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Problem Solving, Critical Thinking, and Analytical Reasoning Skills Sought by Employers
In this section:
- Critical Thinking
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Critical thinking, analytical reasoning, and problem-solving skills are required to perform well on tasks expected by employers. 1 Having good problem-solving and critical thinking skills can make a major difference in a person’s career. 2
Every day, from an entry-level employee to the Chairman of the Board, problems need to be resolved. Whether solving a problem for a client (internal or external), supporting those who are solving problems, or discovering new problems to solve, the challenges faced may be simple/complex or easy/difficult.
A fundamental component of every manager's role is solving problems. So, helping students become a confident problem solver is critical to their success; and confidence comes from possessing an efficient and practiced problem-solving process.
Employers want employees with well-founded skills in these areas, so they ask four questions when assessing a job candidate 3 :
- Evaluation of information: How well does the applicant assess the quality and relevance of information?
- Analysis and Synthesis of information: How well does the applicant analyze and synthesize data and information?
- Drawing conclusions: How well does the applicant form a conclusion from their analysis?
- Acknowledging alternative explanations/viewpoints: How well does the applicant consider other options and acknowledge that their answer is not the only perspective?
When an employer says they want employees who are good at solving complex problems, they are saying they want employees possessing the following skills:
- Analytical Thinking — A person who can use logic and critical thinking to analyze a situation.
- Critical Thinking – A person who makes reasoned judgments that are logical and well thought out.
- Initiative — A person who will step up and take action without being asked. A person who looks for opportunities to make a difference.
- Creativity — A person who is an original thinker and have the ability to go beyond traditional approaches.
- Resourcefulness — A person who will adapt to new/difficult situations and devise ways to overcome obstacles.
- Determination — A person who is persistent and does not give up easily.
- Results-Oriented — A person whose focus is on getting the problem solved.
Two of the major components of problem-solving skills are critical thinking and analytical reasoning. These two skills are at the top of skills required of applicants by employers.
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Critical Thinking 4
“Mentions of critical thinking in job postings have doubled since 2009, according to an analysis by career-search site Indeed.com.” 5 Making logical and reasoned judgments that are well thought out is at the core of critical thinking. Using critical thinking an individual will not automatically accept information or conclusions drawn from to be factual, valid, true, applicable or correct. “When students are taught how to use critical thinking to tap into their creativity to solve problems, they are more successful than other students when they enter management-training programs in large corporations.” 6
A strong applicant should question and want to make evidence-based decisions. Employers want employees who say things such as: “Is that a fact or just an opinion? Is this conclusion based on data or gut feel?” and “If you had additional data could there be alternative possibilities?” Employers seek employees who possess the skills and abilities to conceptualize, apply, analyze, synthesize, and evaluate information to reach an answer or conclusion.
Employers require critical thinking in employees because it increases the probability of a positive business outcome. Employers want employees whose thinking is intentional, purposeful, reasoned, and goal directed.
Recruiters say they want applicants with problem-solving and critical thinking skills. They “encourage applicants to prepare stories to illustrate their critical-thinking prowess, detailing, for example, the steps a club president took to improve attendance at weekly meetings.” 7
Employers want students to possess analytical reasoning/thinking skills — meaning they want to hire someone who is good at breaking down problems into smaller parts to find solutions. “The adjective, analytical, and the related verb analyze can both be traced back to the Greek verb, analyein — ‘to break up, to loosen.’ If a student is analytical, you are good at taking a problem or task and breaking it down into smaller elements in order to solve the problem or complete the task.” 9
Analytical reasoning connotes a person's general aptitude to arrive at a logical conclusion or solution to given problems. Just as with critical thinking, analytical thinking critically examines the different parts or details of something to fully understand or explain it. Analytical thinking often requires the person to use “cause and effect, similarities and differences, trends, associations between things, inter-relationships between the parts, the sequence of events, ways to solve complex problems, steps within a process, diagraming what is happening.” 10
Analytical reasoning is the ability to look at information and discern patterns within it. “The pattern could be the structure the author of the information uses to structure an argument, or trends in a large data set. By learning methods of recognizing these patterns, individuals can pull more information out of a text or data set than someone who is not using analytical reasoning to identify deeper patterns.” 11
Employers want employees to have the aptitude to apply analytical reasoning to problems faced by the business. For instance, “a quantitative analyst can break down data into patterns to discern information, such as if a decrease in sales is part of a seasonal pattern of ups and downs or part of a greater downward trend that a business should be worried about. By learning to recognize these patterns in both numbers and written arguments, an individual gains insights into the information that someone who simply takes the information at face value will miss.” 12
Managers with excellent analytical reasoning abilities are considered good at, “evaluating problems, analyzing them from more than one angle and finding a solution that works best in the given circumstances”. 13 Businesses want managers who can apply analytical reasoning skills to meet challenges and keep a business functioning smoothly
A person with good analytical reasoning and pattern recognition skills can see trends in a problem much easier than anyone else.
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The pursuit of performance excellence, analytical thinking and critical thinking.
Some people assume that analytical thinking and critical thinking are one in the same. However, that is incorrect. Although there are similarities, there are distinct differences between the two.
Analytical thinking is the mental process of breaking down complex information or comprehensive data into fundamental parts or basic principles.
Critical thinking is the mental process of carefully evaluating information and determining how to interpret it in order to make a sound judgment.
Differences between Analytical Thinking and Critical Thinking
A basic difference between analytical thinking and critical thinking is analytical thinking involves breaking down complex information into smaller parts while critical thinking involves taking outside knowledge into account while evaluating information. Basically, analytical thinking seeks to review and breakdown the information gathered while critical thinking looks to make a holistic judgment using various sources of information including a person’s own existing knowledge.
Analytical thinking is more linear and step-by-step breakdown of information. On the other hand, critical thinking is more holistic as it seeks to assess, question, verify, infer, interpret, and formulate.
Analytical thinking can be thought of as a step in the critical thinking process. When you have a complex problem to solve, you would want to use your analytical skills before your critical thinking skills. Critical thinking does involve breaking down information into parts and analyzing the parts in a logical, step-by-step manner. However, it also involves taking other information to make a judgment or formulate innovative solutions.
Additionally, with analytical thinking, you use facts within the information gathered to support your conclusion. Conversely, with critical thinking, you make a judgment based on your opinion formed by evaluating various sources of information including your own knowledge and experiences.
About Analytical Thinking
Analytical thinking uses a step-by-step method to analyze a problem or situation by breaking it down into smaller parts in order to come to a conclusion.
With analytical thinking, you make conclusions by breaking down complex information into smaller parts and analyzing the parts. You look for patterns and trends as well a cause and effect within the information in order to find connections between the parts. In the end, you make draw a conclusion based on the available facts.
Steps for Analytical Thinking
Analytical thinking begins by gathering all relevant information. You then break up large, complex data into smaller, more manageable sizes. You then examine each sub-part to understand its components and relationship to the larger more complex data. You compare sets of data from different sources by looking at the information through different points of view with the objective to understand how it connects to other information. You search for patterns, trends, and cause and effect. Finally, you draw appropriate conclusions from the information in order to arrive at appropriate solutions.
Analytical thinking involves:
- Gathering relevant information
- Focusing on facts and evidence
- Examining chunks of data or information
- Identifying key issues
- Using logic and reasoning to process information
- Separating more complex information into simpler parts
- Sub-dividing information into manageable sizes
- Finding patterns and recognizing trends
- Identify cause and effect
- Understanding connections and relationships
- Eliminating extraneous information
- Organizing Information
- Drawing appropriate conclusions
About Critical Thinking
Critical thinking employs logic and reasoning to come to a conclusion about how best to perceive and interpret information in order to make sound judgments.
With critical thinking, you make conclusions regarding your unique perception of the information. You look into other pieces of data that could be relevant. Then you combine your new information with your existing knowledge of the world in order to make the most accurate assessment. Essentially, you reflect upon information in order to form a sound judgment that reconciles scientific evidence with common sense. Ultimately, you make reasoned judgments that are logical and well thought out by assessing the evidence that supports a specific theory or conclusion.
Steps for Critical Thinking
Critical thinking involves gathering all relevant information, then evaluating the information to determine how it should be best interpreted. You evaluate information by asking questions, assessing value, and making inferences. You then formulate ideas and theories based on the evaluation. You consider outside information rather than sticking strictly with the information presented. You then consider alternative possibilities before reaching a well-reasoned conclusion. Finally, you test your conclusions in an attempt to verify if evidence supports your conclusions and make your judgment.
Critical thinking involves:
- Evaluating information
- Asking questions
- Assessing bias or unsubstantiated assumptions
- Making inferences from the information and filling in gaps
- Using abstract ideas to interpret information
- Formulating ideas
- Weighing opinions
- Reaching well-reasoned conclusions
- Considering alternative possibilities
- Testing conclusions
- Verifying if evidence/argument support the conclusions
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Tag: Analytical thinking vs critical thinking
To summarize using both analytical and critical skills:
The difference between the two skills is that the critical thinking involves considering an issue, evaluating it and making a conclusion about it.
Therefore, critical thinking includes weighting up the arguments that are for and against certain point of view or information.
Analytical thinking means examining the information, collecting the facts and checking whether the statement follows logically in identifying causes and effects.
Reasoning is one of the key elements of analytical thinking. On an interview for a job, people are often asked to evaluate their analytical abilities.
Question like: Describe some of your last big problems and tell us the way you solved it. Or: How do you make decisions?
By critical thinking , we mean the ability of an individual to seek information, analyze alternatives and making conclusions or forming opinions. It includes the analytical thinking and uses it to generate a standpoint for someone’s world view.
Practice your English and at the same time analytical and critical thinking:
Fun activities to boost your analytical and critical thinking. You can do them with your friends, in a classroom or at home:
Simple thinking skills are learning facts and recall, and more complex include analysis, synthesis, problem solving, evaluation, decision making. Let us see what skills are included in the thinking process.
Focusing. It is selected piece of information that we organize.
Remembering. Part of our memory that we can evoke and retrieve.
Organizing. Arranging information.
Analyzing. Examining the information and relationships so that the structure is understood.
Evaluating. Assessing the information to build an opinion. Placing the information into a context.
Generating. Producing new ideas, new perspectives.
Analytical thinking helps you process information, make connections, make decisions and create new ideas.
You use those thinking skills when you want to solve a problem, ask a question or organize some information. We all have thinking skills, but not all of us use them efficiently.
The good thing is that we can practice our ability to think so we can develop our thinking skills. We might say that analytical thinking mainly aims to give a review to the information.
Critical thinking aims to make an overall evaluation, judgment or conclusion about the information which is possibly free from false premises or bias.
Analytical thinking includes:
- facts and evidence
- Information analyzing
- Reasoning – logical thinking
- Finding alternatives
- Trend analyzing trends, anticipating, change analyzing
Critical thinking involves:
- Thorough evaluation of information
- Checking for bias and prejudices
- Evaluating the correctness of the point claimed.
- Weighing up opinions, arguments or solutions
- Reasoning and logical conclusion making
- Checking whether arguments really support the conclusions.
As a critical thinker, you make the decision whether or not an object or situation appears to be right or wrong.
You evaluate the data and determine how it should be interpreted. You then make conclusions regarding your perception of the information.
In addition, that new information is combined with your worldview in order to make the most accurate assessment of the matter in question.
Critical thinking, just like analytical thinking, uses facts but goes one step further. The facts are used to form an opinion or a belief. So we can say that the critical thinking is more an opinion-based thinking.
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Analytical & critical reasoning
Analyze and synthesize complex information. critically evaluate ideas and options. develop and test hypotheses. analyze and interpret findings..
Jump to section: Understanding Analytical & Critical Reasoning | Cultivating Analytical & Critical Reasoning | Quick Guide to Becoming an Effective Analytical and Critical Thinker | Taking Action | Need Help? | Resources | References
Understanding Analytical & Critical Reasoning
Analytical and critical reasoning is the rational process through which you “obtain, interpret, and use knowledge, facts, and data”, while exercising logical thinking in analyzing issues and making proper decisions, to ultimately solve problems. [ 1 ]
Why does it matter? Analytical and critical reasoning is a highly transferable skill set that is widely sought after in a variety of career paths. [ 2 ] Being an analytical and critical “thinker” is the most common attribute of successful researchers, regardless of their field. [ 3 ] This ability allows you, whether you are a graduate student or a professional, to effectively navigate the different phases of the research process: From compiling and synthesizing information, to evaluating variable evidence, formulating questions and testing hypotheses, and interpreting and reflecting on your own findings in connection to other studies. Developing analytical and critical reasoning skills is important to reduce biased practices in professions that rely on complex decision making such as healthcare, where errors in judgement have severe consequences. [ 4 ] While being critical is a way of utilizing your subject knowledge to solve problems and make decisions, this process compels you to seek and validate new information, thus expanding your knowledge in a familiar or new subject areas. Moreover, analytical and critical reasoning allows you to improve on other skills such as writing and presenting. For instance, by critically examining published evidence and pertinent facts, you will enhance your argumentative writing skills needed for drafting a research manuscript or a thesis. [ 5 ] In everyday life, analytical and critical reasoning is essential for solving problems and making adequate decisions. In contrast to the passive “sponge approach” of merely absorbing information by relying on concentration and memory, analytical and critical reasoning provides you with an interactive approach to reach an independent decision or belief about the worth and validity of what you read, hear, or experience. [ 6 ] Therefore, through this thinking process, our decisions and beliefs are based on reflective judgement rather than associations or assumptions.
Cultivating Analytical & Critical Reasoning
Graduate students are provided with many opportunities to acquire and practice their analytical and critical reasoning skills which, while enhancing the learning process, provide a lifelong tool that goes beyond graduate studies. [ 7 ] While it may come to you as second nature, analytical and critical reasoning can be further honed through practice, during and following graduate studies. [ 8 ] For instance, in a data-driven learning setting, repeated cycles of making, reflecting, and deciding on how to act vis-a-vis quantitative comparisons, have remarkably improved students’ critical thinking, as well as their learning outcomes (e.g., evaluating models, making appropriate changes to methods). [ 9 ]
Be a critical reader and writer
Cultivating critical reading will enhance your critical writing. Critical reading implies that readers should focus on the “Ways of Thinking” about a topic, rather than exclusively gathering the information about it in the text. [ 10 ] For example, examine how arguments were presented and conclusions were reached. Adopting a question-asking attitude and reflecting on the answers will guide you through this process.
Depending on the nature of the questions, the answers could either be definite such as the distance between the moon and the earth in physics, or limited to intelligent guesses such as the reason behind a given human behaviour in psychology.
Here are some examples of guiding questions: [ 11 ]
- What are the issues of the conclusions?
- What are the reasons?
- Which words or phrases are ambiguous?
- What are the value conflicts and assumptions?
- What are the descriptive assumptions?
- Are there any fallacies in the reasoning?
- How good is the evidence?
Quick Guide to Becoming an Effective Analytical and Critical Thinker
Consider what a critical thinker would expect, comment, or ask as you write a manuscript or prepare a presentation
Be a curious learner by continuously seeking information and discussing concepts and novel discoveries with your peers or supervisor [ 12 ]
Avoid “analysis paralysis” by focusing on both the details and the big picture, ensuring a rational decision-making process [ 13 ]
Analyze your own reasoning process and effectively communicate it as a way to persuade others [ 14 ]
Connect with ideas, people, and organizations beyond your comfort zone to expand your perspectives
Engage with challenging and dissenting views, and consider unconventional, alternative solutions [ 15 ]
Consider how your personal biases, values, views, and location in time and space ‒ collectively known as positionality ‒ influence your reasoning and actions. Positionality is a challenge for objectivity in research, especially in qualitative studies [ 16 ]
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Professional development & training .
- Program – McGill Analytics Decision Making : An intensive program designed for those in a strategic role. The program includes the use of analytic tools to generate insights and making decisions.
- Workshop – McGill Balanced Thinking Skills : This workshop is designed for participants to acquire a well-balanced thinking style when solving problems, making decisions, communicating and leading others.
- Check myInvolvement for upcoming workshops and programs by searching for events tagged with this category: Analytical and Critical Reasoning
Foundation for Critical Thinking : This site provides a list of programs, courses and materials relevant to improve critical thinking skill
Farnam Street by Shane Parrish: a popular intellectual blog covering various topics such as mental models, decision making, learning, reading, and the art of living.
Groups & Associations
Association for Science & Reason: This association promotes critical thinking skills and scientific methodology.
The Critical Thinking Consortium: This organization aims to work in sustained ways with educators and related organizations to inspire, support and advocate for the infusion of critical, creative and collaborative thinking.
Browne, M. N., & Keeley, S. M. (2011). Asking the right questions: A guide to critical thinking. Boston: Pearson. http://mcgill.worldcat.org/oclc/725828776
Levitin, D. J. (2014). The organized mind: Thinking straight in the age of information overload. http://mcgill.worldcat.org/oclc/861478878
Paul, R., & Elder, L. (2002). Critical thinking: Tools for taking charge of your professional and personal life. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Financial Times/Prentice Hall. http://mcgill.worldcat.org/oclc/57726633
MacDonald, C., & Vaughn, L. (2016). The power of critical thinking. http://mcgill.worldcat.org/oclc/935757523
McGill Teaching and Learning Services – SKILLSETS Tel: 514-398-6648 Email: skillsets [at] mcgill.ca
 Career Readiness Defined. NACE. (2014).
 2013 Campus Recruitment Educator Summary. Smith, P. (2013).
 Vitae Researcher Development Framework (RDF) 2011.
 Cognitive forcing strategies in clinical decisionmaking. Croskerry, P. (2003).
, ,  Asking the right questions: a guide to critical thinking. Browne, M.N. (2011).
 Targeted Competencies in Graduate Programs. ADESAQ (2015).
,  Teaching critical thinking. Holmes, N.G. (2015).
 Critical Reading Towards Critical Writing. University of Toronto.
, , ,  5 strategies to grow critical thinking skills. Wiley, S. (2015).
 Positionality. Sanchez, L. (2010).
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Differences Between Analytical & Critical Thinking
Any time you read literary materials or experience something that requires you to comprehend it, you employ a variety of thinking skills. Thinking skills relate to the way in which you process and understand information, and you employ specific thinking skills based on what you wish to gain from your thoughts. Analytical and critical thinking are two styles of thinking skills that are commonly used, but employed for different purposes.
Explore this article
- Analytical Thinking
- Critical Thinking
1 Analytical Thinking
Analytical thinking describes a thinking style that enables a person to break down complex information or a series of comprehensive data. It uses a step-by-step method to analyze a problem and then come to an answer or solution. In essence, analytical thinking represents a cause and effect style of looking at a problem, and is sometimes referred to as perceiving something through multiple lenses. An example of analytical thinking involves understanding the relationship between leaves and the color green. One could ask "Why are leaves green?" and then use analytical thinking skills to tie the answer together.
2 Critical Thinking
Critical thinking has to do with evaluating information that is fed to you, and determining how to interpret it, what to believe and whether something appears to be right or wrong. In this style of thinking the thinker employs reasoning to come to a conclusion about how he wants to perceive the information. Critical thinking also takes outside information into account during the thought process. Rather than sticking strictly with the information presented, critical thinking lets the thinker explore other elements that could be of influence.
Analytical and critical thinking styles both look at facts, but those facts are then used for different purposes. When it comes to analytical thinking, facts are used to build on information and support evidence that leads to a logical conclusion. Critical thinking, on the other hand, uses facts to determine a belief, form an opinion or decide whether something makes sense.
The processes of analytical thinking and critical thinking are different. Analytical thinking uses a linear and focused process, with one thought following the other in a stream-like formation. Critical thinking occurs more in circles and can go around and around until a conclusion is stumbled upon.
The purposes of critical thinking and analytical thinking are not the same. You do not employ critical thinking strategies to figure out the solution to a complex question or to problem-solve. Rather, analytical thinking is used for this purpose. However, you would not use analytical thinking if your main goal was to come up with a belief or perception about something. In this case, you would use critical thinking methods.
About the Author
Kyra Sheahan has been a writer for various publications since 2008. Her work has been featured in "The Desert Leaf" and "Kentucky Doc Magazine," covering health and wellness, environmental conservatism and DIY crafts. Sheahan holds an M.B.A. with an emphasis in finance.
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Choose a session:, 13 sep 2023 – 12 sep 2024, critical analytical thinking.
Critical Analytical Thinking is essentially the language of strategy. It adds structure and transparency to the analysis and formulation of strategy and helps executives make decisions in a collaborative, logical, and fact-driven fashion.
This course will help you develop and hone skills necessary to analyze complex problems, formulate well-reasoned arguments, and consider alternative points of view. It will help you assess innovative business models, identify critical issues, develop and present well-reasoned positions, and evaluate evidence. You will apply those skills to address a variety of management problems in both this and subsequent courses in the LEAD Certificate program.
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We will use a combination of lectures and case studies to prepare you to present written and video arguments for your positions, and to critique and debate those of your peers.
Haim Mendelson The Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers Professor of Electronic Business and Commerce, and Management
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Critical thinking vs analytical thinking: The differences and similarities
Critical thinking vs analytical thinking can be mistaken for the same thing but they are indeed different. Critical thinking is the process of reasoning through information, concepts, or data that are acquired by sensory experience. Analytical thinking is the type of thought that typically centres on problem-solving in many areas. Analytical thinking can be applied in various ways to solve problems in science , social relationships, personal life and so on.
The difference between critical thinking and analytical or logical thought is that one focuses on what outside sources think about something while the other relies solely on one’s own opinions. Critical thinking can lead to alternative viewpoints and open up new ideas, whereas analytical thinking tends to lead the thinker down a singular path of reason.
What is critical thinking?
1. identify the claim, 2. form a framework for evaluation, 3. evaluate the evidence, what is analytical thinking, analytical vs critical thinking: the differences, 1. attention, 2. attention to detail, 3. verbal ability, 4. logical reasoning, 5. problem-solving, 6. independence, analytical vs critical thinking: the similarities.
Critical thinking is a great way to analyze information, grasp complex concepts and make decisions based on logic. It’s also the best way to identify patterns because it involves outside influences. Critical thinking involves varying outside information, which is why many critical thinkers are often involved in scientific research or college courses. Critical thinkers are more likely to use inductive reasoning because they pay less attention to detail and more attention to outside influences.
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Analytical Skills Vs Critical Thinking
Required Skills for Developing Leaders
Analytical skills and critical thinking are crucial to business performance. However, according to the updated UK Commission for Employment and Skills’ ‘Employer Skills Survey 2015: UK Results (Amended 2018)’ :
- Managers are lacking in analytical skills
- 55% of managers are deemed to be not proficient in solving complex problems
- There is a lack of analytical and problem-solving skills in existing staff
Analytical skills and critical thinking are no longer nice-to-haves. They are required skills for a changing world , and among the 10 critical skills needed for developing leaders . But which matters most?
What are analytical skills?
Applying analytical skills, you can break down facts and information into small elements that help you to solve problems. You can analyse data, apply reasoning, and recall information. You are curious about the way the data fits together.
Analytical thinkers can spot trends and gain insight into an organiSation’s business by pattern recognition. You’ll seek to identify differences, similarities, trends, and relationships between all the elements.
All these skills make you good at evaluating problems and developing logical solutions – a business-critical function.
What is critical thinking?
Critical thinking is broader than analytical reasoning. As a critical thinker, you consider all the facts and figures as presented and make judgements based on these and a range of other inputs. These may include opinions, views, and potential solutions put forward.
You don’t automatically accept information as fact. You probe, prompt, question, and research to ensure solid data, and from all you know you draw conclusions. You use all you learn to develop creative solutions.
Critical thinking skills increase your ability to be purposeful, logical, and innovative when decision-making.
Analytical skills vs critical thinking – can they be separated?
Analytical reasoning is a more linear approach to gathering and analysing data. It takes a step-by-step flow that breaks down information in a logical pattern.
Critical thinking skills enable you to question the data, verify it, and analyse outside information before developing a more holistic solution.
Which matters most depends upon your point of view. Analytical reasoning is a crucial step in the process of critical thinking. You analyse data before applying critical thinking to it.
If only using analytical skills, you use the data and facts to support your solution.
By then applying critical thinking, you evaluate all sources of information before making a judgement based on your opinion, knowledge, experience, and expertise.
While both are unique skills, and can be used individually, the nature of them makes them completely complimentary. However, the nature of them also means that critical thinkers typically use their analytical skills as the first step to developing holistic solutions that have a positive impact on their teams and organisations.
In short, analytical skills are usually developed first and are a necessity to meaningful application of critical thinking skills.
Do your employees possess the analytical and critical thinking skills to accelerate your organisation toward its goals? Take a look at our Scaling Talent and Prime Leadership programmes, designed to develop skills and talent across your organisation.
We’d love to talk to you about how we can help you and your organisation develop outstanding learning and development programmes - Virtual Instructor Led or face to face as this becomes possible. Email our team here or call our client relationship team on +44 (0)1423 531083.
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- Study skills
- Critical thinking
Critical and analytical thinking skills
What is critical and analytical thinking.
Critical analytical thinking is a key part of university study. Many first year students receive comments such as 'not analytical enough' on their early assignments. You will find that you develop your critical and analytical skills as you go through university. In brief, this means looking very closely at the detail and not taking what you read or hear for granted. Your tutors will expect you to:
- Evaluate how far materials are appropriate, and up-to-date.
- Evaluate how far the evidence or examples used in materials really proves the point that the author claims.
- Weigh up opinions, arguments or solutions against appropriate criteria.
- Follow a line of reasoning through to its logical conclusion.
- Check for hidden bias or hidden assumptions.
- Check whether the evidence and argument really support the conclusions.
You will need to do this for materials that you read. For example, when you cite a source of evidence for your own arguments, you will need to be sure that the evidence really does support your point, and is accurate and reliable. You are expected to be very critical of your sources, using evidence that has been well researched rather than just your own opinion or what your friends think.
Identifying the main line of reasoning in what you read or write
- What is the main argument or line of reasoning?
- Is the line of reasoning clear from the text?
Critically evaluating the line of reasoning for what you read or write
- Note any statements from the text which strengthen its line of reasoning or prove the argument.
- What statements, if any, undermine the argument?
- Are points made in the best logical order?
Identifying hidden agendas in your sources and in your own writing
- What hidden agendas might the writer have that might make you question the contents or conclusions of the passage? Consider what they might hope to gain through writing this piece.
- What information might be missing that could paint a different picture?
Evaluating evidence in the text
- What kinds of evidence or examples does the writer use? How reliable and useful is this evidence?
- Does it really support the argument? Is the evidence strong enough?
- Is the data up-to-date?
- Does the text use reliable sources? What are these? What makes you think they are or are not reliable?
Looking for bias
- Do you think there may be any bias in the text? Give reasons and examples.
- Comment on any statistics used. Are these likely to give a true and full picture?
- Does their writing reflect a political viewpoint?
- Who might disagree with the writer?
Identifying the writer's conclusions
- Does the evidence support the writer's conclusions?
- Does the line of reasoning lead you to make the same conclusions?
Critical skills when writing
- Apply the same rigour to your own writing as you do to analysing source materials.
- Work out early on what your conclusion is and write this down where you can see it easily. Use this as a guide for what to read, what experiments to run, and what examples to use.
- Before you begin your main piece of writing for an assignment, write your conclusion on a piece of paper and stick this at the top of the computer. Keep referring back to this to ensure that all of your writing leads towards this conclusion. The outline plan for your writing should map out how each paragraph leads your reader towards the conclusion.
- Ensure that your conclusion can be supported by the evidence. If you cannot find the evidence to support your position, you may need to change your conclusion.
This content has been written by Stella Cottrell, author of Critical Thinking Skills and The Study Skills Handbook .
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