There is no need to elaborate the fact that critical thinking is a very important skill that can be the difference between success and failure or just the ability to receive and act upon information provided by authors, commentators and leaders of society. However, the ability to think critically is not a skill that can easily be picked up and master like taking up a particular sport or hobby.
Critical thinking requires practice and mental discipline. But this does not mean that only a few can learn the ability to think critically. The first step is to find a system or a method that can help in developing this particular skill, especially when it comes to analyzing a book, article or website.
One method can be seen in the book entitled Asking the right questions: A Guide to Critical Thinking and the second one is quite similar and called Elements of Thought Questions, these two are actually two sets of questions, a guide that can help a person to develop critical thinking skills
There are a lot of similarities and differences as well. For example from Asking the Right Questions the first two questions: 1) What are the issues and conclusions? and 2) What are the reasons?; are similar to Elements of Thought’s first two questions: 1) What is the author’s purpose and 2) What is the author’s point of view? The similarity lies in the objective of the questions and the type of answer that these can generate.
This type of questions will reveal the purpose of writing an article or book and at the same time clarifies the main idea that the author wanted to communicate to the readers. These questions also seek to find out the author’s mindset and why he made those statements. These two methods provide a good way to begin the analysis of a written document.
The two methods also are similar in how both tried to uncover the assumptions made by the author and this is a good way to find out where the article is heading and how the author tried to develop his ideas based on an assumption that has to be accepted as true in order to proceed. There is also a similarity when it comes to identifying the evidence presented by the author.
There are also differences when comparing the two methods. The first one can generate more detailed answers but the second method can produce generalizations and subjective answers.
For example the second method simply asks the question: “What evidence is provided?” On the other hand the first method does not only ask about the evidence but even provides a follow-up question: “How good is the evidence?” as well as “Are the statistics deceptive?” (Bronwne & Keeley, 2010).
Another major difference is the way the second method ends the critical thinking process. It asks a simple question: “What are the conclusions?” This question is not the most crucial when it comes to the end part of the analysis process. In fact, the first method places this question in the very beginning of the whole thinking exercise because the main goal of critical thinking is not to repeat what the author has stated but to figure out the truth.
There is no question that the second method helps the reader think because it provides a guide in the form of questions. However, it can only lead the reader up to a certain point and the best thing that it can hope to achieve it is to solicit opinions from them and not help them think through the problem.
The first method is more effective because it does not solicit opinion from the readers but help them develop a critical thinking mindset such as not to believe everything that they read but to figure out if the assertions of the author was based on fallacy, hearsay, unproven assumptions or truth.
The first method is the better guide and one can see this from the very beginning of the process when it comes to the question regarding issues and conclusions. It immediately sets the tone and does not beat around the bush going straight to the point to determine what the author is attempting to communicate and how he uses information to persuade or inform.
There is urgency in the questions that demands clear answer and this will help separate assumptions, lies, propaganda, ulterior motive etc.
The second method on the other hand regresses by asking questions that can be answered in different ways therefore the process does not actually teach readers how to think critically but to express how they perceive the article and what they believe is the impact on the person who will read the article or book.
This can be seen in the question: “What are the implications?” This puts pressure on the readers the wrong way because it does not help them analyze the information found in the article but forces them to judge what the author was saying based on their own knowledge and expertise regarding the topic.
The first method steers clear from this trap by guiding readers step by step until they are able to identify fallacies in reasoning; if deceptive statistics were used; and if important information were omitted. Thus, the reader is alerted if the author is trying to manipulate evidence to simply persuade people to rally to his cause or side with an issue.
It is crucial for readers to develop the ability to think critically. This is indispensable in order to filter through news articles, books, magazines, and even information that can be accessed through the World-Wide-Web. This skill is important especially if the author is attempting to change the point of view of the readers such as when a commentator talks about government policies or about healthcare.
It is these kinds of articles that require analysis before readers embrace the idea or conclusions made by the writer. The second method is not a great help in this regard because the readers are left with generalizations and their own opinion regarding the article or book that they read.
The first method on the other hand is more effective because it is able to guide the readers to a step-by-step critical thinking process that will reveal of the author can be trusted with his arguments and conclusions because he did not manipulate evidence and use deceptive data to prove a point.
Browne, M. N., & Keeley, S.M. (2010). Asking the right questions: A Guide to Critical
Thinking. 8th edition. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Prentice Hall.