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Critical Thinking: Home

Defining critical thinking and ways to improve critical thinking skills.


Critical Thinking as defined by Moore and Parker in their book Critical Thinking is

“The careful, deliberate determination of whether we should accept, reject, or suspend judgment about a claim, and the degree of confidence with which we accept or reject it.”

Critical thinkers:

  • are honest with themselves.
  • resist manipulation.
  • overcome confusion.
  • ask questions.
  • base judgment on evidence.
  • look for connections between subjects.
  • are intellectually independent.

Critical thinking will assist you to:

  • enhance your common sense,
  • understand the “experts,”
  • filter emotion,
  • sort fact from opinion,
  • categorize experiences,
  • select references, and
  • learn to express yourself in a cognate and expressive manner.

Improving Your Critical Thinking Skills - Step 1

Clarify Your Thinking

Our own thinking usually seems clear to us, even when it is not. But vague, ambiguous, muddled, deceptive, or misleading thinking causes significant problems in human life. If we are to develop as thinkers, we must learn the art of clarifying thinking, of pinning it down, spelling it out, and giving it a specific meaning. Here is what you can do to begin. When people explain things to you, summarize in your own words what you think they said. When you cannot do this to their satisfaction, you do not really understand what they said. When they cannot summarize what you have said to your satisfaction, they do not really understand what you said.

 Strategies for clarifying your thinking:

  • State one point at a time.
  • Elaborate on what you mean.
  • Give examples that connect your thoughts to life experiences.
  • Use analogies and metaphors to help people connect your ideas to a variety of things they already understand.

To clarify other people’s thinking, consider asking the following:

  • Can you restate your point in other words? I did not understand you.
  • Can you give an example?
  • Let me tell you what I understood you said. Did I understand you correctly? 

Improving Your Critical Thinking Skills - Step 2

Stick to the Point

Be on the lookout for fragmented thinking, thinking that leaps about with no logical connections. Start noticing when you or others fail to stay focused on what is relevant. Focus on finding what will aid you in truly solving a problem. When someone brings up a point (however true) that does not seem pertinent to the issue at hand, ask, “How is what you are saying relevant to the issue?” When you are working through a problem, make sure you stay focused on what sheds light on and, thus, helps address the problem. Do not allow your mind to wander to unrelated matters. Do not allow others to stray from the main issue. Frequently ask: “What is the central question? Is this or that relevant to it? And, how?”

Ask these questions to make sure thinking is focused and relevant:

  • Am I focused on the main problem or task?
  • How is this connected? How is that connected?
  • Does my information directly relate to the problem or task?
  • Where do I need to focus my attention?
  • Are we being diverted to unrelated matters?
  • Am I failing to consider relevant viewpoints?
  • How is your point relevant to the issue we are addressing?
  • What facts are actually going to help us answer the question? What considerations should be set aside?
  • Does this truly bear on the question? How does it connect? 

Improving Your Critical Thinking Skills - Step 3

Question Questions

Be on the lookout for questions: the ones we ask and the ones we fail to ask. Look on the surface. Look beneath the surface. Listen to how people question, when they question, and when they fail to question. Look closely at the questions asked. What questions do you ask or should you ask? Examine the extent to which you are a questioner or simply one who accepts the definitions of situations given by others.

Good thinkers routinely ask questions in order to understand and effectively deal with the world around them. They question the status quo. They know that things are often different from the way they are presented. Their questions penetrate images, masks, fronts, and propaganda. Their questions make real problems explicit and discipline their thinking through those problems. If you become a student of questions, you can learn to ask powerful questions that lead to a deeper and more fulfilling life. Your questions become more basic, essential, and deep.

Strategies for formulating more powerful questions:

  • Whenever you do not understand something, ask a question of clarification.
  • Whenever you are dealing with a complex problem, formulate the question you are trying to answer in several different ways (being as precise as you can) until you hit upon the way that best addresses the problem at hand.
  • Whenever you plan to discuss an important issue or problem, write out in advance the most significant questions you think need to be addressed in the discussion. Be ready to change the main question, but once made clear, help those in the discussion stick to the question, making sure the dialogue builds toward an answer that makes sense.

 Questions you can ask to discipline your thinking:

  • What precise question are we trying to answer?
  • Is that the best question to ask in this situation?
  • Is there a more important question we should be addressing?
  • Does this question capture the real issue we are facing?
  • Is there a question we should answer before we attempt to answer this question?
  • What information do we need to answer the question?
  • What conclusions seem justified in light of the facts?
  • What is our point of view? Do we need to consider another?
  • Is there another way to look at the question?
  • What are some related questions we need to consider?
  • What type of question is this: an economic question, a political question, a legal question, etc.?

Improving Your Critical Thinking Skills - Step 4

Be Reasonable

Be on the lookout for reasonable and unreasonable behaviors – yours and others. Look on the surface. Look beneath the surface. Listen to what people say. Look closely at what they do. Notice when you are unwilling to listen to the views of others, when you simply see yourself as right and others as wrong. Ask yourself at those moments whether their views might have any merit. See if you can break through your defensiveness to hear what they are saying. Notice unreasonableness in others.  One of the hallmarks of a critical thinker is the disposition to change one’s mind when given good reason to change. Good thinkers want to change their thinking when they discover better thinking.

 Realize that you are being close-minded if you

  • are unwilling to listen to someone’s reasons.
  • are irritated by the reasons people give you.
  • become defensive during a discussion.

After you catch yourself being close-minded, analyze what was going on in your mind by completing these statements:

  • I realize I was being close-minded in this situation because . . .
  • The thinking I was trying to hold onto is . . .
  • Thinking that is potentially better is . . .
  • This thinking is better because . . . 


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.