What is Critical Thinking?

The head of your organization pulled you aside and asked you to review a workplace dispute.  She said, “Apply your best critical thinking to figure out what happened and what decision can best remedy this situation.”  She wants your analysis in two weeks.

To begin, let’s consider what it means to engage in critical thinking. While the application of critical thinking may vary across disciplines, the steps are universal.  Adapted from the writings of Bassham, Irwin, Nardone, and Wallace (2011); Lau (2011); and Lau and Chan (2015), critical thinking involves thinking clearly and systematically, and encompasses

  • Formulating ideas succinctly and precisely
  • Identifying the relevance and importance of ideas
  • Understanding the logical connections between ideas
  • Identifying, constructing and evaluating arguments, claims, and evidence
  • Recognizing explicit and implicit assumptions, arguments, and biases
  • Detecting inconsistencies and common mistakes in reasoning
  • Formulating clear defensible ideas and conclusions
  • Evaluating the pros and cons of decisions
  • Reflecting on one’s own beliefs and values
  • Applying ethical decision making

The steps involved in critical thinking can be employed universally, in the analysis of all thoughts and actions —whether you are analyzing documents, ideas, assertions, or the quality of decisions/solutions.

Most importantly, critical thinking is purposeful.  It is not restricted solely to information gathering, nor is it about being “negative and fault-finding” (Bassham et. al., 2011 p. 1).  As Lau and Chan write, “A critical thinker is able to deduce consequences from what he knows, and he knows how to make use of information to solve problems, and to seek relevant sources of information to inform himself” (2015, para 1).  While the process of critical thinking may involve exposing untruths and poor reasoning, it also involves engaging in cooperative reasoning for the purposes of shared goals and decision making.  We engage in the steps of critical thinking to learn deeply, to improve our ideas, to strengthen arguments and to “enhance work processes and improve social institutions” (Lau and Chan, 2015 para 2).

Critical thinking aligns with and informs ethical reasoning and decision-making.  Internet marketing expert Nick Melillo (2010) writes

Critical thinking plays a large role in ethics because it is the process by which we determine for ourselves whether or not something is right or wrong.  In a sense, critical thinking is a form of analysis and determination of fact vs. fiction, identifying the unknown, coming to an understanding, etc…  By taking the path of a critical thinker, a person develops a mental process of evaluation which helps to determine their ethical standards. (p. 1)

The process of critical thinking helps us weigh and verify information, assess intent, and consider consequences, thereby enabling more effective ethical decision-making.

Hereford (2015) suggests critical thinking requires a particular mindset that includes being able to

  • Rely on reason instead of emotions
  • Assess a broad range of perspectives and viewpoints
  • Consider new evidence, explanations, findings, and alternative interpretations
  • Reassess information
  • Suspend personal prejudices and biases
  • Contemplate all reasonable possibilities
  • Avoid quick judgments

In this assignment, you’ll take some time to adopt a framework for critical thinking. Then you’ll put the steps of critical thinking into practice by responding to the company-head’s request for a critical analysis of the ongoing dispute.

The Assignment

Step 1:  Review the Critical Thinking Rubric, expanded (3).pdf.  This rubric is intended to serve as a framework for critical thinking.  Use it to structure your thinking for this assignment and for others in your studies at UMUC.

The framework (as delineated in the rubric) is based on FOUR key steps, each of which has several sub-steps.

  1.     Identify and clearly explain the main issue or problem under critical consideration.
  2.     Gather and analyze information to explore/investigate the issue or problem.
  3.     Consider and analyze other possible viewpoints, conclusions or decision/solutions to the issue or problem
  4.     Develop well-reasoned ideas, conclusions and/or decisions/solutions, checking them against relevant criteria and benchmarks

Step 2:  Read the Case Study- Accident on the Job.pdf, and analyze it using the framework provided by the TGS Critical Thinking Rubric.  Use the rubric’s four key steps as the format framework of a short position paper (details in the “Deliverables” section below).  Employ the sub-steps within each of the four key steps to further direct your analysis.

Assignment Deliverables

Write a short paper (1,000-1,200 words, double spaced, plus a cover page and references) that critically analyses the ideas or position presented in the case reading. The major sections of your paper should include the following:

  1.     Introduction
  2.     Explanation of the Issue or Problem
  3.     Analysis of the Information
  4.     Analysis of Alternative Viewpoints, Conclusions or Solutions
  5.     Personal or Summarized Conclusions and Proposed Decisions
  6.     Conclusion