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8 Steps Critical Thinking Process

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.

To Analyze Thinking We Must Identify and Question its Elemental Structures

Standard: Clarity
understandable, the meaning can be grasped

  • Could you elaborate further?
  • Could you give me an example?
  • Could you illustrate what you mean?
  • Standard: Accuracy
    free from errors or distortions, true

  • How could we check on that?
  • How could we find out if that is true?
  • How could we verify or test that?
  • Standard: Precision
    exact to the necessary level of detail

  • Could you be more specific?
  • Could you give me more details?
  • Could you be more exact?
  • Standard: Relevance
    relating to the matter at hand

  • How does that relate to the problem?
  • How does that bear on the question?
  • How does that help us with the issue?
  • Standard: Depth
    containing complexities and multiple interrelationships

  • What factors make this a difficult problem?
  • What are some of the complexities of this question?
  • What are some of the difficulties we need to deal with?
  • Standard: Breadth
    encompassing multiple viewpoints

  • Do we need to look at this from another perspective?
  • Do we need to consider another point of view?
  • Do we need to look at this in other ways?
  • Standard: Logic
    the parts make sense together, no contradictions

  • Does all this make sense together?
  • Does your first paragraph fit in with your last?
  • Does what you say follow from the evidence?
  • Standard: Significance
    focusing on the important, not trivial

  • Is this the most important problem to consider?
  • Is this the central idea to focus on?
  • Which of these facts are most important?
  • Standard: Fairness
    Justifiable, not self-serving or one-sided

  • Do I have any vested interest in this issue?
  • Am I sympathetically representing the viewpoints of others?
  • More Standards:
    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?

    RESET
     VIEW

    Why the Analysis of Thinking is Important

    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
    Simply "Mouse Over" any object on the page to learn more about it.

    Element: Purpose    All reasoning has a PURPOSE.

  • Take time to state your purpose clearly.
  • Distinguish your purpose from related purposes.
  • Check periodically to be sure you are still on target.
  • Choose significant and realistic purposes.
  • Element: Question    All reasoning is an attempt to figure something out, to settle some QUESTION, to solve some problem.

  • State the question at issue clearly and precisely.
  • Express the question in several ways to clarify its meaning.
  • Break the question into sub-questions.
  • Distinguish questions that have definitive answers from those that are a matter of opinion or that require multiple viewpoints.
  • Element: Information    All reasoning is based on DATA, INFORMATION and EVIDENCE.

  • Restrict your claims to those supported by the data you have.
  • Search for information that opposes your position as well as information that supports it.
  • Make sure that all information used is clear, accurate and relevant.
  • Make sure you have gathered sufficient information.
  • Element: Interpretation and Inference    All reasoning contains INFERENCES or INTERPRETATIONS by which we draw CONCLUSIONS and give meaning to data.

  • Infer only what the evidence implies.
  • Check inferences for their consistency with each other.
  • Identify assumptions underlying your inferences.
  • Element: Concepts    All reasoning is expressed through, and shaped by, CONCEPTS and IDEAS.

  • Identify key concepts and explain them clearly.
  • Consider alternative concepts or alternative definitions of concepts.
  • Make sure you are using concepts with precision.
  • Element: Assumptions
    All reasoning is based on ASSUMPTIONS.

  • Clearly identify your assumptions and determine whether they are justifiable.
  • Consider how your assumptions are shaping your point of view.
  • Element: Implications    All reasoning leads somewhere or has IMPLICATIONS and CONSEQUENCES.

  • Trace the implications and consequences that follow from your reasoning.
  • Search for negative as well as positive implications.
  • Consider all possible consequences.
  • Element: Point Of View    All reasoning is done from some POINT OF VIEW.

  • Identify your point of view.
  • Seek other points of view and identify their strengths as well as weaknesses.
  • Strive to be fairminded in evaluating all points of view.
  • Key Concept:

    Think About... Purpose

    Your 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
  • What is your, my, their purpose in doing________?
  • What is the objective of this assignment (task, job, experiment, policy, strategy, etc.)?
  • Should we question, refine, modify our purpose (goal, objective, etc.)?
  • What is the purpose of this meeting (chapter, relationship, action)?
  • What is your central aim in this line of thought?
  • What is the purpose of education?
  • Why did you say…?
  • State the Question

    The 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
  • What is the question I am trying to answer?
  • What important questions are embedded in the issue?
  • Is there a better way to put the question?
  • Is this question clear? Is it complex?
  • I am not sure exactly what question you are asking. Could you explain it?
  • The question in my mind is this: How do you see the question?
  • What kind of question is this? Historical? Scientific? Ethical? Political? Economic? Or…?
  • What would we have to do to settle this question?
  • Gather... Information

    Information 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
  • What information do I need to answer this question?
  • What data are relevant to this problem?
  • Do we need to gather more information?
  • Is this information relevant to our purpose or goal?
  • On what information are you basing that comment?
  • What experience convinced you of this? Could your experience be distorted?
  • How do we know this information (data, testimony) is accurate?
  • Have we left out any important information that we need to consider?
  • Watch Your... Inferences

    Inferences 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
  • What conclusions am I coming to?
  • Is my inference logical?
  • Are there other conclusions I should consider?
  • Does this interpretation make sense?
  • Does our solution necessarily follow from our data?
  • How did you reach that conclusion?
  • What are you basing your reasoning on?
  • Is there an alternative plausible conclusion?
  • Given all the facts what is the best possible conclusion?
  • How shall we interpret these data?
  • Clarify Your... Concepts

    Concepts 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
  • What idea am I using in my thinking? Is this idea causing problems for me or for others?
  • I think this is a good theory, but could you explain it more fully?
  • What is the main hypothesis you are using in your reasoning?
  • Are you using this term in keeping with established usage?
  • What main distinctions should we draw in reasoning through this problem?
  • What idea is this author using in his or her thinking? Is there a problem with it?
  • 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
  • What am I assuming or taking for granted?
  • Am I assuming something I shouldn’t?
  • What assumption is leading me to this conclusion?
  • What is… (this policy, strategy, explanation) assuming?
  • What exactly do sociologists (historians, mathematicians, etc.) take for granted?
  • What is being presupposed in this theory?
  • What are some important assumptions I make about my roommate, my friends, my parents, my instructors, my country?
  • Think Through the...
    Implications and Consequences

    Implications are claims or truths that logically follow from other claims or truths. Implications follow from thoughts. Consequences follow from actions.
    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
  • If I decide to do “X”, what things might happen?
  • If I decide not to do “X”, what things might happen?
  • What are you implying when you say that?
  • What is likely to happen if we do this versus that?
  • Are you implying that…?
  • How significant are the implications of this decision?
  • What, if anything, is implied by the fact that a much higher percentage of poor people are in jail than wealthy people?
  • Understand Your...
    Point of View

    Point of view is literally “the place” from which you
    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
  • How am I looking at this situation? Is there another way to look at it that I should consider?
  • What exactly am I focused on? And how am I seeing it?
  • Is my view the only reasonable view? What does my point of view ignore?
  • Have you ever considered the way ____(Japanese, Muslims, South Americans, etc.) view this?
  • Which of these possible viewpoints makes the most sense given the situation?
  • Am I having difficulty looking at this situation from a viewpoint with which I disagree?
  • What is the point of view of the author of this story?
  • Do I study viewpoints that challenge my personal beliefs?
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