Everyone’s a critic now, allegedly, but developing an academic critique is a different skill, which is why I have chosen Stella Cottrell’s (2005) Critical Thinking Skills: Developing Effective Analysis and Argument as May’s fabled Book of the Month. Many of us believe that we possess relevant critical skills, without analysing them. I believe that Stella Cottrell ‘s practical, accessible approach unlocks the natural processes that lead to such intellectual development, which is why her books prove so popular within universities. Barely a library workshop is planned without referring to her work (although I cannot empirically support such a claim, of course!). By reading this book your critical thinking skills should develop, and the more you read, the more these faculties will grow.
This is not just a work on the processes of critical thinking, but it also encourages you to think critically. And it’s so easy! Such as…usefully including reflections such as emotional self-management over controversial subjects, personal influences and challenging opinion: ‘For me, the things I find most difficult about challenging the opinions of other people are….’ (Cottrell, 2005: 6). There are also reflections from lecturers about their approaches to critical thinking, after reading and adopting a step-by-step critical thinking approach: ‘I then then create my own position, and check my own point of view is convincing…could I support it if I was challenged?’ (Cottrell, 2005: 7).
Cottrell (2005) considers critical thinking as a logical process, constructing an argument and line of reasoning, reasoning and associated rational thought, analysing academic argument, sourcing reliable evidence, developing understanding, weighing strengths and weaknesses, deciding upon the objectivity of non-dualism of grey areas; acknowledging that arguments may not be right or wrong. The paradoxical frustration and creativity of realising, like philosophical debate, that there are only questions, only interim conclusions, atop further questions. This is the lifeblood of academic study. Nothing concrete, only shifting paradigms.
Cottrell (2005) prompts the reader to consider various styles of writing to deliver a message and critiques passages through multiple-choice answers to assess your thinking skills; one method employed to identify the skills of comparison, sequence, categorising, following directions, close reading and recognising similarities. Through reading short (and interesting) passages we are required to identify arguments through reason, understanding messages, implicit and explicit arguments and assumptions. By fathoming causal links, correlations and false correlations, and by identifying flaws in an argument like a text called The Great Chain of Being about the power of The Enlightenment to challenge old ideas, we recognise the courage to raise alternative ideas, challenge personal barriers such as criticising academic research, and think sequentially to construct a logical framework of debate and discussion.