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Dr. Chris McMillan – Academic Skills Adviser

To understand the purpose and value of critical thinking

To consider how to translate these principles into an argument

To understand how to structure and plan the defence of an argument

To be able to translate this argument into writing

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Moving from remembering, recording and describing information to analysing, evaluating and synthesising knowledge


Analysing and Evaluating

Critical thinking is a questioning attitude, rather than a set of skills

Independent and active learning is essential at university

◦ The ability to analyse, evaluate and synthesise is vital to producing high quality academic work

Reasoning and analysis skills are highly valued by employers

◦ Need to be able to think for yourself and make independent judgements

Universities have a vital role in democratic societies

Having a critical identity makes you a more interesting person!

Critical thinking is vital at university and requires specific skills ◦ Active and critical reading ◦ Analysing and evaluating research ◦ Developing our own arguments and defending them with reasoning and evidence

Key Tip #1 Critical thinking is the key to excelling at university

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Are you critical?

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Write for one minute on whether you are a critical thinker in your life and at university. Is it something you find difficult, or does it come naturally?

Assignment questions

Problems and issues

Academic research

‌getting involved in the academic debate

Research is the key to developing an argument

Establish the issue you are responding to

Understand the parameters and key figures in current debates

Critically analyse and evaluate these positions

Find your critical intervention

Critical analysis & evaluation

What is the central argument?

What are the main supporting reasons?

What evidence has been provided?

Is this evidence valid and reliable?

Upon what ideological framework(s) is the research founded?

What is the main argument?

What are the supporting reasons?

What evidence is used to justify the premises?

Are you convinced?

Critical thinking is an attitude and a process rather than a set of skills

Academically, critical thinking begins with the initial processing of materials through listening, reading and notemaking

The product of our thought processes is critique and arguments

We represent that thought in written arguments

We need to express our opinions

Opinions differ from arguments

An academic argument is an informed and authoritative opinion backed by evidence and reasoning

This position is expressed as a thesis statement

Your position is expressed at the beginning of your work: the thesis statement

The remainder of the assignment is spent defending this position

Thesis statements contain your justified response to the assignment question

Thesis statements contain a claim, a justification and are often supplemented by a qualifying statement.

Hook the reader and tell them what they need to know

Context Tell them what you will write about


Thesis Statement

Tell them what you will be arguing


Critically evaluate the impact of fee increases on student satisfaction in higher education Thesis: As fees rise, students’ satisfaction is likely to decrease as they demand stronger services from universities that have not been provided with extra funding to offer that support. Conversely, there may be other ways, such as an increased focus on teaching standards, to maintain satisfaction levels without extra funding.

What is the Issue? 

Identify your response

What are the main elements of this position? ◦ What evidence do you have for these claims?

Where does conflicting evidence fit into your argument?

Key Tip #2 Know what you are arguing!

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It is vital to organise the defence of your critical intervention

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This defence can be organised into an writing plan

Primary position Alternative Position


Weave your argument together by using sources to ‘interview’ each other

Research provides the characters in the story you are telling

Make sure that you ask the questions and direct the debate

The manner in which you arrange, reconstruct and critique positions defines your argument

What do you think, Smith?

Do you think Smith’s research methods are valid, Jones?

Williams, do these methods work across different contexts?

Counter arguments conflict with your main position

Explain why you are not persuaded, remembering to include evidence and rhetoric

Mix-up descriptive and critical writing: describe a position and link it together with the next using an argumentative verb

Valuable points should be acknowledged in order to create a synthesis

◦ You must respond to these positions to strengthen your argument and provide evidence of critical analysis

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Thesis Statement

Although universities have a responsibility to produce employable graduates, their main function remains the production of critical thought.

Consider the thesis statement on the following slide

Try to develop an argument plan

What is the main point you wish to make?

What is the main opposing point?

Can you establish a synthesis?

Key Tip #3 Plan your argument

We need to drive the reader around our argument

To do this, links between ideas need to be established

These links can be developed within paragraphs through signposts

Alternatively, links are established at the beginning and end of paragraphs

Globalisation has…


Furthermore,… Yet,…

In conclusion…

Adding on vs. Developing ‘Also…’ ‘Another study that…’ ‘Another example of…’ as opposed to… ‘This evidence suggests…’ ‘These examples indicate…’ ‘Similarly…’ ‘Though these studies are…’

Drive your reader around Globalisation‌



Statement/Topic sentence Evidence or Examples

Explanations and Reasoning

Evaluation/Transition: So what?

Statement/Topic sentence Evidence or Examples

Explanations and Reasoning Evaluation/Transition

Topic Sentence


In the tea industry, which relies heavily on reputation and taste over trend, the benefits of direct and organic marketing far outweigh the more traditional elements of the marketing mix. Direct marketing can provide a more personal service (Fill, 2005), whilst organic marketing can provide a sense of community and allows contact and the transferring of knowledge with customers (Ghambari, 2008). In considering community in marketing strategy, Booms and Bitner (1981) suggest an extended marketing mix including people as a key element. This emphasises the impact of culture on the success of the tea industry, and in turn allows for the inclusion of cultural practices in marketing strategy development. These cultural practices, however, are often Conversely, cultural practices are often highlyhighly differentiated, differentiated,especially especiallywithin withinthe thetea teaindustry. industry,Here Hereititis‌ is

Key Tip #4 Create links between your ideas

Confident, but not opinionated

Judgemental and critical, but not dismissive

Fair and reasoned, without prejudice

Making conclusions, without jumping to conclusions

Traditional academic writing only uses the 3rd person e.g. Not YOU think or I think, but SMITH thinks

Non-personal terms sound more objective: they remove overt indications of personal bias

Most of the time personal pro-nouns can simply be removed from the text

“Drawing on a range of supporting literature, the issue of to what extent to which the political views of the romantic poets influenced those of the educated classes will be explored”

“Drawing on a range of supporting literature, I shall explore the extent to which the political views of Romantic poets influenced those of the educated classes” Source: Copus (2009, p.88)

“Although Nonu (2010) distinguishes between climate change and global warming, I think he fails to do so convincingly”

“Although Nonu (2010) distinguishes between climate change and global warming, he fails to do so convincingly”

Vary your use of direct and indirect quotations

Direct quotations signify the importance of the original author’s terms

Using in-direct quotations shows greater understanding of the topic

Always analyse and evaluate sources

• University study requires a critical approach to learning • This approach is applied in creating a critical response to essay questions • This response is constructed as a thesis statement and developed throughout your essay • Always ensure that your ideas are well structured and linked together

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Critical Thinking and Writing Arguments  

Critical thinking and writing arguments for MSc Sociology and Communications Students