On a daily basis, we face problems and situations that should be evaluated and solved, and we are challenged to understand different perspectives to think about these situations. Most of us are building our cognitive thinking based on previous similar situations or experiences. However, this may not guarantee a better solution for a problem, as our decision may be affected by emotions, non-prioritized facts, or other external influences that reflect on the final decision. Therefore, critical thinking tends to build a rational, open-mined process that depends on information and empirical evidence.
The National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking defines critical thinking as an “intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action.” The process tends to help us judge and evaluate situations based on understanding the related data, analyze it, build a clear understanding of the problem, choose the proper solution, and take actions based on the established solution.
The critical thinking process prevents our minds from jumping directly to conclusions. Instead, it guides the mind through logical steps that tend to widen the range of perspectives, accept findings, put aside personal biases, and consider reasonable possibilities. This can be achieved through six steps: knowledge, comprehension, application, analyze, synthesis, and take action. Below is a brief description of each step and how to implement them.
Step 1: Knowledge
For every problem, clear vision puts us on the right path to solve it. This step identifies the argument or the problem that needs to be solved. Questions should be asked to acquire a deep understanding about the problem. In some cases, there is no actual problem, thus no need to move forward with other steps in the critical thinking model. The questions in this stage should be open-ended to allow the chance to discuss and explore main reasons. At this stage, two main questions need to be addressed: What is the problem? And why do we need to solve it?
Step 2: Comprehension
Once the problem is identified, the next step is to understand the situation and the facts aligned with it. The data is collected about the problem using any of the research methods that can be adopted depending on the problem, the type of the data available, and the deadline required to solve it.
Step 3: Application
This step continues the previous one to complete the understanding of different facts and resources required to solve the problem by building a linkage between the information and resources. Mind maps can be used to analyze the situation, build a relation between it and the core problem, and determine the best way to move forward.
Step 4: Analyze
Once the information is collected and linkages are built between it the main problems, the situation is analyzed in order to identify the situation, the strong points, the weak points, and the challenges faced while solving the problem. The priorities are set for the main causes and determine how they can be addressed in the solution. One of the commonly used tools that can be deployed to analyze the problem and the circumstances around it is the cause effect diagram, which divides the problem from its causes and aims to identify the different causes and categorize them based on their type and impact on the problem.
Step 5: Synthesis
In this stage, once the problem is fully analyzed and all the related information is considered, a decision should be formed about how to solve the problem and the initial routes to follow to take this decision into action. If there are number of solutions, they should be evaluated and prioritized in order to find the most advantageous solution. One of the tools that contribute choosing the problem solution is the SWOT analysis that tends to identify the solution’s strength, weakness, opportunity, and threats.
Step 6: Take Action
The final step is to build an evaluation about the problem that can be put into action. The result of critical thinking should be transferred into action steps. If the decision involves a specific project or team, a plan of action could be implemented to ensure that the solution is adopted and executed as planned.
The critical thinking method can be adopted to replace emotions and perusal biases when trying to think about a situation or a problem. The time for adopting critical thinking varies based on the problem; it may take few minutes to number of days. The advantage of deploying critical thinking is that it contributes to widening our perspectives about situations and broadening our thinking possibilities. However, these steps should be translated into a plan of action that ensures that the decided resolution is well achieved and integrated between all the involved bodies.
understandable, the meaning can be grasped
free from errors or distortions, true
exact to the necessary level of detail
relating to the matter at hand
containing complexities and multiple interrelationships
encompassing multiple viewpoints
the parts make sense together, no contradictions
focusing on the important, not trivial
Justifiable, not self-serving or one-sided
There are numerous other standards that may be applied to elements on a contextual basis. Here are just a few:
Completeness, Validity, Rationality, Sufficiency, Necessity, Feasabilty, Consistency, Authenticity, Effectiveness, Efficiency
Can you identify others standards relevant to your situation?
Everyone thinks; it is our nature to do so. But much of our thinking, left to itself, is biased, distorted, partial, uninformed, or downright prejudiced. If we want to think well, we must understand at least the rudiments of thought, the most basic structures out of which all thinking is made. We must learn how to take thinking apart.
All Thinking Is Defined by the Eight Elements That Make It Up. Eight basic structures are present in all thinking: Whenever we think, we think for a purpose within a point of view based on assumptions leading to implications and consequences. We use concepts, ideas and theories to interpret data, facts, and experiences in order to answer questions, solve problems, and resolve issues.Thinking, then:
- generates purposes
- raises questions
- uses information
- utilizes concepts
- makes inferences
- makes assumptions
- generates implications
- embodies a point of view
Element: Purpose All reasoning has a PURPOSE.
Element: Question All reasoning is an attempt to figure something out, to settle some QUESTION, to solve some problem.
Element: Information All reasoning is based on DATA, INFORMATION and EVIDENCE.
Element: Interpretation and Inference All reasoning contains INFERENCES or INTERPRETATIONS by which we draw CONCLUSIONS and give meaning to data.
Element: Concepts All reasoning is expressed through, and shaped by, CONCEPTS and IDEAS.
All reasoning is based on ASSUMPTIONS.
Element: Implications All reasoning leads somewhere or has IMPLICATIONS and CONSEQUENCES.
Element: Point Of View All reasoning is done from some POINT OF VIEW.
Think About... PurposeYour purpose is your goal, your objective,
what you are trying to accomplish. We also use the term to include functions, motives, and intentions.
You should be clear about your purpose, and your purpose should be justifiable.
Questions which target purpose
State the QuestionThe question lays out the problem or issue and
guides our thinking. When the question is vague, our thinking will lack clarity and distinctness.
The question should be clear and precise enough to productively guide our thinking.
Questions which target the question
Gather... InformationInformation includes the facts, data, evidence, or experiences we use to figure things out. It does not necessarily imply accuracy or correctness.
The information you use should be accurate and relevant to the question or issue you are addressing.
Questions which target information
Watch Your... InferencesInferences are interpretations or conclusions you come to. Inferring is what the mind does in figuring something out.
Inferences should logically follow from the evidence. Infer no more or less than what is implied in the situation.
Questions to check your inferences
Clarify Your... ConceptsConcepts are ideas, theories, laws, principles, or hypotheses we use in thinking to make sense of things.
Be clear about the concepts you are using and use them justifiably.
Questions you can ask about concepts
Check Your... Assumptions
Assumptions are beliefs you take for granted. They usually operate at the subconscious or unconscious level of thought.
Make sure that you are clear about your assumptions and they are justified by sound evidence.
Questions you can ask about assumptions
Think Through the...
Implications and Consequences
Implications are inherent in your thoughts, whether you see them or not. The best thinkers think through the logical implications in a situation before acting.
Questions you can ask about implications
Point of View
view something. It includes what you are looking at and the way you are seeing it.
Make sure you understand the limitations of your point of view and that you fully consider other relevant viewpoints.
Questions to check your point of view