Data Becker Shop To Date 8 Elements Of Critical Thinking

To Analyze Thinking We Must Identify and Question its Elemental Structures

Standard: Clarity
understandable, the meaning can be grasped

  • Could you elaborate further?
  • Could you give me an example?
  • Could you illustrate what you mean?
  • Standard: Accuracy
    free from errors or distortions, true

  • How could we check on that?
  • How could we find out if that is true?
  • How could we verify or test that?
  • Standard: Precision
    exact to the necessary level of detail

  • Could you be more specific?
  • Could you give me more details?
  • Could you be more exact?
  • Standard: Relevance
    relating to the matter at hand

  • How does that relate to the problem?
  • How does that bear on the question?
  • How does that help us with the issue?
  • Standard: Depth
    containing complexities and multiple interrelationships

  • What factors make this a difficult problem?
  • What are some of the complexities of this question?
  • What are some of the difficulties we need to deal with?
  • Standard: Breadth
    encompassing multiple viewpoints

  • Do we need to look at this from another perspective?
  • Do we need to consider another point of view?
  • Do we need to look at this in other ways?
  • Standard: Logic
    the parts make sense together, no contradictions

  • Does all this make sense together?
  • Does your first paragraph fit in with your last?
  • Does what you say follow from the evidence?
  • Standard: Significance
    focusing on the important, not trivial

  • Is this the most important problem to consider?
  • Is this the central idea to focus on?
  • Which of these facts are most important?
  • Standard: Fairness
    Justifiable, not self-serving or one-sided

  • Do I have any vested interest in this issue?
  • Am I sympathetically representing the viewpoints of others?
  • More Standards:
    There are numerous other standards that may be applied to elements on a contextual basis. Here are just a few:
    Completeness, Validity, Rationality, Sufficiency, Necessity, Feasabilty, Consistency, Authenticity, Effectiveness, Efficiency
    Can you identify others standards relevant to your situation?


    Why the Analysis of Thinking is Important

    Everyone thinks; it is our nature to do so. But much of our thinking, left to itself, is biased, distorted, partial, uninformed, or downright prejudiced. If we want to think well, we must understand at least the rudiments of thought, the most basic structures out of which all thinking is made. We must learn how to take thinking apart.

    All Thinking Is Defined by the Eight Elements That Make It Up. Eight basic structures are present in all thinking: Whenever we think, we think for a purpose within a point of view based on assumptions leading to implications and consequences. We use concepts, ideas and theories to interpret data, facts, and experiences in order to answer questions, solve problems, and resolve issues.

    Thinking, then:
    • generates purposes
    • raises questions
    • uses information
    • utilizes concepts
    • makes inferences
    • makes assumptions
    • generates implications
    • embodies a point of view
    Simply "Mouse Over" any object on the page to learn more about it.

    Element: Purpose    All reasoning has a PURPOSE.

  • Take time to state your purpose clearly.
  • Distinguish your purpose from related purposes.
  • Check periodically to be sure you are still on target.
  • Choose significant and realistic purposes.
  • Element: Question    All reasoning is an attempt to figure something out, to settle some QUESTION, to solve some problem.

  • State the question at issue clearly and precisely.
  • Express the question in several ways to clarify its meaning.
  • Break the question into sub-questions.
  • Distinguish questions that have definitive answers from those that are a matter of opinion or that require multiple viewpoints.
  • Element: Information    All reasoning is based on DATA, INFORMATION and EVIDENCE.

  • Restrict your claims to those supported by the data you have.
  • Search for information that opposes your position as well as information that supports it.
  • Make sure that all information used is clear, accurate and relevant.
  • Make sure you have gathered sufficient information.
  • Element: Interpretation and Inference    All reasoning contains INFERENCES or INTERPRETATIONS by which we draw CONCLUSIONS and give meaning to data.

  • Infer only what the evidence implies.
  • Check inferences for their consistency with each other.
  • Identify assumptions underlying your inferences.
  • Element: Concepts    All reasoning is expressed through, and shaped by, CONCEPTS and IDEAS.

  • Identify key concepts and explain them clearly.
  • Consider alternative concepts or alternative definitions of concepts.
  • Make sure you are using concepts with precision.
  • Element: Assumptions
    All reasoning is based on ASSUMPTIONS.

  • Clearly identify your assumptions and determine whether they are justifiable.
  • Consider how your assumptions are shaping your point of view.
  • Element: Implications    All reasoning leads somewhere or has IMPLICATIONS and CONSEQUENCES.

  • Trace the implications and consequences that follow from your reasoning.
  • Search for negative as well as positive implications.
  • Consider all possible consequences.
  • Element: Point Of View    All reasoning is done from some POINT OF VIEW.

  • Identify your point of view.
  • Seek other points of view and identify their strengths as well as weaknesses.
  • Strive to be fairminded in evaluating all points of view.
  • Key Concept:

    Think About... Purpose

    Your purpose is your goal, your objective,
    what you are trying to accomplish. We also use the term to include functions, motives, and intentions.

    You should be clear about your purpose, and your purpose should be justifiable.

    Questions which target purpose
  • What is your, my, their purpose in doing________?
  • What is the objective of this assignment (task, job, experiment, policy, strategy, etc.)?
  • Should we question, refine, modify our purpose (goal, objective, etc.)?
  • What is the purpose of this meeting (chapter, relationship, action)?
  • What is your central aim in this line of thought?
  • What is the purpose of education?
  • Why did you say…?
  • State the Question

    The question lays out the problem or issue and
    guides our thinking. When the question is vague, our thinking will lack clarity and distinctness.

    The question should be clear and precise enough to productively guide our thinking.
    Questions which target the question
  • What is the question I am trying to answer?
  • What important questions are embedded in the issue?
  • Is there a better way to put the question?
  • Is this question clear? Is it complex?
  • I am not sure exactly what question you are asking. Could you explain it?
  • The question in my mind is this: How do you see the question?
  • What kind of question is this? Historical? Scientific? Ethical? Political? Economic? Or…?
  • What would we have to do to settle this question?
  • Gather... Information

    Information includes the facts, data, evidence, or experiences we use to figure things out. It does not necessarily imply accuracy or correctness.

    The information you use should be accurate and relevant to the question or issue you are addressing.
    Questions which target information
  • What information do I need to answer this question?
  • What data are relevant to this problem?
  • Do we need to gather more information?
  • Is this information relevant to our purpose or goal?
  • On what information are you basing that comment?
  • What experience convinced you of this? Could your experience be distorted?
  • How do we know this information (data, testimony) is accurate?
  • Have we left out any important information that we need to consider?
  • Watch Your... Inferences

    Inferences are interpretations or conclusions you come to. Inferring is what the mind does in figuring something out.
    Inferences should logically follow from the evidence. Infer no more or less than what is implied in the situation.
    Questions to check your inferences
  • What conclusions am I coming to?
  • Is my inference logical?
  • Are there other conclusions I should consider?
  • Does this interpretation make sense?
  • Does our solution necessarily follow from our data?
  • How did you reach that conclusion?
  • What are you basing your reasoning on?
  • Is there an alternative plausible conclusion?
  • Given all the facts what is the best possible conclusion?
  • How shall we interpret these data?
  • Clarify Your... Concepts

    Concepts are ideas, theories, laws, principles, or hypotheses we use in thinking to make sense of things.
    Be clear about the concepts you are using and use them justifiably.
    Questions you can ask about concepts
  • What idea am I using in my thinking? Is this idea causing problems for me or for others?
  • I think this is a good theory, but could you explain it more fully?
  • What is the main hypothesis you are using in your reasoning?
  • Are you using this term in keeping with established usage?
  • What main distinctions should we draw in reasoning through this problem?
  • What idea is this author using in his or her thinking? Is there a problem with it?
  • Check Your... Assumptions

    Assumptions are beliefs you take for granted. They usually operate at the subconscious or unconscious level of thought.
    Make sure that you are clear about your assumptions and they are justified by sound evidence.
    Questions you can ask about assumptions
  • What am I assuming or taking for granted?
  • Am I assuming something I shouldn’t?
  • What assumption is leading me to this conclusion?
  • What is… (this policy, strategy, explanation) assuming?
  • What exactly do sociologists (historians, mathematicians, etc.) take for granted?
  • What is being presupposed in this theory?
  • What are some important assumptions I make about my roommate, my friends, my parents, my instructors, my country?
  • Think Through the...
    Implications and Consequences

    Implications are claims or truths that logically follow from other claims or truths. Implications follow from thoughts. Consequences follow from actions.
    Implications are inherent in your thoughts, whether you see them or not. The best thinkers think through the logical implications in a situation before acting.

    Questions you can ask about implications
  • If I decide to do “X”, what things might happen?
  • If I decide not to do “X”, what things might happen?
  • What are you implying when you say that?
  • What is likely to happen if we do this versus that?
  • Are you implying that…?
  • How significant are the implications of this decision?
  • What, if anything, is implied by the fact that a much higher percentage of poor people are in jail than wealthy people?
  • Understand Your...
    Point of View

    Point of view is literally “the place” from which you
    view something. It includes what you are looking at and the way you are seeing it.

    Make sure you understand the limitations of your point of view and that you fully consider other relevant viewpoints.
    Questions to check your point of view
  • How am I looking at this situation? Is there another way to look at it that I should consider?
  • What exactly am I focused on? And how am I seeing it?
  • Is my view the only reasonable view? What does my point of view ignore?
  • Have you ever considered the way ____(Japanese, Muslims, South Americans, etc.) view this?
  • Which of these possible viewpoints makes the most sense given the situation?
  • Am I having difficulty looking at this situation from a viewpoint with which I disagree?
  • What is the point of view of the author of this story?
  • Do I study viewpoints that challenge my personal beliefs?
  • Print Page Change Text Size: TTT

    Universal Intellectual Standards

    by Linda Elder and Richard Paul

    Universal intellectual standards are standards which must be applied to thinking whenever one is interested in checking the quality of reasoning about a problem, issue, or situation. To think critically entails having command of these standards. To help students learn them, teachers should pose questions which probe student thinking; questions which hold students accountable for their thinking; questions which, through consistent use by the teacher in the classroom, become internalized by students as questions they need to ask themselves.

    The ultimate goal, then, is for these questions to become infused in the thinking of students, forming part of their inner voice, which then guides them to better and better reasoning. While there are many universal standards, the following are some of the most essential:

    CLARITY:Could you elaborate further on that point? Could you express that point in another way? Could you give me an illustration? Could you give me an example? Clarity is the gateway standard. If a statement is unclear, we cannot determine whether it is accurate or relevant. In fact, we cannot tell anything about it because we don't yet know what it is saying. For example, the question, "What can be done about the education system in America?" is unclear. In order to address the question adequately, we would need to have a clearer understanding of what the person asking the question is considering the "problem" to be. A clearer question might be "What can educators do to ensure that students learn the skills and abilities which help them function successfully on the job and in their daily decision-making?" 
    ACCURACY: Is that really true? How could we check that? How could we find out if that is true?  A statement can be clear but not accurate, as in "Most dogs are over 300 pounds in weight."

    PRECISION:Could you give more details? Could you be more specific?
    A statement can be both clear and accurate, but not precise, as in "Jack is overweight." (We don’t know how overweight Jack is, one pound or 500 pounds.)

    RELEVANCE:How is that connected to the question? How does that bear on the issue?
    A statement can be clear, accurate, and precise, but not relevant to the question at issue. For example, students often think that the amount of effort they put into a course should be used in raising their grade in a course. Often, however, the "effort" does not measure the quality of student learning; and when this is so, effort is irrelevant to their appropriate grade.

    DEPTH:How does your answer address the complexities in the question? How are you taking into account the problems in the question? Is that dealing with the most significant factors? A statement can be clear, accurate, precise, and relevant, but superficial (that is, lack depth). For example, the statement, "Just say No!" which is often used to discourage children and teens from using drugs, is clear, accurate, precise, and relevant. Nevertheless, it lacks depth because it treats an extremely complex issue, the pervasive problem of drug use among young people, superficially. It fails to deal with the complexities of the issue.

    BREADTH:Do we need to consider another point of view? Is there another way to look at this question? What would this look like from a conservative standpoint? What would this look like from the point of view of . . .?  A line of reasoning may be clear accurate, precise, relevant, and deep, but lack breadth (as in an argument from either the conservative or liberal standpoint which gets deeply into an issue, but only recognizes the insights of one side of the question.)

    LOGIC:Does this really make sense? Does that follow from what you said? How does that follow? But before you implied this, and now you are saying that; how can both be true? When we think, we bring a variety of thoughts together into some order. When the combination of thoughts are mutually supporting and make sense in combination, the thinking is "logical." When the combination is not mutually supporting, is contradictory in some sense or does not "make sense," the combination is not logical.

    FAIRNESSDo I have a vested interest in this issue?  Am I sympathetically representing the viewpoints of others?  Human think is often biased in the direction of the thinker - in what are the perceived interests of the thinker.  Humans do not naturally consider the rights and needs of others on the same plane with their own rights and needs.  We therefore must actively work to make sure we are applying the intellectual standard of fairness to our thinking.  Since we naturally see ourselves as fair even when we are unfair, this can be very difficult.  A commitment to fairmindedness is a starting place.

    For a deeper understanding of intellectual standards and their relationship with critical thinking, see the Thinker's Guide to Intellectual Standards.





    ( Paul, R. and Elder, L. (October 2010). Foundation For Critical Thinking, online at website:

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    Universal Intellectual Standards


    Content Is Thinking, Thinking is Content
    Critical Thinking in Every Domain of Knowledge and Belief
    Using Intellectual Standards to Assess Student Reasoning
    Open-minded inquiry
    Valuable Intellectual Traits
    Universal Intellectual Standards
    Thinking With Concepts
    The Analysis & Assessment of Thinking
    Glossary of Critical Thinking Terms
    Distinguishing Between Inert Information, Activated Ignorance, Activated Knowledge
    Critical Thinking: Identifying the Targets
    Distinguishing Between Inferences and Assumptions
    Critical Thinking Development: A Stage Theory
    Becoming a Critic Of Your Thinking
    Bertrand Russell on Critical Thinking

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