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Critical Thinkers: Home

Tips to improve critical listening, reading, speaking, and writing.

Critical Listeners

A mode of monitoring how we are listening so as to maximize our accurate understanding of what another person is saying is critical listening.  By understanding the logic of human communication – that everything spoken expresses point of view, uses some ideas and not others, has implications, etc. – critical thinkers can listen so as to enter sympathetically and analytically into the perspective of others.

The critical listener will:

  • strive to understand the speaker’s point of view;
  • identify assumptions and biases that mold the speaker’s meaning;
  • listen actively:
    • stop all other tasks and pay attention solely to the speaker;
    • face the speaker and, most importantly, make eye contact;
    • watch for non-verbal cues, such as facial expressions and body language;
    • listen to both the speaker’s words and tone;
    • listen carefully to what is actually being said, as well as to what is being said between the lines; and paraphrase and interpret what the speaker just said.

Critical Readers

Critical reading is an active, intellectually engaged process in which the reader participates in an inner dialogue with the writer. Most people read uncritically and so miss some part of what is expressed while distorting other parts. A critical reader realizes the way in which reading, by its very nature, means entering into a point of view other than our own – the point of view of the writer. A critical reader actively looks for assumptions, key concepts and ideas, reasons and justifications, supporting examples, parallel experiences, implications and consequences, and any other structural features of the written text to interpret and assess it accurately and fairly.

The critical reader will approach reading passages as a whole, instead of one word or phrase at a time. The critical reader will examine the table of contents or chapter outlines.  The critical reader will preview his/her reading first, by skimming the reading assignment and taking note of section headings, illustrations, and diagrams.  He/she will read the introductory paragraphs and the concluding paragraphs or the chapter summary.  The critical reader will approach his/her reading like a problem solver:

  • What is the issue?
  • What conclusion does the author reach about the issue?
  • What are the author’s reasons for believing as he does?
  • Has the author used facts of opinions?
  • Has the author used neutral words or emotional words?

Critical Speakers

Critical speaking is critical thinking applied to public speaking.  We do not hear many examples of clear, logical, accurate spoken communication.  Oral communication is usually more spontaneous and must be carefully presented because, unless recorded, it is present only for the moment.  Preparing the content carefully to attract and hold the interest and attention of the audience is necessary.

The critical speaker will:

  • organize and express ideas clearly,
  • be audience-centered,
  • use accurate language,
  • have extensive knowledge of the subject, and
  • anticipate his/her audience’s questions.

Critical Writers

To express ourselves in language requires that we arrange our ideas in some relationships to each other. When accuracy and truth are at issue, then we must understand what our thesis is, how we can support it, how we can elaborate on it to make it intelligible to others, what objections can be raised to it from other points of view, what the limitations are to our point of view, and so forth. Disciplined writing requires disciplined thinking; disciplined thinking is achieved through disciplined writing.

The critical writer will:

  • be organized, logical, and mechanically correct with his/her grammar and punctuation;
  • not summarize or rewrite materials or information, but rather will dissect the ideas presented in a source and comment on them in an organized way;
  • use facts, reasons, examples, statistics, comparisons, or anecdotes to support his/her opinions;
  • provide the reader with an objective analysis through clear and concise writing;
  • recognize and avoid fallacies (arguments flawed by their very nature or structure): e.g. scare tactics, either/or choices, sentimental appeal, hopping on the bandwagon, slippery slope to downfall/decline, appeals to false authority, or hasty generalizations;
  • support all claims with valid supporting reasons; and
  • recognize and acknowledge lines of argument, i.e. pathos (arguments based upon emotion), logos (arguments based upon logic or reason), or ethos (arguments based upon a person’s character).



The information for handout was adapted or excerpted from the following:

   Elder, L. and Paul, R. (2004). Adapted from The Thinker’s Guide to the Art of Strategic Thinking: 25 Weeks to Better Thinking and Better Living.