Critical Thinking

Before you wonder if you’re even capable of critical thinking, consider that you think critically every day. When you decide to make your lunch rather than just grabbing a bag of chips, you’re thinking critically. You have to plan ahead, buy the food, possibly prepare it, arrange to and carry the lunch with you, and you may have various reasons for doing that — making healthier eating choices, saving money for an upcoming trip, or wanting more quiet time to unwind instead of waiting in a crowded lunch line. You are constantly weighing options, consulting data, gathering opinions, making choices, and then evaluating those decisions, which is a general definition of critical thinking.


Critical Thinking by Kamin Ginkaew from

Determining the Problem

One component to keep in mind to guide your critical thinking is to determine the situation. What problem are you solving? When problems become complex and multifaceted, it is easy to be distracted by the simple parts that may not need as much thinking to resolve but also may not contribute as much to the ultimate problem resolution. What aspect of the situation truly needs your attention and your critical thinking? For example, early in the twentieth century, many people considered cigarette smoking a relaxing social pastime that didn’t have many negative consequences. Some people may still consider smoking a way to relax; however, years of medical research have proven with mounting evidence that smoking causes cancer and exacerbates numerous other medical conditions. Researchers asked questions about the impact of smoking on people’s overall health, conducted regulated experiments, tracked smokers’ reactions, and concluded that smoking did negatively impact health. Over time, attitudes, evidence, and opinions change, and as a critical thinker, you must continue to research, synthesize newly discovered evidence, and adapt to that new information.

Defending Against Bias

Once you have all your information gathered and you have checked your sources for currency and validity, you need to direct your attention to how you’re going to present your now well-informed analysis. Be careful on this step to recognize your own possible biases. Facts are verifiable; opinions are beliefs without supporting evidence. Stating an opinion is just that. You could say “Blue is the best colour,” and that’s your opinion. If you were to conduct research and find evidence to support this claim, you could say, “Researchers at Oxford University recognize that the use of blue paint in psychiatric hospitals reduces heart rates by 25% and contributes to fewer angry outbursts from patients.” This would be an informed analysis with credible evidence to support the claim. Not everyone will accept your analysis, which can be frustrating. Most people resist change and have firm beliefs on both important issues and less significant preferences. With all the competing information surfacing online, in the news, and in general conversation, you can understand how confusing it can be to make any decisions. Look at all the reliable, valid sources that claim different approaches to be the best diet for healthy living: ketogenic, low carb, vegan, vegetarian, high fat, raw foods, paleo, Mediterranean, and so on. All you can do in this sort of situation is conduct your own serious research, check your sources, and write clearly and concisely to provide your analysis of the information for consideration. You cannot force others to accept your stance, but you can show your evidence in support of your thinking, being as persuasive as possible without lapsing into your own personal biases. Then the rest is up to the person reading or viewing your analysis.

Factual Arguments vs. Opinions

Thinking and constructing analyses based on your thinking will bring you in contact with a great deal of information. Some of that information will be factual, and some will not. You need to be able to distinguish between facts and opinions so you know how to support your arguments.

  • Fact: A statement that is true and backed up with evidence; facts can be verified through observation or research.
  • Opinion: A statement someone holds to be true without supporting evidence; opinions express beliefs, assumptions, perceptions, or judgements.

Of course, the tricky part is that most people do not label statements as fact and opinion, so you need to be aware and recognize the difference as you go about honing your critical-thinking skills. You probably have heard the old saying “Everyone is entitled to their own opinions,” which may be true, but conversely, not everyone is entitled to their own facts. Facts are true for everyone, not just those who want to believe in them. For example, mice are animals is a fact; mice make the best pets is an opinion.

Determine if the following statements are facts or opinions based on just the information provided here, referring to the basic definitions above. Some people consider scientific findings to be opinions even when they are convincingly backed by reputable evidence and experimentation. However, remember the definition of fact — verifiable by research or observation. Think about what other research you may have to conduct to make an informed decision.

  • Oregon is a state in the United States. (How would this be proven?)
  • Beef is made from cattle. (See current legislation concerning vegetarian “burgers.”)
  • Increased street lighting decreases criminal behaviour. (What information would you need to validate this claim?)
  • In 1952, Elizabeth became Queen of England. (What documents could validate this?)
  • Oatmeal tastes plain. (What factors might play into this claim?)
  • Acne is an embarrassing skin condition. (Who might verify this claim?)
  • Kindergarten decreases student dropout rates. (Think of different interest groups that may take sides on this issue.)
  • Cell phones cause brain tumours. (What research considers this claim?)

Many people become very attached to their opinions, even stating them as facts despite the lack of verifiable evidence. Think about political campaigns, sporting rivalries, musical preferences, and religious or philosophical beliefs. When you are reading, writing, and thinking critically, you must be on the lookout for sophisticated opinions others may present as factual information. While it’s possible to be polite when questioning another person’s opinions during intellectual debate, thinking critically requires that you do conduct this questioning.

For instance, someone may say or write that a particular political party should move its offices to different cities every year — that’s an opinion regardless of whether you side with one party or the other. If, on the other hand, the same person said that one political party is headquartered in a specific city, that is a fact you can verify. You could find sources that can validate or discredit the statement. Even if the city the person lists as the party headquarters is incorrect, the statement itself is still a fact — just an erroneous one. If you use biased and opinionated information or even incorrect facts as your evidence to support your factual arguments, then you have not validated your sources or checked your facts well enough. At this point, you would need to keep researching.


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