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About this book

This concise, no-nonsense guide shows students how to adopt a critical approach in order to unlock their academic potential. It explains why students need to be critical and provides practical advice on how they can integrate critical analysis into their research, reading and writing. Each succinct chapter is visually engaging and informative, and gives students the support they need to succeed in applying critical thinking to their work.

It is an invaluable resource for all students who are required to write essays, reports and other pieces of extended writing as part of their course. It is also an ideal text to be used in conjunction with study skills programmes and critical thinking modules at HE and FE level.

Table of Contents

Getting a Critical Mindset

Frontmatter

1. Getting strategic

Abstract
Part 1 takes a good look at how to get that critical mindset in your studies. It’s all about asking questions — right from the beginning, before you dive into your courses.
Kate Williams

2. The language of assessment

Abstract
Now take a closer look at the specific guidance you have been given about what tutors are looking for in what you write, and how it will be assessed. This is where you get to grips with the language of assessment — which at first glance can appear rather a critical soup …
Kate Williams

3. The stairway to critical thinking

Abstract
There is no shortage of definitions and attempts to describe the qualities associated with critical thinking.1 A definition is a good place to start when you are trying to understand something, and useful here to see what assessment criteria are based on.
Kate Williams

Getting Critical in Research and Reading

Frontmatter

4. A critical approach to reading lists

Abstract
Before you can start your research, make sure you have the baseline introduction to your subject — the two or three items often highlighted as ‘essential’ or listed week by week. You need these to make sense of the lectures and seminars: it’s the place to start.
Kate Williams

5. A critical search online

Abstract
This section is about going beyond your reading list, beyond Google, or even Google Scholar. There is a huge world of research on just about everything under the sun out there at your fingertips. But how to find what you need, now? When you know what you are looking for (something closely related to a coursework topic, or your reading list), this is probably fairly straightforward — with a little help from your friendly library. But when you are thinking about a wide-open topic — such as a possible dissertation topic — you need to use databases, and get thinking. Critically of course, perhaps a bit like this:
Kate Williams

6. But is it any good? Evaluating your sources

Abstract
‘Evaluation’ is something you do all the time, automatically. Look at what it means: see the word ‘value’ in the middle of ‘evaluate’. It invites you to ask: what is the value of this? As research? As a source of information? To me, for my present purpose?
Kate Williams

7. To read or not to read? A critical decision

Abstract
In searching databases (Chapter 5), you are on safer ground. All the articles you find will have been checked and reviewed by other experts in the field, and you can expect the research to be at least competent.
Kate Williams

8. A strategic approach to reading

Abstract
When you do read, read economically — and critically, of course. Focus on the specific reading you have decided really is important and relevant to your research.
Kate Williams

9. A critical record of reading

Abstract
This chapter is about that point where you begin to engage with and make sense of your reading:
  • ◗ in the notes you make (for yourself)
  • ◗ in an annotated bibliography entry or post to be read by another person (tutor or student).
Kate Williams

Getting Critical in Writing

Frontmatter

10. Answer the question!

Abstract
Look back to your strategic reading of your course handbook (pp. 3–5) and doublecheck that you have all the guidance you need to be crystal clear about what you have to do. Comments on returned work like these:
Kate Williams

11. Writing paragraphs: a critical skill

Abstract
Written work is divided into paragraphs. Mastering this basic unit of writing will give you the vehicle for showing your critical skills. The paragraph is in effect the unit of argument — each one is an interlocking link in your essay, leading to a conclusion.
Kate Williams

12. Writing for a critical reader

Abstract
Chapter 12 is about critical writing. The main character in this chapter is the reader — a critical reader, your lecturer or tutor, the person who assesses your work. This reader knows what they are looking for in their students’ writing and they have given you clues as to what it is.
Kate Williams

Critical Steps

Frontmatter

13. Using frameworks for critical analysis

Abstract
Thinking up models to explain and interpret the world around us — or at least that bit we are engaged in studying — is a fundamental analytical response to being alive and thinking. There are a few models in this guide already:
  • ◗ the’ stairway’ to critical thinking (of course!) (p. 14, Ch. 14)
  • ◗ the research comfort zone triangle (p. 27)
  • ◗ the mention of the dynamic of group processes (p. 64)
  • ◗ and see also Reflective Writing in this series. Part 4 outlines several frameworks used for critical analysis of a problem, situation or experience and the reflections that arise from this analysis.
Kate Williams

14. Stepping up the stairway to critical thinking

Abstract
Students often worry that their work is ‘descriptive’ not ‘analytical’, and tutors’ comments often underline this. To be able to ‘describe’ is an essential first step. As the ‘stairway’ suggests, you need to take in (or ‘process’) information, and make sure you understand it. Describing is, however, only a first step and at university you are usually expected to go beyond this.
Kate Williams

15. Becoming a critical writer

Abstract
So what is that critical thing? I hope you can now see that the critical dimension is a mindset you bring to your work. You can do it once you have the confidence to take control of your studies. It is a bit like turning a little chunk of rock in the sun and suddenly seeing the light catch a sparkle.
Kate Williams
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