Do you think you are a critical thinker? Most people do but don’t realise the complexity of that title. In your studies, evaluating the resources that you use is absolutely crucial. You are often required to consider, justify, reason, argue, critically appraise, identify, analyse or evaluate information. This can seem overwhelming, especially when it’s one of the criteria for marking.

It’s easy when first approaching a source to engage with the content in a passive way. In other words, it’s easy to simply absorb the words on the page without thinking deeply about the concepts and their implications. At university, however, you’re expected to always use an active approach. These skills don’t just disappear when you receive your degree, instead they are vitally important to you in your future workplace and all your future endeavours. With a bit of practice, you can proudly hold the title of a genuine critical thinker in no time!

So what does thinking critically mean and how do you go about achieving it?

There are five key steps to critically thinking about a source. These five steps are applicable for any form of assignment you might be asked to complete at university that require you to find and use sources.

1. Reasoning
Consider the bias and purpose of a source. Ask questions like What is the main argument?.  There might also be additional sub-arguments to be considered here.

2. Identify
This stage looks at details about the source to situate it in the context that it was written. Consider its place and time of publication, as well as who wrote it.

3. Analyse
Ask the ‘why’ questions about a source. Why was it written? Why has the author chosen this perspective? Why might it differ from other sources?

4. Evaluate
What are the implications of the source’s argument? Does it add value to the area of research?

5. Reflecting
This stage gives you the opportunity to reflect on your cognitive biases as well as re-affirming your interpretation of the source.

Still confused? Don’t worry, the Library has a range of resources to help you develop your critical thinking skills. If this is a topic of interest or concern to you, make sure you visit the Research and Learning Online site, or come and chat to our Librarians and Learning Skills Advisers at the Research and Learning Points at any of the libraries on any campus.


Aisling Smith is a Learning Skills Adviser at the Matheson Library and Reanna Kissell is a Librarian at the Hargrave-Andrew Library.