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Critical Thinking - Writing Lab Tips and Strategies: Home

Why Critical Thinking Matters

Critical thinking is important in many areas of our lives.  It helps us in school, at work and in our spiritual lives. Critical thinking leads us to examine our own beliefs as well as those coming at us from various sources. We must know what we know, how we came to know it, and why it is worthy of being the foundation for other thoughts. One danger of not thinking critically is that we may be swayed by changing public opinion or pop culture instead of resting in truth.

Common Obstacles to Critical Thinking

1.  Consuming Media Without Reflection

Do you accept everything presented without questioning motives or truthfulness?

2.  Intellectual Arrogance

Do you believe that what you believe is unquestionably right?  Do you cling to your beliefs without examining the reasons for them?

3.  Engaging Only One Point of View 

Do you approach the subject without considering how others might see it differently?

4.  Intellectual Laziness

Do you allow other people to think for you?  Do you wait to be told how to think instead of grappling with the idea on your own?

5.  Presenting Logical Fallacies

Does what you are arguing not make logical sense?

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Writing Lab Purpose

The goal of the Writing Lab is to equip students with the communication tools necessary to develop stronger academic writing.  Tutors do not correct, revise or edit student writing.  They aim to guide and empower students toward becoming better independent writers.  The Writing Lab is a student-to-student help available to all students desiring help with writing, including ESL tutoring.  All services are offered at no cost to students.

The Writing Lab is available to students from any discipline for help with any stage of the writing process.

Tutors focus on assignment fulfillment, content, organization, and areas for which suggestions on improvement can be made.

The Writing Lab does not proofread papers; tutors help students learn how to recognize problems or errors and self-edit.  Help is available with MLA, APA and other formatting as well as with grammar skills.

Writing resources (style/formatting manuals) and skills software are available for student use as well.

Works Cited

ESV: Study Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2007. Print.


James 3:13, 17-18

Who is wise and understanding among you?  By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom.

But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.  And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

Critical Thinking Definition

Purposeful, reasoned, and goal directed thinking with a heightened awareness of multiple points of view and context, as well as an evaluation of one’s own thought processes before reaching a conclusion.

Basic Steps to Improve Your Critical Thinking


Be ready to evaluate your own beliefs based on new evidence and arguments you encouter when researching, reflecting, and asking questions.


On your reading.

On class discussion.

On your own perspectives.

Does this new information support your current understanding and beliefs?

Ask Questions

Do I agree with this?

What is this text showing me?

How did I reach this conclusion? Is it true?

Is there bias in this text?


fact is not a fact because it is argued well—even false ideas can be presented with sound logic.


Explain the ideas and concepts you are learning to others. Use your own words and examples. Through explaining to others, the idea may become clearer to you, and you will be more likely to remember it.

Points of View

Learn from others’ perspectives and gain  confidence in sharing your own ideas. Looking at a topic from multiple points of view is a key critical thinking skill.


Determine the validity of ideas based on evidence and sound judgment, and remain open to the possibility that your beliefs might be untrue. Weigh ideas against evidence to help you avoid leaping to false conclusions. Root out any conclusions based on logical fallacies (see Logical Fallacies below).

Actions of a Critical Thinker


Go deeper.  What is the heart of the issue?


Understand all the parts of the idea.


Be able to express and explain the idea.


Go farther.  Look into every aspect of the idea.


Read between the lines. What is really being said?


Listen actively. Be involved.


Learn by asking questions. Don't worry about the validity of your question. If you don't know something, ask!


Solve problems using logic. When trying to persuade, appeal to logic, not emotion.


Put multiple ideas together. Look at the bigger picture. How does everything connect?

Suspend Judgment

Maintain some scepticism. Be willing to sit with uncertainty. Admitting you don't know is better than claiming you know the wrong thing.


Be willing to do the work. It may be hard and uncomfortable, but the reward is great.

Ask Questions


What is the main purpose of what is being presented?

Main Question

What is being asked?  Is it a good question, or does it need to be reformulated?

Up To Date

Is your information current? For the subject matter, what constitutes as current?  


Is the information important for your purpose?


How do you interpret the information?  How have others interpreted it?


Is it true? How can you check it's truthfulness? Does it corroborate with other information you are aware of?

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"The unexamined life is not worth living."

"I know that I am intelligent because I know that I know nothing."

I'm trying to think critically, but I'm a frog

Effective Communication for Enhancing Critical Thinking

Listen Attentively

Whether you are reading a text or listening to a speaker, it is important to use all of your active listening skills.  Don't let yourself be distracted by a certain style of speaking or writing.  Pay attention to what is being said about the subject.

Ask Questions

It may be inappropriate or impossible to ask questions of the speaker or author during a lecture or while you are reading, but jot down questions you have regarding the material, and attempt to answer them yourself later.  Discuss your questions with peers or professors as the opportunity arises.

Focus on the Speaker

Put your cell phone or iPod away and concentrate on the subject. You may think you can multitask, but the truth is you will understand better in the long run if you give the speaker or the text all of your attention. Learning is an active process.

Be Interested

Even a subject that seems initially boring may eventually prove to be fascinating.  You won't know until you explore the possibilities with an open mind.  Commit to learning as much as you can before writing it off as boring.  The better the attitude you come to the subject with, the more you will get out of it, even if you don't decide to make it your life's work.

Be Aware of Your Emotions

Pay attention to how you are feeling.  A completely unrelated emotional crisis can color your view of a subject you are trying to learn.  Also, you may have a hard time fully understanding an opposing view point when the issue is emotionally charged for you.  Recognize your emotions so that you can look at the issue as objectively as possible.

Understand Before Judging

Don't assume that you know the author or speaker's point of view until you have heard everything he or she has to say.  This is especially important regarding issues you feel passionately about.  Try to understand the author or speaker's view point fully before agreeing with it or refuting it.  You don't want to accidentally argue with something you really support.

Traits of a Critical Thinker

Intellectual Humility

Recognize that regardless of how much you know, there is much, much more that you don't know. Embrace that. Pursue what you do not know. Be aware of gaps in your knowledge.

Intellectual Integrity

See yourself as you are. Know what you know and what you don't know. Be honest with yourself and with others. The opposite of this would be intellectual hypocrisy.

Intellectual Autonomy

Think for yourself. Value the thoughts and ideas of others, but in the end decide for yourself what you believe, what position you support, and why.

Intellectual Empathy

Understand the other point-of-view. Think like the other person. You don't have to agree with him or her, but allow yourself to enter into his or her way of thinking. The only way to intelligently engage and possibly win an argument is to understand the other point-of-view better than its supporters. You do not help your case by easily knocking down the straw men you create (see Logical Fallacies box).

Intellectual Courage

Don't hesitate to state a dissenting view.  Do so with respect, but don't back down if you don't agree with what someone is saying.

Intellectual Perseverance

Be willing to do the work. Take responsibility for tackling new ideas until you understand them completely. This isn't comfortable, but it is good.