Critical Thinking in Essay Writing
Craig (1994) states, ‘To be critical in your thinking or arguing means that you question the phenomenon of study rather than simply accept and repeat the facts’. In this essay, I will be evaluating the extent to which this questioning is expected of students in essay writing. In order to achieve this, I will explore what it means to be critical in one’s thinking and arguing and analyse why critical thinking is so important to a students understanding of what they study, rather than simply rote learning. From a critically thinking perspective, I will then consider what is expected of university students and what aspects of critical thinking are required within the scope of essay writing. In order to achieve this, I will be drawing on relevant materials and my experience of the ‘Introduction to University Learning’ unit.
In the context of university learning, critical thinking is used to describe skills and thought processes conducive to effective study and learning. Craig (1994) states, ‘in formal university study…we use critical [thinking] in a positive sense to describe a person’s balanced assessment (or judgement) of something. A critical thinker gets to the root, bottom or real cause of something.’ In other words, effective critical thinkers have keen insight, good judgement and the ability to look at a subject in detail to determine its quality and significance in order to form a balanced opinion or assessment and make a value judgment. Marshall and Rowland (2006 p. 42) adjoins this concept by saying that critical thinking is designed to encourage a student to identify and question their own world view and to be open to other views. They advise that students develop a position on topics under discussion and construct cogent arguments in both their writing and discussions. In her lecture on critical thinking, Liana Christensen (Murdoch University 2005) refers to Robert Ennis’s premise which agrees that critical thinking is both reflective and reasonable. It is about deciding what you do, i.e. actions, or what you believe in the form of thinking or values. This evaluates what it means to be critical in your thinking and arguing.
Brookfield (1989) states, ‘critical thinking is a lived activity, not an abstract academic pastime. It is something we all do, though its frequency, and the credibility we grant it, varies from person to person.’ Whilst he asserts that critical thinking is used by both academics and non-academics alike, in the context of university, persistent critical thinking has high standing and is vital to scholars wishing to learn and grow. It is of great significance to a learner’s understanding of what they study, rather than simply accepting and repeating the facts, a concept endorsed by Liana Christensen (Murdoch University 2005) in her lecture. She states that ‘critical thinking at university requires a deep engagement with generic skills and qualities as well as careful attention to specific disciplinary orientation.’ In simple terms, this means it is necessary at university to study with the intention of understanding the content by developing both broad skills, such as essay writing proficiency, as well as directly focusing on a particular branch of learning.
Warren (1995) clarifies the need for critical thinking in university, and thus essay writing. In 1972, in her early career as a university lecturer, she identified that students struggled to formulate an opinion or give a balanced judgment unless it was clearly defined to them. All analysis either centred on what was already written or someone else’s perception of...