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About this book

This hands-on guide to advanced critical analysis and argumentation will help readers to communicate in way that is orderly, rigorously supported, persuasive and clear. It demonstrates how criticality can be paired with creativity to produce an insightful and engaging piece of research, and explores how narrative styles and rhetorical devices can be used to boost the persuasiveness of an argument. Chapters blend theory with practice and contain a wealth of activities designed to help students put new skills into practice or revitalise those they already have.

This is an essential resource for postgraduates and advanced undergraduates looking to hone their skills in critical analysis and communicate their ideas with precision and clarity.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1. Everyday Criticality and Thinking Well

Abstract
There is no fixed definition of critical thinking. There are scholars who dislike the idea of attempting to find a generic ‘definition’ at all. Yet some embrace it and also suggest attributes that a critical thinker exhibits; some will stress traits that another authority on the subject might understate – the emphases vary. There are respected proponents of critical thinking in universities who present it simply as a means of sorting what is true from what is false – looking at it as ‘the art of being right’. This is a definition that I see as problematic. While critical thinking is a truth-seeking activity, to describe it this way evokes a level of competitiveness at odds with the spirit of enquiry. It also seems to oversimplify it, implying that criticality begins and ends with analytical work, when it also involves reflection (including self-reflection) and needs to be applicable to the workaday world. This book sees criticality as a mental attitude that can be used to guide both specialised and everyday thinking – far more than a utilitarian argumentation tool or a simple skill set. While the ability to think critically will certainly improve academic results, that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Louise Katz

Chapter 2. Critical Reflection

Abstract
As already established, critical thinking provides us with essential tools for analysis and critique, which we’ll explore further here and in Chapters 3 to 5. More to the point regarding a book concerned with developing criticality, we also need to recognise it as an aspect of thinking well, a multilayered activity linked to creative processes and to what might be referred to as ‘intellectual sympathy’ – our focus for Chapter 4. For now, I want to consider in detail ways of advancing traits of criticality with a view towards the goals of what Ronald Barnett terms ‘critical being’. Reasoning ability is connected with self-awareness, and also with an awareness of the wider ramifications of your thinking for your civic and professional life: all your critical skills are integrated into ‘critical being’.
Louise Katz

Chapter 3. Critical Analysis of Texts

Abstract
In Chapter 2 we looked at how our personal backgrounds and therefore our understanding of any given situation will affect our reading of a text. This chapter continues the work of identifying both our own biases and those of other writers in order to analyse and critique effectively. Where previously we practised using the reflection journal to help deal with the irrationality that is the product of tenacious assumptions and belief systems that can occlude our clarity of thought, here we will use the fundamental critical tool of logic. Logic helps us to diagnose a text’s reliability and usefulness, and assists with the essential work of identifying underlying assumptions – beliefs for which no proof is offered – and implications of arguments. Also, after reading this chapter you may be able to see more clearly in which areas of critical accomplishment you ought to feel confident, and which might need further attention.
Louise Katz

Chapter 4. Creative Critical Thinking

Abstract
Our imaginative faculties enable us to think and write and do things in ways that otherwise would remain pedestrian and limited, closed off to further development. The simple, common nouns, ‘creativity’ and ‘imagination’ represent complex and profound concepts. In the broadest sense, imagination is a perceptual faculty, or a way of seeing and responding to phenomena, and this includes images, texts, and ideas. But before exploring ways imagination works in tandem with critical skills so as to invigorate research and writing skills in an academic context, it will help to firstly take a look at what the terms ‘imagination’ and ‘creativity’ actually signify. I also want to prepare the ground for this discussion by banishing certain erroneous beliefs surrounding creativity in institutions of higher education.
Louise Katz

Chapter 5. Research Practices

Abstract
The focus of this chapter is research practices within the context of expanding critical awareness. Chapters 2 and 3 set the scene by firstly reviewing essential attributes of a critical thinker, then discussing particular ‘tools’ of reflection and logic that support intellectual work. Chapter 4 discussed how creative and critical processes align when forming a thesis based on the sort of broad topics set at postgraduate level. This chapter now looks specifically at the processes and skills required to conduct research for extended self-selected writing tasks, from longer articles and essays to dissertations and theses. Here, writing and research are treated as complementary aspects of one multilayered process, so writing begins as soon as you start reading, that is, at the very earliest stages, while mapping out ideas towards the finished written product.
Louise Katz

Chapter 6. Developing Habits of Strength as a Postgraduate

Abstract
If critical thinking involves developing a suite of skills and attributes essential for doing well at university, such skills are also essential for doing well outside it, on every level of social participation. Foundations for developing critical ability and creativity have been covered in the previous chapters, and we’ll return to different ways of practising these skills again in the following chapters. But at this midway point some advice for developing ‘habits of strength’ that enable us to better ‘perform’ criticality at university will be beneficial, as will reviewing your motivations for wanting to think as well as you can. This will be followed by advice on the general application of these strengths within the context of what I’ll call ‘everyday criticality’, which like the ‘habits’ to follow, also develops over a lifetime.
Louise Katz

Chapter 7. Negotiating the Literature and Joining the Conversation

Abstract
To begin, this chapter briefly revisits the concept of ‘thinking well’ to set the scene for a discussion of writing well, because only with clarity of mind is it possible to say something useful, let alone insightful, about our chosen areas of expertise or to excel in study or research. It is impossible to engage or persuade a reader without being clear yourself about what you mean. In fact, often enough, unfit prose is the result of just that – the author herself being unsure of exactly what it is she wants to convey, or to whom, or why it is important. So our concern here is with developing a clear, lively, persuasive writing, which involves beginning an ongoing exploration of style. Style is sometimes thought of as a kind of ‘add-on’ to the meat of discussion, which is categorically wrong. Ways in which content and style ‘speak to’ each other in any discussion will be explored over the next three chapters. We’ll also look at how a researcher’s personal style and overall ability to express ideas clearly and persuasively improves with an evolving identity as a writer, increasing confidence in conveying a sense of writerly intention, and ownership of one’s own words within the larger conversation.
Louise Katz

Chapter 8. Persuasive Writing: Rhetorical Techniques

Abstract
Academic writing is about communicating with others, joining in discussions where we explore ideas and argue points. We are usually inquisitive – hence the turn of phrase, ‘academic enquiry’ – though sometimes more combative; yet both are styles of ‘academic argument’. Scholarship is usually (and I’d argue, ought to be) an effort to get to a truth, to the heart of the matter you’ve chosen to discuss. This is why essays are called essays – from the French, essayer – to attempt. In an argumentative or persuasive piece of writing you’ll be essaying forth into the arena of debate. Once in position, your job is to attempt to convince your audience of your point of view. This form of scholarship dates back to medieval times when one of the main functions of the university was to train lawyers. The advocate begins with a statement he wants to prove (intro – thesis statement) by means of argumentation often constructed as point/counterpoint (body text – dissertation). He then ties up all loose ends with concluding remarks – an appeal to the jury to agree with his position (conclusion).
Louise Katz

Chapter 9. Persuasive Writing: Developing a Narrative

Abstract
At art school I modestly considered myself a rather brilliant font of startling ideas. A teacher there told me, Yes, that’s all very well, but ideas are two a penny. Who cares what you think if you can’t present your ideas in such a way that people get them? He was right, and finding excellent ways of presenting ideas isn’t actually easy for most of us. In fact, it can be the hardest part of any intellectual or creative process, whether you’re talking about an art work or a dissertation on Noam Chomsky’s contribution to the field of analytic philosophy or a scientific paper on the relative merits of paper and polystyrene packaging. All academic writing, whether in the sciences or the humanities, based on empirical or theoretical research, needs to be persuasive. An essay in the humanities might have more scope for rhetorical play, but a scientific treatise still needs an engaging introduction and a compelling discussion section. The ‘how’ of presenting a case involves careful consideration of language choices, structural considerations, and style of delivery. We’ve already looked at several ways of communicating effectively through language. Chapter 7 focused on the relationship between your voice and the references you use in articles and essays, characterising scholarly discourse as conversational. Chapter 8 was concerned largely with rhetoric.
Louise Katz

Chapter 10. Some More Experimental, Playful Forms of Academic Writing

Abstract
A postgraduate writer needs to communicate as directly as possible with the reader (that is, writing in a ‘readerly’ way) while maintaining rigour, open-minded inquisitiveness and willingness to embrace encounters with paradox and complexity with enthusiasm (rather than anxiety!). Writing well, like thinking well, is a balancing act and it isn’t easy, which is one of the reasons we need to recharge our batteries with that fallow time I mentioned in Chapter 6. It is also why we need to leaven research and writing with exploratory practices that are stimulating and playful as well as edifying. Such practices are often open-ended, the outcomes uncertain. This idea will colour the whole of this chapter: uncertainty, which many scholars consider hallmarks of modernity. The ground was laid for this discussion in Chapter 4 when I recommended ‘rhizomatic’ approaches to research such as mindmapping and freewriting, strategies that embrace intellectual exploration and which also encourage experimental forms of academic writing. In the spirit of this age, with its massively increased information flows, the accelerated pace of technological change, and the instability of cultural traditions, doubt has become our medium, uncertainty the air we breathe. Knowledge we may once have believed was carved in stone is found instead to be written on water.
Louise Katz
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