What Is Critical Thinking? | Definition & Examples

Critical thinking is the ability to effectively analyze information and form a judgment.

To think critically, you must be aware of your own biases and assumptions when encountering information, and apply consistent standards when evaluating sources.

Critical thinking skills help you to:

  • Identify credible sources
  • Evaluate and respond to arguments
  • Assess alternative viewpoints
  • Test hypotheses against relevant criteria

Why is critical thinking important?

Critical thinking is important for making judgments about sources of information and forming your own arguments. It emphasizes a rational, objective, and self-aware approach that can help you to identify credible sources and strengthen your conclusions.

Critical thinking is important in all disciplines and throughout all stages of the research process. The types of evidence used in the sciences and in the humanities may differ, but critical thinking skills are relevant to both.

In an academic context, critical thinking can help you to determine whether a source:

  • Is free from research bias
  • Provides evidence to support its findings
  • Considers alternative viewpoints

Outside of academia, critical thinking goes hand in hand with information literacy to help you form opinions rationally and engage independently and critically with popular media.

Critical thinking examples

Critical thinking can help you to identify reliable sources of information that you can cite in your research paper. It can also guide your own research methods and inform your own arguments.

Outside of academia, critical thinking can help you to be aware of both your own and others’ biases and assumptions.

Academic examples

Example: Good critical thinking in an academic context
You’re writing a research paper on recent innovations in diabetes treatments. You read an article that claims positive results for an at-home treatment that was recently developed. The results of the research are impressive, and the treatment seems to be groundbreaking.

However, when you compare the findings of the study with other current research, you determine that the results seem improbable. You analyze the paper again, consulting the sources it cites.

You notice that the research was funded by the pharmaceutical company that created the treatment. Because of this, you view its results skeptically and determine that more independent research is necessary to confirm or refute them.

Example: Poor critical thinking in an academic context
You’re researching a paper on the impact wireless technology has had on developing countries that previously did not have large-scale communications infrastructure. You read an article that seems to confirm your hypothesis: the impact is mainly positive. Rather than evaluating the research methodology, you accept the findings uncritically.

In this instance, you have failed to engage with the source critically and have displayed confirmation bias in accepting its conclusions based on a belief you already held.

Nonacademic examples

Example: Good critical thinking in a nonacademic context
You are thinking about upgrading the security features of your home. You want to install an alarm system but are unsure what brand is the most reliable. You search home improvement websites and find a five-star review article of an alarm system. The review is positive. The alarm seems easy to install and reliable.

However, you decide to compare this review article with consumer reviews on a different site. You find that these reviews are not as positive. Some customers have had problems installing the alarm, and some have noted that it activates for no apparent reason.

You revisit the original review article. You notice that the words “sponsored content” appear in small print under the article title. Based on this, you conclude that the review is advertising and is therefore not an unbiased source.

Example: Poor critical thinking in a nonacademic context
You support a candidate in an upcoming election. You visit an online news site affiliated with their political party and read an article that criticizes their opponent. The article claims that the opponent is inexperienced in politics. You accept this without evidence, because it fits your preconceptions about the opponent.

In this case, you failed to look critically at the claims of the article and check whether they were backed up with evidence because you were already inclined to believe them.

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How to think critically

There is no single way to think critically. How you engage with information will depend on the type of source you’re using and the information you need.

However, you can engage with sources in a systematic and critical way by asking certain questions when you encounter information. Like the CRAAP test, these questions focus on the currency, relevance, authority, accuracy, and purpose of a source of information.

When encountering information, ask:

  • Who is the author? Are they an expert in their field?
  • What do they say? Is their argument clear? Can you summarize it?
  • When did they say this? Is the source current?
  • Where is the information published? Is it an academic article? Is it a blog? A newspaper article?
  • Why did the author publish it? What is their motivation?
  • How do they make their argument? Is it backed up by evidence? Does it rely on opinion, speculation, or appeals to emotion? Do they address alternative arguments?

Critical thinking also involves being aware of your own biases, not only those of others. When you make an argument or draw your own conclusions, you can ask similar questions about your own writing:

  • Am I only considering evidence that supports my preconceptions?
  • Is my argument expressed clearly and backed up with credible sources?
  • Would I be convinced by this argument coming from someone else?

Frequently asked questions about critical thinking

What is critical thinking?

Critical thinking refers to the ability to evaluate information and to be aware of biases or assumptions, including your own.

Like information literacy, it involves evaluating arguments, identifying and solving problems in an objective and systematic way, and clearly communicating your ideas.

What are some critical thinking skills?

Critical thinking skills include the ability to:

How do I assess information critically?

You can assess information and arguments critically by asking certain questions about the source. You can use the CRAAP test, focusing on the currency, relevance, authority, accuracy, and purpose of a source of information.

Ask questions such as:

  • Who is the author? Are they an expert?
  • Why did the author publish it? What is their motivation?
  • How do they make their argument? Is it backed up by evidence?
What makes a source credible?

A credible source should pass the CRAAP test and follow these guidelines:

  • The information should be up to date and current.
  • The author and publication should be a trusted authority on the subject you are researching.
  • The sources the author cited should be easy to find, clear, and unbiased.
  • For a web source, the URL and layout should signify that it is trustworthy.
What is information (digital) literacy?

Information literacy refers to a broad range of skills, including the ability to find, evaluate, and use sources of information effectively.

Being information literate means that you:

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Eoghan Ryan

Eoghan has a lot of experience with theses and dissertations at bachelor's, MA, and PhD level. He has taught university English courses, helping students to improve their research and writing.

1 comment

Eoghan Ryan
Eoghan Ryan (Scribbr Team)
May 30, 2022 at 1:55 PM

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