How to write critically

Have you ever been told that your writing is “too descriptive”, or that you need to “show more analysis” or “adopt a more critical approach”? You may need to work on your critical thinking skills or be more direct in your academic expression when writing about your arguments, writes Clinton Bell.

In an academic context, being critical means going beyond explaining information, theories and ideas that you have learned in your studies. There is more emphasis on you clearly demonstrating your considered point of view.

To do this, you need to go beyond just describing what other people have said and thought, and start asking questions. There are a lot of questions you can ask, but let’s start with two big ones: “What do I think?” and “What does that mean?”

What do I think?

Critical analysis involves considering all viewpoints and then deciding what you think. This means two things for your writing:
  • You need to explain why your reader should agree with your point of view
  • You need to consider how credible your sources are that you use to support your point of view.
As a student, the most common way to support what you say is by referring to evidence from other sources and making a logical argument based on that evidence. This leads directly into the second point – you need to choose your sources carefully, because the strength of your own argument depends on them.

If you’re not sure how to do this, check out the "Evaluating sources" section of the Library’s Academic research on the internet tutorial. Although it’s aimed at internet sources, it’s a useful guide in general.

What does that mean?

So you’ve got some high-quality sources. Great! But remember, we’re trying to make an argument based on evidence, not just provide a big list of information. That means you need to link your sources back to your topic and to each other. Again, asking questions is a great way to do this:

How does this information relate to the topic at hand? What conclusions can we draw from it? Are there any alternative explanations? These two sources disagree. Why is that? Should we believe one over the other – or perhaps they both have some merit? What are the implications of accepting one or the other?

Don’t be afraid to show original thought! If you just repeat what someone else has said, what do you accomplish? Why wouldn’t I just read the original source? Instead, you need to build on your sources and add value through analysis critique, or interpretation.

Further reading

If you’re still not sure where to start, there are several resources on the web that can help!

Dr Joe Lau at the University of Hong Kong has produced an excellent series of online tutorials which cover critical thinking and logic in detail.

If you prefer something more audio-visual, try this video introduction to critical thinking from QualiaSoup.

You can also chat to a Learning Skills Adviser at one of our Research & Learning Points. Bring along your assignment (either one you have completed, or one you’re writing), and they can give you some tips about how to improve your critical voice.

Do you know of any other useful resources? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter @monashunilib
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About Rosemary Miller

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