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Critical Thinking and Writing Across the Curriculum for Faculty: Stages of Critical Thinking


Quality of Thought

The Quality of Our Students’ Thinking may be Facilitated by
the Quality of Our Questions


To Evaluate Thinking It Is Necessary to Understand and Apply Intellectual Standards

Reasonable people judge reasoning by intellectual standards. When one internalizes these standards and explicitly uses them in one’s thinking, the thinking becomes more clear, more accurate, more precise, more relevant, deeper, broader, and more fair.

1. Clarity:  understandable, the meaning can be grasped

2. Accuracy:  free from errors or distortions, true

3. Precision:  exact to the necessary level of detail

4. Relevance:  relating to the matter at hand

5. Depth:  containing complexities and multiple interrelationships

6. Breadth:  encompassing multiple viewpoints

7. Logic:  the parts make sense together, no contradictions

8. Significance: focusing on the important, not trivial

9. Fairness:  justifiable, not self-serving or one-sided


Sample questions:


1. Questioning Clarity:
ould you elaborate on what you are saying?

Could you give me an example or illustration of your point?

I hear you saying “X.” Am I hearing you correctly, or have I misunderstood you?


2. Questioning Accuracy:

How could we check to see of it is true?

How could we verify these alleged facts?

Can we trust the accuracy of these data given the source(s) they came from?


3. Questioning Precision:

Could you be more specific?

Could you give me more details about that?

Could you specify your concerns more fully?


4. Questioning Relevance:
I don’t see how what you said bears on the question. Could you show me how it is relevant?

Could you explain what you think the connection is between your question and the question we have focused on?

How does that help us with the issue?

5. Questioning Depth:
Is this question simple or complex?

What makes this a complex question?  Are conflicting points relevant?

How are we dealing with the complexities inherent in the question?

6. Questioning Breadth:
What points of view are relevant to this issue?
What relevant points have we considered?

We have looked at the question from an [economic] viewpoint. Does it have an ethical dimension?


7. Questioning Logic:

Does all this make sense together?

Does your first paragraph fit in with your last?

Does what you say follow from the evidence?


8. Questioning Significance:
Is this the most important problem to consider?

Is this the central idea to focus on?

Which of these facts are most important?


9. Questioning Fairness:
Do we (I) have any vested interest in this issue?
Are we sympathetically representing the viewpoints of others?