Plagiarism and Critical Thinking

Critical Thinking

This is a term you will hear again and again in higher education so it is worth making sure you know exactly what it means and how it can be demonstrated in your work.

What is it?

Many people confuse criticality with criticism. Being a critical thinker does not mean being negative, it means being aware that there are alternative ways of looking at the world. When you begin your studies, much of what you read and hear may be new to you, which makes it difficult for you to evaluate it. Even if you are familiar with a particular topic, you may never have sat down and thought about the bigger picture. Developing the ability to probe, question, reason and present informed arguments are all part of critical thinking.

How do I do it?

Critical thinking takes time to develop. The best way to become a critical thinker is by engaging in your subject, which means you need to read. By reading you will come across different viewpoints, which you can draw on and refer to in order to demonstrate that whatever it is you want to say is an informed opinion, not one born out of lack of knowledge but out of a systematic academic investigation of a particular subject area or issue .

How do I demonstrate it?

This is where referencing comes in. Your references are proof of your reading and therefore proof of your knowledge of a subject. All your academic work needs to be referenced if it is to have any academic weight, i.e. be taken seriously. As you are reading you need to be actively collecting ideas and quotes and information that means something to you and it is from this knowledge base that you can start to form your own ideas, opinions and philosophies or theories.

How do I know I am doing it?

Many students feel like they don’t have a ‘voice’ when they are writing academically. That is because they feel like they are just regurgitating what other people have said. However, that is ‘descriptive’ writing. Criticality means being able to take other people’s words and theories and use them to say something of your own; something that is worth listening to because you have taken the time to read and consider other viewpoints, wider issues and implications.

A criticality ‘checklist’

Whilst there is no definitive ‘list’, you may find asking yourself some of the following questions useful.

  • Relevance:  Are your ideas connected to the assignment brief? Is your research/reading relevant to the task? How does it relate to your own professional/educational development?
  • Significance: What are the most significant issues/concepts/problems? Have you identified how and why they are significant?
  • Fairness: What assumptions are you making? Can you justify them? Have you acknowledged you own vested interests and values?
  • Depth: Have you addressed the complexities of the issue? Are you aware of the limitations of your own reading/research?
  • Breadth: Have you considered alternative points of view? How might other interested parties view the issues?
  • Logicality: Is there some logic to your answer? How does it all fit together? Are there contradictions that need exploring or explaining?
  • Clarity: Could you explain/elaborate on the points you are making? Do you have a clear idea of why you are making them?
  • Accuracy: Are your claims accurate? Are you interpreting/misrepresenting the facts in any way?
  • Precision: Could you give more detail or be more specific if asked? Would it be helpful to include that detail?

Very little in life is black and white. The more you know about a subject or issue, the greyer it tends to get. Acknowledging these complexities is at the heart of critical analysis.


Good resource on critical thinking and critical reading

Good range of resources from Leeds University on what it means to be what it means to be a critical student

A Practical Guide to Critical Thinking

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