predators to hold them in
Argument 2: The possibilities for improving health
and longevity through genetic engineering offer
hope ro sufferers of many conditions that currently
don't have an effective cure. We should be pushing
ahead to help these people as quickly as we can.

The arguments above use reasons for the
position held, t o persuade others to the point of
view. Note that these are simple arguments: they
don't have extended lines of reasoning and they
don't present any evidence t o support their case.
Without these, the power of the argument
would have to depend o n other factors such as
tone of voice, body language, or insider
knowledge about the listener, such as that they
had a vested interest in the outcome.

O Stella Cottrell (ZOOS), Critical Tl~inkingSkills,

Palgrave Macmillan Ltd

Activity: Argument and disagreement
Identify for each whelther the author is pre!

A an argi~ment,and if so, say \~ h y ;

B a disagreement.

Bilingualism and multilingualism confer many benefits.
Speakers of more than one language have a better
understanding of how languages are structured
because they can compare across two different
systems. People who speak only one language lack
this essential point of reference. In many cases, a
second language can help people to have a better
understanding and appreciation of their first

Complementary therapies are an increasingly popular
supplement to other forms of treatment. Those who
use these therapies argue that treatments such as
reflexology, homeopathy and shiatsu complement the
care provided by the medical profession. Indeed,
some people claim that these therapies are more
effective than traditional medicines. Anecdotal cases
of miraculous cures abound and there are those who
believe such methods can compete on equal terms
with medical approaches. This just isn't convincing.

Several young people die each year training for the
construction trades. Legislation is in place to cover
health and safety at work, but some employers argue
that this is too expensive to implement and onerous
to monitor. They say that young people are not
responsible enough at work and that there is nothing
further they can do to prevent their deaths. That
cannot be a good argument.

Q Stella Cottrell (ZOOS), Critical Thinking Skills,
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People are less politically aware now than they have
been at any time in the past. For hundreds of years,
people took great personal risks to fight for causes
that would benefit other people more than
themselves. This rarely happens today. As late as the
1980s, there were frequent rallies with people in one
country demonstrating to show solidarity with people
elsewhere. Now, rallies are more likely to be for
personal gain such as better salaries or student grants
rather than for political issues of wider application.
Even low risk activities such as voting in elections
attract low turn-outs.



Sea-levels have risen and fallen for generations, as
have temperatures. Research suggests that global
warming, if it is indeed occurring, is primarily the
result of natural changes in the earth's temperature
and the effects of solar winds. It is now claimed that
industrialisation and the burning of hydro-carbons
have little effect upon climatic change. My contention
is that arguments against global warming are

I cannot agree with people who say that smacking
children does them no harm. Of course it harms
them, both physically and emotionally. Hitting
another person is assault and it would not be
tolerated against an adult. Many adults have no sense
of the cruelty of smacking precisely because they were
smacked themselves as children and erroneously
regard this as normal. They then go on to assault
other vulnerable people, perpetuating a vicious cycle.

I s it an argument?


Non-arguments: Description
Descriptions give an account of how something
is done, or what something is like. They do not
give reasoned accounts of how or why
something occurred nor do they evaluate
outcomes. In reports and academic writing,
description should be factual, accurate and free
of value judgements. Description is sometimes
confused with critical analysis as both can
investigate an issue in detail. Descriptive detail
is not intended to persuade to a point of view
but aims, rather, to give the audience a more
thorough impression of the item or issue being

The solution was placed in a test-tube and heated to
35" centigrade. Small amounts of yellow vapour were
emitted. These were odourless. Forty millilitres of
water were added to the solution, which was then
heated until it began to boil. This time, grey steam
was emitted. Water droplets gathered on the side of
the test-tube.

This describes the steps taken in an experiment.
Careful description of methodological
procedures is an important part of writing up
any kind of experimental research. No reasons
are given for what happened. That critical
analysis of the results would be in a separate
part of the report.

The painting depicts several figures gathered aiound a
cottage and in the fields. These figures are dressed in
peasant dress. All of them are located in the shadows
either of the house or of the trees. It is not possible to
make out any individual features on their faces or in
their clothing. By contrast, the figures of the
noblemen who commissioned the painting are
dressed in fine and individualised apparel. These
figures are all located in the foreground of the


Critical Thinking Skills

painting, in full sunshine, and their facial features are
clearly distinguishable.

This passage describes some salient features of a
landscape painting. The details that the author
has chosen to select suggest a point of view.
However, this is not made explicit. If a
conclusion was added, these details might
provide useful propositions t o support an
argument about the way rich and poor people
are depicted differently in art at a particular time
and place. However, the passage does not
contain a conclusion and so is a description
rather than an argument.

Usually, when people see an object that is familiar to
them, such as an elephant, a tree, a bowl, a
computer, they grasp immediately what it is. They
recognise the overall pattern that the object makes
and don't need to work out from other sensory
information such as sounds, smell and colour, what
the whole object might be. However, people with a
condition known as visual agnosia cannot see a whole
pattern in this way: they cannot recognise objects
visually. If they traced the outline of the object with
their hand, they might recognise an elephant, but
they can't see an elephant. They can see, and they
know they are seeing something, but they can't see
an elephant.

In this instance, the author is describing what
the condition of visual agnosia is like. The
passage is a report of the facts, as far as they
were known at the time of writing. The author is
not trying to persuade the audience to a point of
view. You can check this by looking through the
passage for an argument and reasons t o support
it. The word 'however', which is often associated
with a change in the direction of an argument,
is used here to indicate a change in the direction
of the description of how vision works.

O Stella Cottrell (20051, Critical Tlzinking Skills,

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Non-arguments: Explanations and summaries
on-arguments can look like arguments,
,pecially if they:



Summaries are reduced versions of longer
messages or texts. Typically, a summary repeats
the key
as a reminder of what has been
said already, drawing attention to the most
important aspects. Aconclusion may include a
summary of what has been said already. New
material is not usually introduced in a summary.

Explanations can appear to have the structure of
an argument. They may include statements and
reasons, leading to a final conclusion, and be
introduced by signal words similar to those used
for arguments. However, explanations do not
attempt to persuade the audience to a point of
view. They are used to:

In the example below, the text is a list of
instructions for making a cake. It does not
constitute an argument. The final sentence is
merely a summary of what has already been
stated. The word 'therefore', which often
indicates the conclusion of an argument, here
simply introduces the final summary.

r result in a final conclusion;
use the same signal words as an argument in
order to help the flow of the writing.

account for why or how something occurs;
draw out the meaning of a theory, argument
or other message.

It was found that many drivers become drowsy when
travelling and that long hours at the wheel were a
major cause of accidents. As a result, more stopping
places were set up along motorways to enable drivers
to take a break.

The above example explains why more stopping
places were set up along motorways.

The children ate the mushrooms because they looked
similar to those found in supermarkets and on the
dinner table. They hadn't been taught to discriminate
between safe and dangerous fungi and hadn't been
told not to eat mushrooms found in hedgerows.

The above example explains why children ate
dangerous mushrooms. If there were an
additional sentence, such as 'therefore we need
to educate children about fungi', this would
become an argument, and the explanation
would become a reason.
O Stella Cottrell (2005), Crih'crri Thinking Skills,

Palgrave Macmillan Ltd

For this cake, you need equal weights of self-raising
flour, margarine and sugar. Add one egg for
approximately each 50 grams of flour. Place all the
ingredients in a bowl and beat furiously for three
minutes. Blend the ingredients well. Pour into a
greased tin and cook in the oven at 190°C for 20
mins until it is risen, golden brown and coming away
from the sides of the tin. Different ovens may require
different timings. Leave to cool before adding
decoration such as jam and cream. Therefore, to make
the cake, simply buy the ingredients, mix well, cook at
1 90°C, leave to cool and decorate to taste.

The passage below is a summary of Passage 3.18
on p. 45.

Csikszentmihalyi argues that there is unhappiness
around because we do not focus enough on how we
want the world to be. Because of this, we act selfishly
and focus on short-term gains, ignoring the longerterm consequences for other people and the
environment. His answer is to live more in harmony
with the wider world around us.

I s it an argument?


Activity: What type of message?

' Read the passages below, and identify whether
each is an example of an argument, a summary, an
explanation or a description. How do you know?

The solar system is an inhospitable place not just for
humans but also for machines. Despite this, over 8000
satellites and spacecraft were launched into space
from more than 30 countries between 1957 and
2004. Over 350 people have hurtled through space,
not all returning to earth. Launch sites based near the
equator, such as that at Kourou in Guyana, enable
rockets to make best use of the earth's rotation.

New-born babies may lack the capacity to monitor
their own breathing and body-temperature during the
first three months of life. Babies who sleep alongside
their mothers could benefit from learning to regulate
their breathing and sleeping, following the rhythm of
the parent. These babies wake more frequently than
those who sleep alone. Moreover, mothers who sleep
next to their babies are better able to monitor their
child for movement during the night. Consequently, it
may be safer for new-born babies to sleep with their

The article outlined the difference between individual
yawns and infectious yawning. It referred particularly
to research by Professor Platek which suggests that
only humans and great apes yawn sympathetically.
The article went on to say that people who yawn
more easily in response to other people's yawns are
also more likely to be good at inferring other people's
states of mind. Finally, the article indicates some social



Critical Thinking sknlr

benefits of yawning, suggesting that contagious
yawning might have helped groups to synchronise
their behaviour.

The village was located near the outer reaches of the
city. The city was starting to encroach upon it,
swallowing it up, road by road. It would not be long
before the village disappeared altogether, to become
part of the huge conurbation forming on the Eastern
seaboard. To the west, hills enclosed the village,
trapping it between the city and the mountains
beyond. A single road led out from the city, through
the village and into the mountains.

Both of the toy mice were the same size and shape so
the dog was confused. Although one mouse was red
and one was blue, Misty was unable to tell which
mouse was his toy simply by looking. Like other dogs,
he needed to sniff them both, using his sense of smell
to tell them apart, because he couldn't discriminate
between different colours.

Shakespeare's Romeo and juliet is set in Verona in Italy.
At the beginning of the play, Romeo is pining for
another young woman, but quickly falls for Juliet at a
ball. Although their two families are hostile to each
other, Romeo and Julietenlist the services of their
friends and a friar to bring about their marriage.
Unfortunately, in a tragic turn of events, they each kill
themselves, believing the other to be already dead.

O Stella Cottrell (2005), Critical Thinking Skills,

Palgrave Macmillan Ltd

There were many reasons why the student was an
hour late for the seminar. First of all, a pan caught
fire, causing a minor disaster in his kitchen. It took
~ e n t minutes
to restore order. Then, he couldn't
find his housekeys. That wasted another ten minutes
of his time. Then, just as he closed the door behind
him, the postwoman arrived, saying there was a
parcel to be signed for. Her pen didn't work which
held them up further. Finally, of course, he had to
find his keys, which had once more slipped to the
bottom of his bag, in order to re-open the door and
place the letter on the table.

It was not until 2003 that the first Ice Age engravings
of horses, red deer and bison were discovered at
Cresswell Crags in Nottinghamshire, England.
However, the oversight occurred partly because it was
assumed that such work was not to be found in
Britain. Indeed, in the initial survey of the cave, the
experts did not notice the art that surrounded them.

B Stella Cottrell (2005), Critical Tllinking Skills,
Palgrave Macmillan Ltd

The bas relief images of horses, bisons and red deer
found in Cresswell Crags, England, bear remarkable
similarities to those found in Germany. It is unlikely
that two separate cultures would have produced
drawing of such similarity if there were not links
between them. This suggests that there were greater
cultural links between continental Europe and Britain
during the Ice Age than was formerly believed.

Recently, Ice Age specialists were excited to find
evidence of some cultural links between Ice Age
peoples across Europe. On a return visit to Cresswell
Crags in England, they found images of horses, bison,
and red deer similar to those already found in
Germany. There is much controversy about other
figures found on cave walls, which some experts
believe to be images of dancing women, whereas
others remain unconvinced.

I s it an argument?



Distinguishing argument from other material
Extraneous material
Usually, arguments are not provided separately
from other material. They may be surrounded
background information
other extraneous materials.

Satellite imaging has been used to match water
temperature swirls drawn on a map of ocean currents
made as long ago as 1539. The map was ~roduced"Y
a Swedish cartographer, Olaus Magnus. It had been
thought that the rounded swirls, located between
pictures of serpents and sea monsters, were there for
purely artistic reasons. However, the size, shape and
location of the swirls matches changes in water
temperature too closely for this to be a coincidence.
The maa is likelv to be a n accurate reoresentation of
the ocek eddicurrent found to the iouth and east of
Iceland. It is believed that the map-maker collected his
information from German mariners of the Hanseatic

Analysis of the example
The overall armment in the example above is
that an old sea map is likely to be an accurate
chart of part of the ocean.
Descri~tion The passage opens with a
description of the method used to test the map:

Satellite imaging has been used to match water
temperature swirls drawn on a map of ocean
czlrrents . . .
Background information a map of ocean
currents . . . made as long ago as 1539. The map
was produced by a Swedish cartographer; Olalis
Magnus. It had been thotight that the rozlnded
swirls, located between pictures of serpents and sea
monsters, were there for purely artistic reasons.
to s u p ~ o rthe
t conclusion Note
that the reason follows logically from the
description of the swirls and is well-placed to
refute the idea that the swirls were primarily
there for artistic reasons: the size, shape and

location of the swirls matches changes in water
temperature too closely for this to be a coincidence.
Conclusion The conclusion follows on
logically from the reason: The map is likely to be

an accurate representation o f the ocean eclcIy current
fozrnd to the ~ 0 ~ 1and
t h east ofIceland.
Ex~lanatorvdetail The passage finishes with
information that helps to explain how the mapmaker gained information to make the map: It is

believed that the map-maker collected his
information from Gennan mariners of the Hanseatic

Developing the skill
When you can identify different kinds of
material, you will find that you can categorise
parts of the text quickly as you read. You may
be able to scan a text and pick out the
argument. If not, it can be useful to keep a
pencil or a highlighter near you when you read
your own books. Use these to underline or mark
the conclusion and the reasons. Extract these
and note them down in your own words.


Critical Thinking Skills

O Stella Cottrell (2005), Critical Thinking Skills,

Palgrave Macmlllan Ltd

Activity: Selecting out the argument (1)


- ...
Keaa IJassage4. I ana laentry:

I s there anyone out there?

(1) the (:onclusion
t o support ithis
(2) reasc~ n given
.-. .
. , ..
(3) tne autnors conslaeratlon of
)sing argurnents

and other types of rnessage such



(4) the introductiori
(5) description
(6) expl,anation
(7) sum1marY
(8) back.ground inf ormation. 2.~ n d
nf her extraneous materlal
;is of the p,assage is g~
_ ..:__
W I ~ Ipd
~ gee
on rne I UII#I U


O Stella Cottrell (ZOOS),Critical Thinking Skills,

Palgrave Macmillan Ltd

In some countries, the idea that there is life on other planets
would make people laugh or sneer. In others, the inhabitants
not only believe in life elsewhere in the universe but make efforts
to communicate with it. There are certainly doubters and
believers on this issue. One traditional argument for the
existence of extraterrestrial life, known as the plenitude theory,
is that there are so many star systems in the universe that it is
unlikely that only earth would bear intelligent life. Indeed, it
could be considered the folly of human arrogance to think that
we are the only intelligent life in all of space. Not so, argue
those who subscribe to contingency theory. Their argument,
and i t is a compelling one, is that life i s a happy accident, a
serendipity. They claim that the processes which led to the
evolution of life are so complicated that it is extraordinary they
occurred even once. They consider it extremely unlikely that the
same set of processes could ever occur again. Thus, we have
very divergent theories on whether there i s life out there or not.
It is unlikely that there is extraterrestrial life. For over 100 years,
radio waves have been used to track space for signs of life and
so far have uncovered nothing. If there was intelligent life out
there, it is probable that we would have identified some sign of
it by now. The most convincing current argument for
extraterrestrial life comes from convergence theory. Convergence
theory refers to situations when two different species are faced
with a problem and independently arrive at the same solution.
For example, both bats and birds evolved wings in order to fly.
Similarly, octopus and squid have camera-like eyes. The species
evolved separately, arriving at these adaptations independently.
This suggests that although there may be infinite possibilities in
the universe, nature tends to repeat itself. Morris (2004) has
argued that where nature has produced something once, it is
likely to produce it again. However, Morris himself recognises
that even the basic conditions for life may be rare in the
universe. Nature may be willing but the conditions might not be
right. It is probable that the exacting conditions required for life
are unlikely to be found more than once. It is unlikely that other
planets will be exactly the right distance from their sun, with the
right gravity, the right combination of chemicals and physics,
with water and atmosphere. Although convergence theory
indicates that nature tends to reproduce the same outcomes,
and plenitude theory argues that the multiplicity of star systems
increases the likelihood of extraterrestrial life, the arguments are
not convincing. The conditions for life itself are so fragile and
complex that it is remarkable that life occurred even once, much
less that it could be repeated elsewhere.

I s it an argument?


Activity: Selecting out the argument (2)
theories such as convergence and plenitude
theories. These are refuted in lines 35-40
and the refutation is harnessed as a reason
to support the conclusion.
(4) Introduction Lines 1-5.

ur shields are up,
The earthlings won't be
\ able to detect our research
\_mission this time either.

other intelligent life.

Analysis of Passage 4.17
anyone out there?

Is there

The numbers in brackets refer to the tasks set in
the activity box on page 59.
(1) Conclusion It is unlikely that there is
extraterrestrial life (line 18). The final
sentence summarises the argument that
supports this conclusion.
(2) Reason 1 For over 100 years, radio waves
have been used to track space for signs of
life and so far have uncovered nothing (lines
(2) Reason 2 This uses the refuted argument
referred to in (3) below, that it is probable
that the exacting conditions required for life
(chemicals and physics, water and
atmosphere) are unlikely to be found again
(lines 3540).
(3) Author's consideration of opposing
theories The author considers alternative


(5) Description Lines (11-16) describe
contingency theory. They list the key points
of the theory. Although the author does
describe this argument as 'compelling', no
reasons are given to show why it is
compelling, so this is description, not
argument or explanation. In this case, the
description is also likely to be a summary of
longer accounts of the theory.
(6) Explanation Lines 23-33 explain
convergence theory. Unlike lines 11-16,
these lines do more than simply list or
describe what the theory says. Instead, they
give examples to help clarify what is meant
by the theory and draw out general
principles from those examples: 'this
suggests that . . .' (line 29). They also bring
out what is significant about the theory:
'This suggests that although there may be
infinite possibilities in the universe, nature
tends to repeat itself.'
(7) Summary of the material so far: lines
16-17. 'Thus, we have very divergent
theories on whether there is life out there or

(8) Background information Lines 5-8
'One traditional argument. . . bear
intelligent life', present background
information to set the scene. The argument
isn't introduced until line 18. Further
background information is presented in
lines 10 to 16: 'Not so, argue those who
subscribe to contingency theory. . .
processes could ever occur again.'


Critical Thinking Skills

0 Stella Cottrell (ZOOS),Critical Tlzinking Skills,
Palgrave Macmillan Ltd


This chapter has looked at ways of distinguishing argument from other types of message that might be
confused with arguments, either because of the interpretation of the word 'argument' in everyday
language, or because a message bears the appearance of an argument.
Critical thinking is sometimes confused with disagreement. However, in critical thinking, an argument is a
way of presenting a set of reasons to support a conclusion and to persuade others to a point of view. This
may involve an element of disagreement, but does not necessarily do so. Conversely, in critical thinking, a
disagreement that does not involve reasoning is not an argument.
Descriptions give an account of how something is done, or what something is like. They can be detailed,
and so are sometimes confused with critical reasoning, which can include detailed analysis. Descriptions do
not give reasoned accounts of how or why something occurred nor evaluate outcomes. In reports and
academic writing, description should be factual, accurate and free of value judgements. Brief and succinct
descriptions can play an important role in introducing a subject, before beginning an evaluation of it.
Explanations and summaries can appear to have the structure of an argument as they may include reasons,
conclusions and signal words similar to those used for arguments. However, explanations do not attempt
to persuade the audience to a point of view. They are used to account for 'why' or 'how', or to draw out
the meaning, rather than to argue 'for' or 'against'. Summaries may be a shorter version of an argument,
but their function is to reduce the length of the message.
Being able to identify both what is an argument and what is not, can speed your reading as you can
search out the key points in a text more quickly. It can also help comprehension, as you are more likely to
identify the salient points for your purpose. These skills will be looked at in more detail in chapters 9
(reading) and 10 (writing).

nformation about the sources
he nature o f happiness: Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1992) Flow: The Psychology of Happiness (London:
Random House).
Social class in eighteenth-century painting: Barrell, J. (1980) The Dark Side of the Landscape: The
Rural Poor in English Painting, 1730-1840 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press); Arnheim, R.
(1954, 1974) AIZ and Visual Perceptiort: The Psychology of the Creative Eye (Berkeley: University of
California Press).
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome: Trevathan, W., McKenna, J. and Smith, E. 0. (1999) Evolutionary
Medicine (Oxford: Oxford University Press).
Contagious yawning: Platek, S. e t al. (2003) 'Contagious Yawning: the Role of Self-awareness and
Mental State Attribution', Cognitive Brain Research, 17(2): 223-7; Farrar, S. (2004a) 'It i s Very
Evolved of U s to Ape a Yawn', Times Higher Edzlcational Supplement, 12 March 2004, p. 13.
Cresswell Crags cave art: Farrar, S. (2004b) 'It's Brit Art, but Not as We IZnow It1,Times Higher
Educational Supplement, 16 July 2004.
Research o n Olaus Magnus's sea charts: Farrar, S. (2004~)'Old Sea Chart i s So Current', Times
Higher Ed~icationalSupplement, 16 July 2004.
Irzevitcable humans in a Lonely
Theories about extra-terrestrial life: Morris, S. (2004) ~ i f e ' Solzition:
Universe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press); Mark Page1 (2004) 'No Banana-eating Snakes or
Flying Donkeys are to be Found Here1, Times Higher Edzicational Szrpplemeizt, 16 July 2004.

0 Stella Cottrell (ZOOS), Critical Thiizkiilg Skills,
Palgrave Macmlllan Ltd


it an argument?


Answers to activities in Chapter 4
Argument or disagreement (p. 53)

What type of message? (p. 56)


Passage 4.1

Passage 4.7

A Argument. The overall argument is:

Description of key aspects of space launches.


Passage 4.8


Bilingualism and multilingualism confer many
benefits. The reasons given are: (1) that speakers
of more than one language have a better
understanding of how languages are structured;
(2) a second language can help to understand a
first language.

Passage 4.2
B The final line expresses disagreement with
the idea that complementary therapies are the
equivalent of medical treatments. No reasons for
this are given so this is not an argument.

Passage 4.3
B The final line expresses disagreement with
the idea that employers cannot do more to help
save lives in the workplace. No reasons for this
are given so this is not an argument.



Argument that babies may benefit from
sleeping with their mothers.



Passage 4.9


Summary, by Farrar (2004a) of an article by
Platek et al. See Bibliography.


Passage 4.1 0
Description of the location of a village.

Passage 4.1 1
Explanation The text expIains why the dog
needed to use smell rather than shape or colour
to identify his toy mouse.

Passage 4.4
A This is an argument. The conclusion is in
the first line: People are less politically aware now
than they have been a t any time i n the past. The
reasons given are: (1) people used to fight for
causes from which they didn't gain personally;
(2) people took more risks for political issues;
( 3 ) rallies had a more international perspective;
(4) fewer people vote now in elections.

Passage 4.5
B The final line expresses disagreement with
arguments against global warming. No reasons
for this are given so this is not an argument.

Passage 4.6
Argument. The conclusion is in the second
line: Of course it harms them, both physically and
emotionally, referring back to the issue in the
first line about smacking. The reasons given to
persuade us are (1) that it is assault; (2) assaults
on adults are not accepted; (3) smacking
perpetuates a cycle of violence.


Critical Thinking Skills

Passage 4.12
Summary of the plot of a Shakespeare play.

Passage 4.13
Explanation of why the student was late.

Passage 4.14


Explanation of why the cave drawings were
identified so recently.


Passage 4.15
Argument that there were greater cultural links
between continental Europe and Britain during
the Ice Age than was formerly believed.

Passage 4.1 6
Description of specialists' responses to the
cave drawings.

O Stella Cottrell (2005), Critical Thinking Skills,

Palgrave Macmillan Ltd