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Succeeding in postgraduate study
Succeeding in postgraduate study

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3 Fundamental aspects of critical thinking

Despite the differences emanating from these schools of thought, there is agreement on some fundamental facets of critical thinking, most of which recognise the various behaviours and/or dispositions that a critical thinker must possess.


  • analysing arguments, claims or evidence
  • judging or evaluating based on evidence
  • making inferences using inductive or deductive reasoning
  • making decisions and/or solving problems through reasoning.


  • open-mindedness
  • searcher of truth
  • inquisition
  • fair and balanced view of one’s work and that of others.

Activity 3 Qualities and attributes associated with a ‘critical thinker’

Timing: Allow approximately 10 minutes

Pause briefly here to reflect further on this.

What qualities or attributes come to mind when you consider someone to be a ‘critical thinker’?

Note down your thoughts; you may find it helpful to list these.

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Here are a few thoughts. This is not meant to be the ‘definitive’ answer, but we want you to consider and reflect on some of these points. A critical thinker would typically avoid jumping to conclusions. They would seek to deepen their own understanding, analyse experience gained from different angles, look at the reasons for and consequences of their own actions, seek clarity and evidence to support their assumptions and beliefs, make use of theory, research and professional knowledge and the insights gained to make informed judgements, decisions and plans for the future.

Someone who is engaged in ‘critical thinking’ could be considered to be:

  • self-aware (and emotionally aware)
  • open to others’ ideas (does not automatically assume that own knowledge and experience is typical of others’)
  • imaginative and showing curiosity
  • enquiring (asks pertinent questions)
  • empathetic (able to understand another’s point of view)
  • able to accept praise and constructive criticism
  • able to think ‘laterally’
  • able to troubleshoot and solve problems (seeks new solutions)
  • able to challenge their own assumptions, beliefs and opinions
  • able to see things from different perspectives
  • able to distinguish between facts and opinions
  • able to evaluate statements and arguments.

How many of these matched your own thoughts? Were there other qualities that you noted?

Another aspect of critical thinking we haven’t mentioned yet is, of course, one’s knowledge of the subject matter. A well-informed researcher or practitioner is always in a good position to offer better insights on the subject matter from an informed position. Bailin et al. (1999), for example, posit that domain-specific knowledge is indispensable in academic critique because the kinds of analysis, evaluation and the use of evidence often vary from discipline to discipline. However, it is important to emphasise that critical thinking and analysis is not simply related to subject knowledge. At postgraduate level the expectations are much higher. You will be required to engage in greater depth with a range of literature, as well as methodologies and approaches used in a variety of research. Now, whilst expectation may vary across disciplines, the fundamentals remain the same.

Activity 4 Reflecting on your understanding and perceptions of critical thinking

Timing: Allow approximately 20 minutes

Return to your notes from Activity 1 (in this session) and consider the following questions:

  • To what extent do you think the activities you listed involved critical thinking and/or analysis?
  • Has your perception of what constitutes critical thinking shifted in any way?
  • If it has, can you explain why?
  • If not, which ‘school of thought’ does your understanding align with, and why?
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