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GuidesResearch methodsWhat is critical thinking?

What is critical thinking?

Last updated

21 August 2023

Author

Dovetail Editorial Team

Reviewed by

Jean Kaluza

Critical thinking involves analyzing all data before making a judgment, and it considers known and subconscious biases. It requires credible sources, evaluating the argument, assessing any alternate views, and testing the hypothesis.

Let’s look at everything you need to know about critical thinking. 

Why is critical thinking important?

Critical thinking hinges on being rational and objective, which is useful in various disciplines and settings. It’s the keystone of science, humanities, and anyone wanting to have information literacy and engage independently without media and popular bias.

5 characteristics of critical thinking

Critical thinking has five main characteristics that affect any decision-making process:

Dispositions

Critical thinkers have certain traits and dispositions, so they can think through all parts of a problem. Some of these traits include:

  • Open-mindedness

  • Respecting evidence and data

  • Valuing fair-mindedness

  • Skepticism

  • Using clarity

  • Precision

  • Cognitive flexibility

Argument

The ability to make sound arguments is part of critical thinking, and they involve supporting evidence. You’ll consider several arguments for and against before coming to your reasoning.

Reasoning

You will need to use reasoning to create a conclusion from the facts and data in your research. Once you’ve gone through various arguments, you can determine your standpoint. 

Criteria

You need to meet some conditions for something to be factual. Critical thinking means you can discern fact from fiction.

Metacognition

When you think about your thoughts, analyze them, and see other avenues of thinking, that is metacognition. Being able to do this means you can reach better hypotheses and more definite conclusions.

6 key critical thinking skills

Six thinking skills help a critical thinker create a thorough conclusion:

Identifying bias

Identifying your bias is a major factor in critical thinking. This internal bias can alter how you see evidence and read project data. It’s good to uncover bias when working with people, as it can create workplace inequalities and group discord.

Inference

Inference is the ability to come up with a logical conclusion from the available data and information. 

Research

You must research the facts and information to generate your conclusion. Some projects or situations require much more research than others. 

Identification

The ability to identify problems and what is affecting that problem is called identification. The skill helps you know when to analyze a situation after seeing broken patterns or other issues.

Curiosity

Intellectual curiosity means you can question what’s happening around you and explore different measures of changing or affecting it. Beginning with an open mind full of wonder can help you see things others may not. It can also help you ‘think outside the box.’

Judging relevance

A wealth of research can be part of a data set, but not all information is relevant. A key part of critical thinking is seeing what is and isn’t important. 

Relevance helps you stay focused and not wander to parts of a project or data set that aren't essential to your conclusion. 

An example of critical thinking skills

Let’s imagine you’re reading about a new drug: One article shows thrilling results. 

Thinking critically, you compare the study cited in the article with other results. You discover that it’s an outlier—most other research has shown it’s ineffective in treating the condition. 

You take another look at the first journal article and see the drug company paid for it. With the outlier results, bias, and conflict of interest, you reject the study’s conclusion. 

9 actionable tips to improve critical thinking skills

Want to improve your critical thinking ability? Here are a few ways to boost that process: 

Play logic games

Spend time playing logic puzzles or other games that make you think critically.

Question your assumptions

When you notice you've made an assumption, question it and think about where that belief stems from.

Ask more questions

Increase the number of questions that you ask on a day-to-day basis. Preferably, use open questions instead of closed yes/no questions.

Practice active listening

Most people don’t truly listen to what others say. Developing active listening skills means you’ll pick up on a lot more in conversation. 

Go beyond the echo chamber

Diversify your thoughts and think outside your comfort zone. That may mean consuming media from a different source or having a discussion with someone with opposing views. 

Consider your actions

Before acting, think about the consequences of your actions and develop more than one way to respond. After considering your options, form a more logical and less emotional response.

This also applies when you have a problem. Try to think of multiple solutions and analyze how you came up with them.

Look for a mentor

Find a mentor that can tutor you through thought processes and think more about ways to understand your information. Alternatively, find a critical thinking coach or take a course.

Embrace individualism

Forge your own thinking path: Don’t just follow the crowd. One way of fending off herd mentality is being aware of your thoughts and questioning what others are following.

Stay on top of problems

Develop the skills to identify problems in your home and work environment faster. Be more mindful of what is going on around you.

FAQs

How do you identify a critical thinker?

People who can stay objective during a situation and follow the facts are critical thinkers. Separating emotion when making a decision or judgment is another core aspect.

Identifying these skills in advance is a great way to be a more competent manager and create a better work environment.

What are the types of thinkers?

There are five types of thinkers: Realists, analysts, synthesists, idealists, and pragmatists.

  • Realists go headstrong into problems without issue.

  • Analysts need procedure to look at all the data first. 

  • Synthesists consider possibilities creatively for their problems. 

  • Idealists set a high bar and work toward goals for the issue. 

  • Pragmatists want fast and long-term results while working through the problem logically.

What part of the brain is responsible for critical thinking?

The prefrontal cortex (PFC) is responsible for behavior, thinking, and emotional response. As the most evolved part of the brain, it’s the primary region for critical thinking.

What are the 4 Cs of 21st-century skills?

The four Cs are communication, critical thinking, creativity, and collaboration.

  • Communication ensures you consider everyone's thoughts and draw other conclusions. 

  • Critical thinking means you can logically create an unbiased response. 

  • Creativity finds new ways to respond to information. 

  • Collaboration helps mindsets work together to create a unified front for the conclusion.

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