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critical thinking skils

Student Success

How to Improve Your Critical Thinking and Research Skills

Critical thinking doesn’t always come naturally to us. It requires analyzing the facts, gathering as much information as possible, thinking open-mindedly, and then forming a judgment.

Rest assured, you can teach yourself to think critically. Here are tips to help you get started.

Be aware of authors’ motivations

You can evaluate an author’s work if you’re aware of what drove that person to undertake the research and writing in the first place. Here are things to be aware of:

  • Avoid personal feelings
  • Be wary of phrases like always, a lot, or never unless you can attach a number to confirm the characterization
  • Steer clear of first-person (using “I”) and second-person (using “you”) pronouns unless you’re asked to reflect or give advice
  • Find credible sources (more on this below!)
  • Read multiple articles from different perspectives

Find credible evidence

A rule of thumb for most writing is to make a claim, provide evidence to support the claim, and then use reasoning to tie it all together. How do you analyze your sources? Use critical thinking skills. Ask questions such as:

  • Did the researchers only study 10 people?
  • Is the writer representing a particular company or industry?
  • What other articles and studies has the writer published?
  • Is this article published in a scholarly journal, or on a website selling something?

Research well

It’s easier to find credible evidence when you’re looking in the right places. Here are key tips for researching well:

  • Use your school’s online library to find scholarly articles. Peer-reviewed articles have been reviewed by other professionals or scholars in the field and are generally the most accurate.
  • When you read something compelling, check out the reference page at the end of that article, and look up some of those sources.
  • When an author cites another source, try to find that original source, and read it for yourself.
  • Beware of bias, and consider the credibility of the authors you read.
  • Pay close attention to dates. If the research was completed more than five to ten years ago, it’s probably outdated.

Make the most of your findings

The key to using evidence in your paper is not just to sprinkle quotes throughout, but rather to integrate the research into your argument. Explain the significance and implications of that research. It’s one thing to write, “Carrots are good for you,” but it’s much more compelling to explain how and why carrots are good for you based on statistics and research. To demonstrate real critical thinking skills, synthesize what you read (citing it accurately), and incorporate it into your argument, paying special attention to the flow and structure. Read how other authors use information to gain your trust, and utilize their strategies to do the same for your reader.

Critical thinking leads to better research skills, which in turn lead to better writing. When you find credible evidence, it will support your claims more effectively, and you’ll learn to read and listen to information with a critical eye for bias and persuasion. As an added bonus, you’ll also learn to be a better conversationalist outside of school.

To get more insights into sharpening your critical thinking and research skills, watch our webinar: