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CamGuides: Becoming a Graduate Student

Thinking critically

Critical thinking is a core skill required for academic endeavour in any subject and at any level. It is one of the principal features of good academic work. It is the process by which we ask questions of a text, author or topic under discussion. It is not only a matter of understanding an argument, being able to pick holes in it or identify logical fallacies, but instead involves:

  • seeking all sides of an argument
  • testing the accuracy and soundness of any claims made
  • assessing the accuracy and soundness of any evidence used to make those claims
  • looking for, and assessing, assumptions made in a text

Academic enquiry is dynamic in nature, and it is rare that there will be a clear cut 'critical' response to a text. It is also vital that the same critical approach is applied to your own work, as well as that of others.


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While some of the core features of critical thinking can be applied to all academic texts, it is often contextualised by a subject. For example, what counts as evidence in one subject may not be adequate for another; our expectations of a solid methodological approach will differ between disciplines.

So spend a moment considering your subject, either broadly at discipline level, or more narrowly about the area of the subject you're most interested in. Consider what might represent the key features of good academic enquiry in your discipline. 

  • What does the methodology look like?
  • What kind of evidence is required?
  • How far does originality matter?
  • What kind of language might I expect?
  • How far should the views of others be recognised and accounted for?
  • How much should texts owe to the context in which they are written?
  • What assumptions should always be recognised and addressed?

A model for critical thinking

This is an example of the kind of critical thinking process you might go through when you're reading or when you're encountering ideas in lectures or seminars. The model was adapted from LearnHigher materials.