Whatever you’re studying, it’s likely that you’ll be asked to use critical thinking. This term covers a range of things across different subjects; but, in essence, it means a willingness to ask questions. "Why has this experiment turned out the way it has?" "How might the design of this product be improved?" "What influenced this author's opinion?"
When you think critically:
Thinking critically is the pumping heart of academic work, keeping the whole business alive; if we aren’t prepared to think critically about the world around us, who will? Like many core skills, thinking critically in an academic environment will build on our existing capabilities but it should also stretch them. Just like physical exercise, there’s an element of necessary discomfort in this. However, the outcome will ultimately be positive, and you should leave university with a wider range of tools for thinking - and acting - critically.
You might experience this in your academic feedback, but remain unsure as to how to make the change from description to critical analysis. Some description is necessary to set the scene in each paragraph, but you need to make sure that you aren’t just telling the story of other people’s findings and theories. Things that you could could express in your writing include: Is their research credible? How could it be improved? Have other people made opposing claims? How does it relate to the other evidence in your argument?
Here are some examples illustrating the differences between descriptive and critical analytical writing:
Adapted from: Cottrell, S., (2008) The Study Skills Handbook, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, p286.
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Academic Phrasebank Being Critical, Manchester University