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Richard Paul Critical Thinking Definition Of Argument


A primary task of any educational institution is to develop the students who go there. Development may take many forms, but the main goal of the Army Management Staff College (AMSC) is the development of leadership, management, and decision making skills. We believe that underlying these skills is the ability to exercise consequential/critical thinking. (For the sake of convenience, we hereafter just use "critical thinking .") Although we include critical thinking in all the College’s programs, my remarks in this paper will be addressing the Sustaining Base Leadership and Management Program.

Including critical thinking in an educational curriculum is not something peculiar to the Army Management Staff College. Critical thinking is nominally included in many elementary, secondary, and college curricula. Textbooks are also including it in subjects from elementary school mathematics to high school history.

Unfortunately, for all the apparent focus on critical thinking, it is often either not well understood, or it is not presented in a way that encourages people to use it. The article entitled: Pseudo Critical Thinking in the Educational Establishment (Center for Critical Thinking 1996) offers a discussion of the situation in the educational establishment along with an example of a systemic failure from the California Assessment Program in 1993.


Critical thinking as a specific area of study goes back at least to 1941 with Edward Glaser’s An Experiment in the Development of Critical Thinking. It may not be a coincidence thatthe rise of interest in independent critical thinking coincides with the chaos that was unleashed by aggressive, totalitarian governments.

Today, a number of definitions of thinking and of critical thinking in particular exist in academia. That multiple definitions exist is not unusual when one considers the field of inquiry. Over time at AMSC, we have used definitions from a number of authors; some relating to thinking in general (Rubinstein and Firstenberg 1987) (DeBono 1976) and some who were focused specifically on critical thinking (Brookfield 1987:7-11) (Ennis 1987) (Walters 1990) (Paul 1993). We also draw on Kuhn’s work (1970) for his discussions of paradigms, paradigm shift, and change as it relates to thinking.

One of the early difficulties we found in trying to work with the concepts involved in critical thinking at AMSC, was that it is very difficult to present multiple definitions to people who are encountering the deliberate examination of their thinking for the first time. Since our goals have always included the development of critical thinking as a lifelong habit, we were willing to forgo the rich variety of perspectives on thinking in exchange for something we could use successfully with our adult students. As a result, by late 1992, we had standardized a limited set of definitions that we subsumed under the umbrella of critical thinking. The definition we currently use in our advance material to the students is:

"Critical thinking at AMSC is defined as disciplined, self-directed thinking displaying a mastery of intellectual skills and abilities—thinking about your thinking while you’re thinking to make your thinking better."

We also developed a series of shorthand labels such as "thinking about thinking" and "quality control of the mind." The shorthand for critical thinking that has become most popular, probably because of an exercise we do, is "thinking outside of the box."

In the first few years, we introduced our students to critical thinking by exposing them to the work of Brookfield (1987),Rubinstein and Firstenberg (1987), and Walters (1990). We also included a number of different ways of defining and explaining what critical thinking was and describing the attributes of critical thinking. As our experience grew, we discovered, that it was difficult for students to work through a variety of ways of modeling thinking. We still use the works of these authors to supplement the teaching of thinking, but for the same reasons noted above, and with an understanding that we were not going to include the work of some very gifted scholars, we standardized on the synthesis of critical thinking presented by Richard Paul as the most useful for our purposes.

The following is one of Dr. Paul’s definitions of critical thinking that summarizes our approach:

Such thinking about one’s thinking involves the ability to identify the basic elements of thought (purpose, question, information, assumption, interpretation, concepts, implications, point of view) and assess those elements using universal intellectual criteria and standards (clarity, accuracy, precision, relevance, depth, breadth, and logicalness)."


We are often asked why we go to the effort of trying to teach critical thinking; people already know how to think. The first answer to this question is that yes, we all think, but do we do it well and are we able to evaluate the quality of our thinking? In a May 1996 presentation at AMSC, Dr. Paul responded to this question with the statement that reflects our philosophy: "We are always thinking, the question is, are we in charge of our thinking, or is our thinking in charge of us?"

There are also more complex answers to the question of why we need to teach critical thinking. These start with an understanding that the Army’s environment has changed fundamentally since 1989. The old paradigms that we lived in have shifted or been demolished, and responses that worked for us during the period of "fearsome stability" with the Former Soviet Union may no longer be applicable. As a result of the changes on many fronts, the Army has an immediate and widespread need for people who can examine assumptions, work through problems and evaluate different courses of actions, consider the implications of situations, and look to not only first order consequences of actions, but second and third order consequences as well. In other words, the Army needs people who can think critically. This is reflected in the Army’s new leadership doctrine. The April 1997 draft of FM22-100, Army Leadership, describes critical thinking using the term "critical reasoning" (page 7-12) and identifies it as one of the key conceptual skills leaders must possess starting at the junior leader level.

Critical thinking can’t just be switched on. It may be asking too much of people who have been nurtured and rewarded in an environment where, as one soldier turned civil servant put it, "the lines are your friends . . . it’s safe within the lines . . . stay within the lines." To suddenly change their thinking habits, therefore, we have to provide students an environment where thinking skills can be learned, and then practiced in realistic situations that are otherwise safe and supportive. In many ways, AMSC’s intent is to train students in critical thinking in realistic situations just as the rest of the Army "trains as it fights." To achieve that, we believe that critical thinking must be embedded in the entire curriculum.

Although this was not available to us when we were developing our strategy for developing critical thinkers, the following model from Swartz and Parks (1994) helps to illustrate stages we went through in evolving both our philosophy and our methodology.

At first, we taught critical thinking as a method of direct instruction, "teaching thinking," in one two hour lecture. It was received with limited enthusiasm because the students had trouble understanding the significance of the concept and we had limited opportunities for modeling it. When we re-designed the curriculum in 1991, we started "teaching for thinking." We were able to achieve this particularly through the use of facilitated discussion in the greatly expanded seminar environment we had designed. We also taught an elective session on critical thinking from 1993 to 1996 which focused on "teaching for thinking." As we continue to evolve the curriculum, we are starting to "infuse" critical thinking as we teach the content. One example of infusion is in the segment "Sensing the National Will" where students are given an area of the world to examine, and then have to respond to a complex realistic problem from different perspectives. Another example is called the "Oilex" where students have to deduce the concept and components of planning by creating a plan to respond to an oil spill.

Our overall philosophy has evolved to the point that we believe that people have to understand what thinking is and that they are responsible for their own thinking. In order to develop thinking you have to teach about thinking, teach for thinking, and infuse thinking skills into the content. Critical thinking must then be modeled and facilitated throughout the educational process.

I would like to note here that our approach to critical thinking, particularly infusing it, requires institutional courage and puts great demands on the faculty. Developing material with critical thinking infused, presenting it, and modeling and fostering thinking during student interactions, such as seminar facilitation and counseling, require much more effort than typical training or knowledge level education. There are many times when it would be easier to give students "the answer" than to work them through the thinking they need to do to get to the answer themselves. Critical thinking emphasizes logic and requires the questioning of assumptions, therefore, it can challenge people’s biases and prejudices and cause students discomfort. Sometimes this discomfort gets taken out on members of the College faculty and staff. Because of these demands, faculty selection, preparation, and continued development are all critical elements in executing our strategy and contribute to the uniqueness of the AMSC faculty.


As mentioned above, we use Dr. Richard Paul’s model of critical thinking as our standard. Two of the major pieces we use are the Elements of Reasoning, and his explanation of the Universal Intellectual Standards.

The Elements of Reasoning can be represented by the following model:

While an issue can be examined starting at any point along the wheel, we normally start at the top with the purpose of the thinking. The following are brief definitions of each of the categories in the elements of reasoning, and they are reproduced from workshop material presented by Dr. Paul at AMSC in 1995:

  1. Purpose, Goal, or End in View. Whenever we reason, we reason to some end, to achieve some objective, to satisfy some desire, or fulfill some need. One source of problems in student reasoning is traceable to defects at the level of goal, purpose, or end. If the goal is unrealistic, for example, or contradictory to other goals the student has, if it is confused or muddled in some way, the reasoning used to achieve it is problematic.
  2. Question at Issue or Problem to be Solved. Whenever we attempt to reason something out, there is at least one question at issue, at least one problem to be solved. One area of concern for assessing student reasoning, therefore, will be the formulation of the question to be answered or the problem to be solved, whether with respect to the student’sown reasoning, or to that of others.
  3. (Information) The Empirical Dimension of Reasoning. Whenever we reason, there is some "stuff," some phenomena about which we are reasoning. Any "defect" then in the experiences, data, evidence, or raw material upon which a person’s reasoning is based is a possible source of problems.
  4. Inferences. Reasoning proceeds by steps in which we reason as follows: "Because this is so, that also is so (or probably so)," or "Since this, therefore that." Any "defect" in such inferences is a possible source of problems in our reasoning
  5. The Conceptual Dimension of Reasoning. All reasoning uses some ideas or concepts and not others. These concepts can include the theories, principles, axioms and rules implicit in our reasoning. Any "defect" in the concepts or ideas of the reasoning is a possible source of problems in student reasoning.
  6. Assumptions. All reasoning must begin somewhere, must take some things for granted. Any "defect" in the assumptions or presuppositions with which the reasoning begins is a possible source of problems in student reasoning. Assessing skills of reasoning involves assessing their ability to recognize and articulate their assumptions, again according to the relevant standards. The student’s assumptions may be stated clearly or unclearly; the assumptions may be justifiable or unjustifiable, crucial or extraneous, consistent or contradictory.
  7. Implications and Consequences. No matter where we stop our reasoning, it will always have further implications and consequences. As reasoning develops, statements will logically be entailed by it. Any "defect" in the implications or consequences of our reasoning is a possible source of problems. The ability to reason well is measured in part by an ability to understand and enunciate the implications and consequences of the reasoning. Students therefore need help in coming to understand both the relevant standards of reasoning out implications and the degree to which their own reasoning meets those standards.
  8. Point of View or Frame of Reference. Whenever we reason, we must reason within somepoint of view or frame of reference. Any "defect" in that point of view or frame of reference is a possible source of problems in the reasoning. A point of view may be too narrow, too parochial, may be based on false or misleading analogies or metaphors, may contain contradictions, and so forth. It may be restricted or unfair. Alternatively, student reasoning involving articulation of their point of view may meet the relevant standards to a significant degree: the point of view may be broad, flexible, fair; it may be clearly stated and consistently adhered to.

Using Dr. Paul’s construct, we developed the criteria sheet below to help students in evaluating their own work and the work of others for the inclusion of the Elements of Reasoning. The standards are the Universal Intellectual Standards described below.

  • Your written answers will be judged for their clarity, accuracy, precision, relevance, coherence, logic, depth, consistency, and fairness.
  • Keep your work crisp.

Reader/evaluators will ask these questions.

  • Is the question at issue well-stated? Is it clear and unbiased? Does the expression of the question do justice to the complexity of the matter at issue?
  • Does the writer cite relevant evidence, experiences, and/or information essential to the issue?
  • Does the writer clarify key concepts when necessary?
  • Does the writer show a sensitivity to what he or she is assuming or taking for granted? 
  • Does the writer develop a definite line of reasoning, explaining well how he or she is arriving at his or her conclusion? 
  • Is the writer’s reasoning well supported? 
  • Does the writer show a sensitivity to alternative points of view or lines of reasoning? 
  • Does he or she consider and respond to objections framed from other points of vie? 
  • Does the writer show a sensitivity to the implications and consequences of the position he or she has taken?  

This review of the elements of reasoning helps students focus on the basic parts of an argument. The next step is to evaluate the argument to a standard. We use the Universal Intellectual Standards from Linda Elder and Richard Paul (1996). They describe the standards as:

Universal intellectual standards are standards which must be applied to thinking whenever one is interested in checking the quality of reasoning about a problem, issue, or situation. To think critically entails having command of these standards. To help students learn them, teachers should pose questions which probe student thinking, questions which hold students accountable for their thinking, questions which, through consistent use by the teacher in the classroom, become internalized by students as questions they need to ask themselves. The ultimate goal, then, is for these questions to become infused in the thinking of students, forming part of their inner voice, which then guides them to better and better reasoning. While there are a number of universal standards, the following are the most significant:

CLARITY: Could you elaborate further on that point? Could you express that point in another way? Could you give me an illustration? Could you give me an example?

Clarity is the gateway standard. If a statement is unclear, we cannot determine whether it is accurate or relevant. In fact, we cannot tell anything about it because we don't yet know what it is saying. For example, the question, "What can be done about the education system in America?" is unclear. In order to address the question adequately, we would need to have a clearer understanding of what the person asking the question is considering the "problem" to be. A clearer question might be "What can educators do to ensure that students learn the skills and abilities which help them function successfully on the job and in their daily decision-making?"

ACCURACY: Is that really true? How could we check that? How could we find out if that is true?

A statement can be clear but not accurate, as in "Most dogs are over 300 pounds in weight."

PRECISION: Could you give more details? Could you be more specific? A statement can be both clear and accurate, but not precise, as in "Jack is overweight." (We don't know how overweight Jack is, one pound or 500 pounds.)

RELEVANCE: How is that connected to the question? How does that bear on the issue?

A statement can be clear, accurate, and precise, but not relevant to the question at issue. For example, students often think that the amount of effort they put into a course should be used in raising their grade in a course. Often, however, the "effort" does not measure the quality of student learning, and when this is so, effort is irrelevant to their appropriate grade.

DEPTH: How does your answer address the complexities in the question? How are you taking into account the problems in the question? Is that dealing with the most significant factors?

A statement can be clear, accurate, precise, and relevant, but superficial (that is, lack depth). For example, the statement "Just say No" which is often used to discourage children and teens from using drugs, is clear, accurate, precise, and relevant. Nevertheless, it lacks depth because it treats an extremely complex issue, the pervasive problem of drug use among young people, superficially. It fails to deal with the complexities of the issue.

BREADTH: Do we need to consider another point of view? Is there another way to look at this question? What would this look like from a conservative standpoint? What would this look like from the point of view of...?

A line of reasoning may be clear accurate, precise, relevant, and deep, but lack breadth (as in an argument from either the conservative or liberal standpoint which gets deeply into an issue, but only recognizes the insights of one side of the question.)

LOGIC: Does this really make sense? Does that follow from what you said? How does that follow? But before you implied this and now you are saying that; how can both be true?

When we think, we bring a variety of thoughts together into some order. When the combination of thoughts are mutually supporting and make sense in combination, the thinking is "logical." When the combination is not mutually supporting, is contradictory in some sense, or does not "make sense," the combination is not logical.


Based on our experience, we teach critical thinking in two major phases. The first phase is teaching students what critical thinking is and what the major components are. The second phase includes modeling critical thinking, fostering it, evaluating the student’s thinking, and coaching them. Of the two sets of activities, the latter is infinitely more difficult.

In teaching critical thinking, we present the model above and discuss and review the intellectual standards. We also do some simple exercises that tend to reinforce for the students that we are all bound by the paradigms we operate within. The simplest exercise and the one that, over the years, has gotten the greatest attention, is shown below.

The students are told to draw nine dots as shown on the top, and connect them all with 4 straight lines, made without taking the pencil off the paper. The solution is shown at bottom. What we note is that even students who have seen this problem sometime in the past often cannot solve it because they can’t "get out of the box." The students then get a second, similar problem, arranging 9 buttons, that requires them to avoid thinking of the pattern as a square, and even though they have seen a previous example, their performance doesn’t markedly improve.

Having provided the students with some examples of the difficulty of looking at things differently, we explain how we will work on developing thinking skills throughout the rest of the course. In most assignments where the students will have to provide a product, they will be evaluated against process standards and intellectual standards. These standards are captured in the AMSC General Writing Assessment and the AMSC Oral Presentation Assessment, the categories for both of which are reproduced below. These criteria are on the back of the sheet. The front of the sheet has just the headers and a space for marking either satisfactory or needs improvement in each area. The maximum area possible on the front of the sheet is left blank for comments to amplify the rating.


 ORGANIZATION: (Discernible, balanced plan of presentation)

Introduction. Does the writer identify and limit the thesis in the beginning of the paper? Does it plainly indicate the method of approach the writer will take, or does the writer simply jump into the topic without properly preparing the reader? If a memo, does the writer provide a succinct summary in one or two sentences?

Body. Does the body proceed in an orderly fashion, moving smoothly from point to point, or is the flow of information merely haphazard and merely a random listing? Is all information pertinent to the subject being discussed? Does the writer use paragraphs effectively, beginning a new one with each new idea? Does the writer use transitional devices--words, phrases, and sentences--to show the relationships among ideas, or is the reader forced to provide these connections? Do enclosures, if any, provide additional details? Are enclosures needed but not used?

Conclusion. Does the paper have a final paragraph that summarizes the material considered, draws conclusions from the discussion presented, and, perhaps, makes recommendations based on those conclusions?

ANALYSIS: (Clear development of issues; justification for judgments and assertions)

Thesis/Focus. Is the thesis clear and unambiguous? Is it identified up front? Is the topic manageable? Is it developed in sufficient detail without pointless departures from the subject?

Logic. Are the writer's arguments unfailingly consistent, or do they contradict the stated positions? Do the writer's conclusions reasonably follow from the available evidence? Does the writer avoid emotional language?

Depth. Did the writer address the complexities of the issue, or treat it superficially?

Breadth. Did the writer consider other points of view when addressing the issue? Was the information presented in an unbiased manner?

Support. Are the opinions, findings, recommendations, and assertions supported with pertinent, concrete evidence, or left with generalizations unconfirmed? Is source material clearly acknowledged and is it smoothly integrated into the writer's own discourse?

CLARITY: (Army standard for clarity and brevity)

Readability/Style. Is the writing clear and easy to follow? Does it use mainly short conversational words expressed in short, active sentences? Does the writer avoid excessive jargon?

Precision. Did the writer give enough details or examples to make the message clear to the reader?

Correctness. Is the paper generally free of errors in grammar, spelling, format, and punctuation? Is it the correct length?

EFFECTIVENESS:Does this piece of writing transmit a clear message in a single, rapid reading, and is it generally free of errors?


 ORGANIZATION: (Discernible, balanced plan of presentation)

Introduction. Did the speaker use professional courtesy in addressing the person(s) being briefed? Did the speaker identify himself/herself? Was the significance of the subject established, and the direction and purpose identified?

Body. Were the main ideas presented in a logical order? Were transitions used to provide continuity and coherence? Were they smooth and varied? Were the facts bearing on the problem and any assumptions clearly stated? Were advantages and disadvantages of each option presented? Did the presentation reflect a careful analysis of the subject and audience?

Conclusion/Summary. Did the summary tie together the main points in a meaningful way? Was an appropriate concluding statement made? Did the speaker ask for questions?

ANALYSIS: (Clear development of the issues; justification for judgments and assertions)

Thesis/Focus. Is the thesis clear and unambiguous? Is it identified up front? Is the topic manageable? Is it developed in sufficient detail without pointless departures from the subject?

Logic. Are the speaker's arguments unfailingly consistent, or do they contradict the stated positions? Do the speaker’s conclusions reasonably follow from the available evidence? Does the speaker avoid emotional language?

Depth. Did the speaker address the complexities of the issue, or treat it superficially?

Breadth. Did the speaker consider other points of view when addressing the issue? Was the information presented in an unbiased manner?

Support. Was the presentation of facts clear and objective? Were the facts presented accurate and credible? Did they support the argument presented? Did the speaker avoid presenting information already known by the audience?

DELIVERY: (How the speaker communicated)

Appearance, Movement. Did the speaker maintain a professional demeanor? Was the speaker well-groomed? Were gestures well-timed and natural? Did movement enhance the presentation? Were there any distracting mannerisms?

Sincerity/Enthusiasm. Was the speaker openly enthusiastic and positive? Was a genuine concern for the subject and audience demonstrated?

Eye Contact. Was eye contact established with the audience? Did it continue throughout the presentation?

Voice Quality. Was the rate of speech too fast or too slow? Was the tone and pitch natural and varied, or monotonous, too loud or too soft?

Visual Aids. Were aids supportive and well integrated? Did they strengthen communication, or cause distractions? Were the aids simple, concise, easily visible, and neat? Were all words spelled correctly?

Questions. Did the speaker remain poised and handle questions in a credible manner or did the speaker become easily flustered and demonstrate limited knowledge and unsupported guessing?

Adherence to Time. Was the presentation completed within the stated time limits?

Developing thinking along with the other topics we want the students to know means that we have had to step out of our own educational box. The traditional lecture, in large or small groups, conveys important information, but does comparatively little to develop thinking skills. In order to develop skill at critical thinking the students must have things to practice on. Our solution, is to provide the students what Dr. Gerald Nosich refers to as "authentic problems."

Authentic problems are problems taken from or modeled on real life. Ideally, they are problems that don’t have simple yes/no answers, nor should they be problems that allow one and only one "right" answer. We have been using authentic problems at AMSC since we started teaching critical thinking and we have continued to expand their number and scope. To teach students to work through typical management problems we have several sick leave abuse scenarios where real data has been provided by former students. We get a look at economic analysis by asking the students to assess "how the post recycling program is doing." Students learn the concept of planning and not just a template or format, through the Oilex.

If there is one negative aspect to all this, it is that it is much harder to get students to build new taxonomies and to think for themselves than it is to give them an answer to regurgitate. It is even harder to evaluate whether they are thinking critically and consequentially than it is to have them spit back an answer to a straightforward knowledge-based question. A further difficulty is hat when we are done, we return the student to a place where everyone else is thinking the same way they were before the student left.


To summarize, it is clear that critical thinking is not going away. As time goes on, more and more Army personnel will have been exposed to it in some fashion before they even get to the Army. Paradoxically, given stereotypes of the military, because of recruiting and retention differences, we may well see critical thinking have an earlier and deeper impact in the uniformed part of the Army. Certainly, the rate of change within the Army, the need to make good decisions in the absence of absolute, definable right answers, and the increasing volume and complexity of information coming at Army leaders will not make critical thinking less valuable.

Interactions with other colleges and universities suggest that AMSC is well out in front in developing thinking skills. AMSC’s role in critical thinking will be to continue assisting other schools in implementing it, to continue to evolve new ways of modeling and evaluating good thinking within an Army and government-wide environment, and to expand participation in academic discussions of this topic.

Critical thinking is challenging to teach and model. It puts greater demands on faculty and students than traditional education. The Army needs it, and AMSC will continue to develop leaders who can provide it.




  • Brookfield, Stephen D., (1989)Developing Critical Thinkers - Challenging Adults to Explore Alternative Ways of Thinking and Acting, Jossey Bass Publishers, San Francisco  
  • The Center For Critical Thinking Richard Paul, Ph.D., Linda Elder, Ph.D.(1995) http://www.sonoma.edu/cthinkingg 
  • De Bono, Edward, (1976) Teaching Thinking, Harmondsworth: Penguin.  
  • Ennis, Robert H., (1987) " A taxonomy of critical thinking dispositions and abilities," in Teaching Thinking Skills: Theory and Practice. W. H. Freeman and Company, New York 
  • Glaser, Edward M., (1941) An Experiment in the Development of Critical Thinking. AMS Press, New York, (reprint of 1941 edition.) 
  • Kuhn, Thomas, (1970) The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Second Edition, Enlarged. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago
  • Paul, Richard, (1993) Critical Thinking - What Every Person Needs to Survive in a Rapidly Changing World (Third Edition), edited by Jane Willsen and A.J.A. Binker, Foundation for Critical Thinking, Santa Rosa, CA. 
  • Rubinstein, Moshe F. and Firstenberg, Iris R.,(1987) "Tools for thinking, Developing Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving Abilities," J.E. Stice (ed.), New Directions for Teaching and Learning, No. 30, Summer, Jossey - Bass San Francisco
  • Walters, Kerry S., (1990) "Critical Thinking, Rationality, and the Vulcanization of Students," The Journal of Higher Education, Robert J. Silverman (ed.), OH: Ohio State University Press in Affiliation with the American Association for Higher Education.

Critical Thinking in Psychology


Brief History of the Idea of Critical Thinking

Defining Critical Thinking

Psychological Science

Research Design

Designing Studies

Sample Weekly Essays from Psychology 101 Classes


How To Be A Critical Thinker

(based on Critical and Creative Thinking
by Carole Wade and Carol Tavris)

"The philosopher Richard Paul has described three kinds of people: vulgar believers, who use slogans and platitudes to bully those holding different points of view into agreeing with them; sophisticated believers, who are skilled at using intellectual arguments, but only to defend what they already believe; and critical believers, who reason their way to conclusions and are ready to listen to others." --Wade and Tavris


"Critical thinking is the ability and willingness to assess claims and make objective judgments on the basis of well-supported reasons. It is the ability to look for flaws in arguments and resist claims that have no supporting evidence. Critical thinking, however, is not merely negative thinking. It also fosters the ability to be creative and constructiveto generate possible explanations for findings, think of implications, and apply new knowledge to a broad range of social and personal problems. You can't really separate critical thinking from creative thinking, for it's only when you question what is that you can begin to imagine what can be." (Wade and Tavris, pp.4-5)


  1. Ask questions; be willing to wonder. Always be on the lookout for questions that have not been answered in the textbooks, by the experts in the field or by the media. Be willing to ask "what's wrong here?' and/or "Why is this the way it is, and how did it come to be that way?"
  2. Define the problem.  An inadequate formulation of question can produce misleading or incomplete answers. Ask neutral questions that don't presuppose answers.
  3. Examine the evidence.  Ask yourself, "What evidence supports or refutes this argument and its opposition?" Just because many people believe, including so-called experts, it doesn't make it so.
  4. Analyze assumptions and biases.  All of us are subject to biases, beliefs that prevent us from being impartial. Evaluate the assumptions and biases that lie behind arguments, including your own. 
  5. Avoid emotional reasoning: "If I feel this way, it must be true."  Passionate commitment to a view can motivate a person to think boldly without fear of what others will say, but when "gut feelings" replace clear thinking, the results can be disastrous.
  6. Don't oversimplify. Look beyond the obvious, rest easy generalizations, reject either/or thinking. Don't argue by anecdote.
  7. Consider other interpretations.  Formulate hypotheses that offer reasonable explanations of characteristics, behavior, and events.
  8. Tolerate uncertainty.  Sometimes the evidence merely allows us to draw tentative conclusions. Don't be afraid to say "I don't know." Don't demand "the " answer.

These guidelines are an integral part of the authors' introductory psychology textbooks: Wade & Tavris, Psychology, 5th edition (Longman Publishers, 1998) and Tavris & Wade, Psychology in Perspective, 2nd edition (Longman, 1997).

Click here for information about purchasing a copy of Critical and Creative Thinking

Psychology Course Information

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