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Academic Writing

Critical Thinking

Becoming an outstanding critical thinker mind-map

Image 1. “Anatomical model of a human

head representing the human mind as a

gear” (n.d.) by Superstock.


Thinking critically is the ability to interpret, analyse and evaluate ideas and arguments. Reflective thinking as opposed to unreflective thinking when one jumps to conclusions and makes snap decisions.

Critical thinking requires the interpretation and evaluation of observations, communications and other sources of information.

Critical thinking is essentially an active process. Information and ideas are not just received, they are processed, analysed and carefully evaluated by looking for reasons and evidence that substantiate the information.

Critical Thinking for Arguments

A central feature of critical thinking is arguments and how to analyse and evaluate them.

You are required to produce an argument in almost every form of assessment at university.

The concept of arguments in ordinary life are associated with unpleasant exchanges. In critical thinking, the word "argument", goes much further than a disagreement, there must be an attempt to persuade and convince the reader of your position.

It can be difficult to write an argument because the concept in university work is unfamiliar. (Turner, Ireland, Krenus, & Pointon, 2008).

The argument is taken for granted in university assessment tasks. Even if the question does not explicitly indicate the need for one, it is implied that an argument must be presented (Turner et al, 2008).

Words and phrasing (verbs/operative words) such as “discuss”, “analyse”, “evaluate the claim”, “critically evaluate”, “to what extent” are all alerts to the need for an argument. Arguments must have reasons, and are meant to be persuasive and convincing (Brink-Budgen, 2000).

Basic vs Complex Arguments

There are two main types of arguments in academic essays: basic and complex.

A basic argument consists of a position statement, linked to a series of supporting points. For example:

 “The Lord of the Rings is a great film because the story is riveting, the characters are brilliant and the settings spectacular” (Turner et al, 2008, p. 90).

A complex argument both supports a position statement and rejects or modifies an opposing one. In other words a complex argument consists of a combination of the basic argument structures: position statement, supporting points and opposing points of view.  For example:

“Some people do not like The Lord of the Rings (opposing point of view), as it is very long (supporting point for the opposing point of view). However, despite its length, it is a great film (author's position) because the story is riveting, the characters are brilliant and the settings spectacular (supporting points for author's position)" (Turner et al, 2008, p. 90).


Brink-Budgen, R. (2000). Critical thinking for students. (3rd ed.). Oxford: How To Books Ltd.

Turner, K., Ireland, L., Krenus., B., & Pointon, L. (2008). Essential Academic Skills. South Melbourne, Vic: Oxford University Press.