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New to the University

A series of guides for students new to university.

Starting to think critically

Critical thinking is a skill that you will learn over time. In order to start the process of thinking critically, whenever you get the title of an assignment or a told to study a topic think about what you already know about it. Make a note of the things you already know and if you have any opinions or viewpoints make a note of these too.

Whether you know about the subject or not, thinking of questions you will need to find the answers to will help to direct your thinking and starting to focus your thoughts are the first steps to thinking critically.

Use what you read to help you decide on what you think

Often when students arrive at university, they think that they have to come up with original ideas and opinions in all of their assignments. At undergraduate level, your thinking and opinions should be based on what you have read. This means that you should be assessing everything you read that has an opinion, to think about whether you agree or disagree with it. Your opinion will be formed more by discussing what you think of other people's opinions than it will be trying to think of something original.

Consider each topic from a variety of viewpoints

Whatever the topic you are reading and writing about, you should try and think about a range of viewpoints. Even if you think you  have a strong opinion about something you should try to consider what other opinions or points of view about that particular area there could be. When you can consider all aspects about a topic it will help you to become more objective, when you are not relying on emotions or personal opinion, but instead are looking at facts and evidence.

Make sure you can back up your thinking

Just as when you are looking for evidence in the texts that you are reading, you should make sure in your writing that you provide evidence for the points that you are making. In the academic community, everyone is critically thinking about what everyone else is writing, so it is important that you make sure that you can support every point you are making.

Don't take anything for granted

Just because something has been written doesn't mean it is factually correct. Some of the information that you can find on the internet may be nothing more than someone's  personal opinion. When you are thinking about things you are reading you should think about the following things:

What is the author's purpose? - As you are reading, think about why the author is writing and who they are expecting to read their work. What are they hoping to gain from writing? Do they want to provide a balanced view of their topic or do they want you to believe what they are saying even if they have not provided any evidence?

Does the author seem reliable and an expert in their field? In order to decide this you should look at how much reading the writer has done by checking their references. You should see if you can find out what their education or work background is and while you are reading look to see if the viewpoints the writer provided are backed by evidence such as data or examples or discussions of the viewpoints of others.

Ask lots of questions

Whatever you are doing , ask yourself lots of questions.

In your writing you should be asking yourself what  your viewpoint or purpose is. You should be asking yourself if you are keeping to the question. You need to keep checking that you are supporting your points with evidence.

You should question the texts or sources you are reading and look for any weaknesses in the arguments presented.

You should try to think about counter arguments . Counter arguments are the arguments against a point of view. You should think about counter arguments for your points for view and how you would respond to them. You should also be trying to think of counter arguments you find in texts that you don't agree with.

Think about the lectures you are attending. How much do you agree or disagree with what is being said? Can you investigate the subject being discussed to try to find more information?

Are there gaps in the information provided for the topic? While you are researching, see if you can identify any gaps in the current research, is there anything you can think of that could be researched that hasn't been? This could become the focus of your study in the future.

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