Southern New Hampshire University

Online Students

For All Online Programs

International Students

On Campus, need or have Visa

Campus Students

For All Campus Programs

The Importance of Critical Thinking, For Students and Ourselves

A group of students sit at a table discussing the importance of critical thinking

Critical thinking is a vital skill, yet it’s often neglected. In higher education, we know the importance of learning objectives that let us measure learner success. Starting with a clear definition of critical thinking allows us to identify the associated skills that we want to imbue in our students and ourselves.

Defining Critical Thinking

According to the Oxford Languages dictionary , critical thinking is “the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgment.” It sounds relatively simple, yet we often form judgments without that all-important objective analysis/evaluation piece.

Employers on the Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) Social Sciences Advisory Board tell us that they want to hire people with critical thinking skills, but applicants often lack this ability. According to Professor of Science Dr. Norman Herr , critical thinking skills can be boiled down to the following key sequential elements:

  • Identification of premises and conclusions — Break arguments down into logical statements
  • Clarification of arguments — Identify ambiguity in these stated assertions
  • Establishment of facts — Search for contradictions to determine if an argument or theory is complete and reasonable
  • Evaluation of logic — Use inductive or deductive reasoning to decide if conclusions drawn are adequately supported
  • Final evaluation — Weigh the arguments against the evidence presented

As educators, we must teach our students those critical thinking skills and practice them ourselves to objectively analyze an onslaught of information. Ideas, especially plausible-sounding philosophies, should be challenged and pass the credibility litmus test.

Red Flag Alert

The School Library Journal lists four types of information that should raise red flags when we’re watching the news, reading social media, or at any point in our everyday lives when we are confronted with something purported to be “fact:”

  • Fake news, which refers to purported news that is demonstrably untrue.
  • Misinformation, which is spread by those who don’t realize that it’s false or only partially true.
  • Disinformation, which is deliberately spread by people who know that it’s not accurate and who want to spread a false message.
  • Propaganda, which is information that is spread with a specific agenda. It may or may not be false, but it’s intended to get an emotional reaction.

Get With the Times

SNHU, and other colleges and universities across the U.S., must use updated tools to help their students think critically about the information they consume. Currently, many institutions of higher learning fail to teach students how to identify misinformation sources. Sam Wineburg and Nadiv Ziv , professors of education at Stanford University, argue that many colleges offer guides to evaluating website trustworthiness, but far too many of them base their advice on a 1998 report on assessing websites. They warn that it makes no sense for colleges to share 20-year-old advice on dealing with the rapidly-changing online landscape, where two decades feels like a century.

Further, as educators in institutions of higher education, we must afford learners as many opportunities as possible to hone their critical thinking skills when interacting with instructors and fellow students. Greg Lukianoff and Johnathan Haidt , authors of The Coddling of the American Mind , contend that “one of the most brilliant features of universities is that, when they are working properly, they are communities of scholars who cancel out one another’s confirmation biases .” Without exploring opposing viewpoints, students may fall prey to confirmation bias, further cementing ideas that they already believe to be true. Being inclusive when it comes to viewpoint diversity is indispensable for avoiding these echo chambers that circumvent having one’s ideas challenged.

Separating Wheat from Chaff: Critical Thinking Examples

As we teach our students the importance of critical thinking, how do we equip them to sift through the onslaught of information they encounter every day, both personally and in their educational pursuits? And how do we do the same for ourselves?

Here are four critical thinking examples that anyone can apply when evaluating information:

  • Consider whether the person who wrote or is sharing the information has any vested interest in doing so. For example, a writer may have a degree and professional experience that gives them expertise to write an article on specific communication techniques. Be aware that the writer’s credibility can be affected by outside interests. These include being paid to write a book with a certain viewpoint, giving paid seminars, affiliation with certain organizations or anything else that creates a financial or personal interest in promoting a specific perspective.
  • Consider the venue in which the person is sharing the information. Newscasts and newspapers once were slanted more toward neutrality, although there was never an era when bias was completely absent. The 19th century even had its own version of “clickbait” in the form of yellow journalism . Today, it’s getting more difficult for those with critical thinking skills to find unbiased sources. Websites like Towards Data Science publish lists rating major sites on their leanings; check these lists to view content on biased sites through a more skeptical lens, verifying their claims for yourself.
  • Read beyond clickbait headlines. Websites create headlines to generate traffic and ad revenue, not to support critical thinking or give accurate information. Too many people go by what the headline says without reading more deeply, even though media misrepresentation of studies is rampant . Often, the information contained within the article is not accurately represented in the headline. Sometimes there’s even a direct contradiction, or the publication is focusing on one single study that may mean nothing because other studies have contradictory results.
  • Use Snopes , Fact Check , and other fact-checking websites. Ironically, Snopes itself has been the victim of misinformation campaigns designed to discredit its efforts to promote the importance of critical thinking.

Anyone in a teaching position should point their students toward reliable references. For example, at SNHU, instructors can point their students towards the Shapiro Library for their assignments. No matter where you teach, the main objective is to give them opportunities to apply critical thinking skills by evaluating material that they encounter in everyday life. Another way to do this at SNHU or in any online classroom is by incorporating elements of the four points into your announcements, discussion posts and feedback. For example, you might post two articles with differing viewpoints on the week’s material. For each, break down the publication’s possible slant, the way in which any research-based material is presented and the author’s credentials. Hypothetically, ask students whether those factors might be playing into the opinions expressed.

Misinformation Morphs into Disinformation

Misinformation, if not addressed, easily turns into disinformation when it is readily shared by students, individuals and groups that may know it is wrong. They may continue to intentionally spread it to cast doubt or stir divisiveness. Students listen to their peers, and the more critical thinking is addressed in a course, the more we prepare students not to fall into the misinformation trap.

Courtney Brown and Sherrish Holland , of the Center for the Professional Education of Teachers, argue that for educators, the challenge is now far more about how they need to inform their students to interpret and assess the information they come across and not simply how to gain access to it. The term “fake news” is used to discredit anyone trying to clarify fact from fiction. Fake news is a cover for some people when they are being deliberately deceptive. As educators become clearer about the distinction, it can be better communicated to students.

Anyone Can Promote Critical Thinking

Even if you don’t teach, use those points in conversations to help others hone their critical thinking skills, along with a dose of emotional intelligence. If someone shares misinformation with you, don’t be combative. Instead, use probing statements and questions designed to spark their critical thinking.

Here are some examples:

“That’s very interesting. Do you think the person they’re quoting might be letting his business interests color what he’s saying?”

“I know that sometimes the media oversimplifies research. I wonder who funded that study and if that’s influencing what they’re saying.”

Of course, you need to adapt to the situation and to make what you say sound organic and conversational, but the core idea remains the same. Inspire the other person to use critical thinking skills. Give them reasons to look more deeply into the topic instead of blindly accepting information. Course activities that stimulate interaction and a deep dive into course-related ideas will encourage perspective-taking and foster new avenues of thought along the path to life-long learning. As American cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead said, “Children must be taught how to think, not what to think.” While Mead was referring to younger children, this statement is apropos for learners in higher education who are tasked with dissecting volumes of information.

It’s crucial to teach our students to question what they read and hear. Jerry Baldasty , provost at the University of Washington, believes that democracies live and die by the ability of their people to access information and engage in robust discussions based upon facts. It is the facts that are being attacked by misinformation. The result is a growing distrust of our core societal institution. People have lost confidence in religious organizations, higher education, government and the media as they believe deliberately deceptive information they come across.

Baldasty argues, “this is why it is crucial that we educate our students how to think critically, access and analyze data, and, above all, question the answers.” Students need critical thinking skills for much more than their self-enlightenment. They will become our leaders, politicians, teachers, researchers, advocates, authors, business owners and perhaps most importantly, voters. The more we can imbue them with critical thinking skills, the better.

Dr Nickolas Dominello

Explore more content like this article

A person researching the difference between certificates and degrees on the laptop.

Degrees vs. Certificate Programs: What's the Difference?

SNHU associate dean Dr. Kimberly Salgado.

Associate Dean Dr. Kimberly Salgado: A Faculty Q&A

SNHU master's in higher education administration graduate Frederico Curty in his cap and gown and holding his diploma at the SNHU commencement ceremony.

SNHU Spotlight: Frederico Curty, MS in Higher Education Administration Grad

About southern new hampshire university.

Two students walking in front of Monadnock Hall

SNHU is a nonprofit, accredited university with a mission to make high-quality education more accessible and affordable for everyone.

Founded in 1932, and online since 1995, we’ve helped countless students reach their goals with flexible, career-focused programs . Our 300-acre campus in Manchester, NH is home to over 3,000 students, and we serve over 135,000 students online. Visit our about SNHU  page to learn more about our mission, accreditations, leadership team, national recognitions and awards.

Have a language expert improve your writing

Run a free plagiarism check in 10 minutes, generate accurate citations for free.

  • Knowledge Base
  • Working with sources
  • What Is Critical Thinking? | Definition & Examples

What Is Critical Thinking? | Definition & Examples

Published on May 30, 2022 by Eoghan Ryan . Revised on May 31, 2023.

Critical thinking is the ability to effectively analyze information and form a judgment .

To think critically, you must be aware of your own biases and assumptions when encountering information, and apply consistent standards when evaluating sources .

Critical thinking skills help you to:

  • Identify credible sources
  • Evaluate and respond to arguments
  • Assess alternative viewpoints
  • Test hypotheses against relevant criteria

Table of contents

Why is critical thinking important, critical thinking examples, how to think critically, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about critical thinking.

Critical thinking is important for making judgments about sources of information and forming your own arguments. It emphasizes a rational, objective, and self-aware approach that can help you to identify credible sources and strengthen your conclusions.

Critical thinking is important in all disciplines and throughout all stages of the research process . The types of evidence used in the sciences and in the humanities may differ, but critical thinking skills are relevant to both.

In academic writing , critical thinking can help you to determine whether a source:

  • Is free from research bias
  • Provides evidence to support its research findings
  • Considers alternative viewpoints

Outside of academia, critical thinking goes hand in hand with information literacy to help you form opinions rationally and engage independently and critically with popular media.

Prevent plagiarism. Run a free check.

Critical thinking can help you to identify reliable sources of information that you can cite in your research paper . It can also guide your own research methods and inform your own arguments.

Outside of academia, critical thinking can help you to be aware of both your own and others’ biases and assumptions.

Academic examples

However, when you compare the findings of the study with other current research, you determine that the results seem improbable. You analyze the paper again, consulting the sources it cites.

You notice that the research was funded by the pharmaceutical company that created the treatment. Because of this, you view its results skeptically and determine that more independent research is necessary to confirm or refute them. Example: Poor critical thinking in an academic context You’re researching a paper on the impact wireless technology has had on developing countries that previously did not have large-scale communications infrastructure. You read an article that seems to confirm your hypothesis: the impact is mainly positive. Rather than evaluating the research methodology, you accept the findings uncritically.

Nonacademic examples

However, you decide to compare this review article with consumer reviews on a different site. You find that these reviews are not as positive. Some customers have had problems installing the alarm, and some have noted that it activates for no apparent reason.

You revisit the original review article. You notice that the words “sponsored content” appear in small print under the article title. Based on this, you conclude that the review is advertising and is therefore not an unbiased source. Example: Poor critical thinking in a nonacademic context You support a candidate in an upcoming election. You visit an online news site affiliated with their political party and read an article that criticizes their opponent. The article claims that the opponent is inexperienced in politics. You accept this without evidence, because it fits your preconceptions about the opponent.

There is no single way to think critically. How you engage with information will depend on the type of source you’re using and the information you need.

However, you can engage with sources in a systematic and critical way by asking certain questions when you encounter information. Like the CRAAP test , these questions focus on the currency , relevance , authority , accuracy , and purpose of a source of information.

When encountering information, ask:

  • Who is the author? Are they an expert in their field?
  • What do they say? Is their argument clear? Can you summarize it?
  • When did they say this? Is the source current?
  • Where is the information published? Is it an academic article? Is it peer-reviewed ?
  • Why did the author publish it? What is their motivation?
  • How do they make their argument? Is it backed up by evidence? Does it rely on opinion, speculation, or appeals to emotion ? Do they address alternative arguments?

Critical thinking also involves being aware of your own biases, not only those of others. When you make an argument or draw your own conclusions, you can ask similar questions about your own writing:

  • Am I only considering evidence that supports my preconceptions?
  • Is my argument expressed clearly and backed up with credible sources?
  • Would I be convinced by this argument coming from someone else?

If you want to know more about ChatGPT, AI tools , citation , and plagiarism , make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples.

  • ChatGPT vs human editor
  • ChatGPT citations
  • Is ChatGPT trustworthy?
  • Using ChatGPT for your studies
  • What is ChatGPT?
  • Chicago style
  • Paraphrasing

 Plagiarism

  • Types of plagiarism
  • Self-plagiarism
  • Avoiding plagiarism
  • Academic integrity
  • Consequences of plagiarism
  • Common knowledge

Scribbr Citation Checker New

The AI-powered Citation Checker helps you avoid common mistakes such as:

  • Missing commas and periods
  • Incorrect usage of “et al.”
  • Ampersands (&) in narrative citations
  • Missing reference entries

why is critical thinking important in academics

Critical thinking refers to the ability to evaluate information and to be aware of biases or assumptions, including your own.

Like information literacy , it involves evaluating arguments, identifying and solving problems in an objective and systematic way, and clearly communicating your ideas.

Critical thinking skills include the ability to:

You can assess information and arguments critically by asking certain questions about the source. You can use the CRAAP test , focusing on the currency , relevance , authority , accuracy , and purpose of a source of information.

Ask questions such as:

  • Who is the author? Are they an expert?
  • How do they make their argument? Is it backed up by evidence?

A credible source should pass the CRAAP test  and follow these guidelines:

  • The information should be up to date and current.
  • The author and publication should be a trusted authority on the subject you are researching.
  • The sources the author cited should be easy to find, clear, and unbiased.
  • For a web source, the URL and layout should signify that it is trustworthy.

Information literacy refers to a broad range of skills, including the ability to find, evaluate, and use sources of information effectively.

Being information literate means that you:

  • Know how to find credible sources
  • Use relevant sources to inform your research
  • Understand what constitutes plagiarism
  • Know how to cite your sources correctly

Confirmation bias is the tendency to search, interpret, and recall information in a way that aligns with our pre-existing values, opinions, or beliefs. It refers to the ability to recollect information best when it amplifies what we already believe. Relatedly, we tend to forget information that contradicts our opinions.

Although selective recall is a component of confirmation bias, it should not be confused with recall bias.

On the other hand, recall bias refers to the differences in the ability between study participants to recall past events when self-reporting is used. This difference in accuracy or completeness of recollection is not related to beliefs or opinions. Rather, recall bias relates to other factors, such as the length of the recall period, age, and the characteristics of the disease under investigation.

Cite this Scribbr article

If you want to cite this source, you can copy and paste the citation or click the “Cite this Scribbr article” button to automatically add the citation to our free Citation Generator.

Ryan, E. (2023, May 31). What Is Critical Thinking? | Definition & Examples. Scribbr. Retrieved January 2, 2024, from https://www.scribbr.com/working-with-sources/critical-thinking/

Is this article helpful?

Eoghan Ryan

Eoghan Ryan

Other students also liked, student guide: information literacy | meaning & examples, what are credible sources & how to spot them | examples, applying the craap test & evaluating sources.

University of Essex Online

I'm looking for.

Study mode:

Indicative duration:

Prefer to see our subject areas?

Home / Blog / The importance of critical thinking

The importance of critical thinking

19th Feb 2016

banner-image

Critical thinking is a core academic skill that teaches undergraduate and postgraduate students to question or reflect on their own knowledge and information presented to them. This skill is essential for students working on assignments and performing research. It’s also an invaluable skill in many workplace scenarios. In this week’s blog we discuss what critical thinking is, how it applies to the workplace and how to develop this crucial skill.

What is critical thinking?

Critical thinking is not just being critical in the typical, negative sense of the word; there are many definitions but according to Beyer (1995), critical thinking means ‘making clear, reasoned judgments’.

A successful critical thinker questions perceived knowledge, rejects anecdotal or non-scientific evidence and examines the source of all information. He or she is open-minded and well-informed, able to judge the quality of an argument and draw cautious yet evidence-based conclusions.

It’s important for academic students because it enables them to produce essays and papers that are free from personal or societal bias.

How is it developed while studying?

With the support of their tutor and fellow students, learners must become skilled at assessing each source of information to determine its merit before using it as a reference.

Before utilising a statistic, quotation or piece of research to reinforce their argument in an assignment or discussion, students should check the source carefully to ensure that it was produced by a reliable source. That source needs to be based on solid evidence and should not suffer from research bias.

Assignments based on flimsy or badly-researched source materials will receive lower grades as the conclusions drawn are only as reliable as the data they are based on.

Critical thinking is developed naturally over the course of study as students learn to scrutinise evidence and dissect opposing arguments.

How does it apply to the workplace?

Many people considering undergraduate or postgraduate study focus their attention only on the subject-specific skills that they will develop, e.g. they assume that a law degree will only help them to progress in a legal-related role.

However this is not the case; while it’s true that a law course covers many law-related topics, it will also develop your general communication, presentation, writing, analytical and critical thinking skills. These skills can then be used in the workplace in many ways, depending on the industry. For example, a manager could use their critical thinking skills to evaluate sales and financial data, or to review a project proposal.

By remaining detached from sudden fluctuations in data and emotional sales pitches, employees with critical thinking skills are able to see the bigger picture and avoid making hasty (and costly!) decisions. Employees with critical thinking skills can also use these to improve their company through market research and by recognising opportunities. By researching the competition and their practices, assessing what is successful, these employees can help their company spot opportunities for growth, expansion or product development. Getting ahead of market trends before anyone else gives the company a valuable edge in the marketplace.

In summary, critical thinking is a vital skill in both academia and the world of work. It is developed naturally during undergraduate and postgraduate study, and has applications in almost every industry and role.

Do you want to develop your critical thinking skills?  Download our prospectus today  and find a course to help you.

Beyer, B.K., 1995. Critical Thinking. Fastback 385 . Phi Delta Kappa, 408 N. Union, PO Box 789, Bloomington, IN 47402-0789.

why is critical thinking important in academics

IMAGES

  1. PPT

    why is critical thinking important in academics

  2. Importance of Critical Thinking

    why is critical thinking important in academics

  3. THE IMPORTANCE OF CRITICAL THINKING IN EDUCATION

    why is critical thinking important in academics

  4. Importance of critical thinking: 13 compelling reasons

    why is critical thinking important in academics

  5. What Education in Critical Thinking Implies Infographic

    why is critical thinking important in academics

  6. The benefits of Critical Thinking for Students

    why is critical thinking important in academics

VIDEO

  1. Foundations of Critical Thinking

  2. critical thinking

  3. Why Critical Thinking Matters Now More Than Ever!

  4. This Is Why Critical Thinking Is Important

  5. The LOGICAL Explanation Of Why Critical Thinking Is So Important

  6. Why Emotional Intelligence Matters

COMMENTS

  1. Critical Thinking: Critical For Academic Success

    Critical thinking is at the heart of Unlock, fostering the skills and strategies students need to tackle academic tasks when gathering and evaluating information, organizing and presenting their ideas, and then reflecting on them. Find out more about critical thinking and Unlock Second Edition.

  2. The Importance of Critical Thinking

    Explore Programs Critical thinking is a vital skill, yet it’s often neglected. In higher education, we know the importance of learning objectives that let us measure learner success. Starting with a clear definition of critical thinking allows us to identify the associated skills that we want to imbue in our students and ourselves.

  3. What Is Critical Thinking?

    Critical thinking is important for making judgments about sources of information and forming your own arguments. It emphasizes a rational, objective, and self-aware approach that can help you to identify credible sources and strengthen your conclusions.

  4. Critical thinking

    Critical thinking is important in all subjects and disciplines – in science and engineering, as well as the arts and humanities. The types of evidence used to develop arguments may be very different but the processes and techniques are similar. Critical thinking is required for both undergraduate and postgraduate levels of study.

  5. The importance of critical thinking

    It’s important for academic students because it enables them to produce essays and papers that are free from personal or societal bias. How is it developed while studying? With the support of their tutor and fellow students, learners must become skilled at assessing each source of information to determine its merit before using it as a reference.