Chapter Three: Implementing a Critical Attitude
Shea, V. N., & Whitla, W. (2005). Foundations: Critical Thinking, Reading and Writing.
(2nd ed.). Toronto, ON: Pearson Education Canada
Critical Attitude: From Negative Complaint to Academic Frame of Mind
As explained by Shea and Whitla, critical thinking involves:
Being able to move from asserting opinions to formulating a position, and
Being able to move from passively receiving ideas, arguments and readings to
actively engaging with them.
When we are critical it is vital that we:
o Give reasons for and against our position,
o Are aware of the assumptions underlying what we are considering,
o Question it and analyze it using a logical method, and,
o Are able to summarize the results, so that they are understandable to
The road to critical thinking begins with adopting and developing a critical
o A critical attitude:
Is an enquiring, reflective and evaluative frame of mind.
Stresses the importance of questioning and evaluating accepted
norms and received ideas.
Exposes the weaknesses in the general assumptions and
assertions being examined.
Is having an outlook that evaluates and weighs alternative positions
without dismissing or ridiculing.
Depends on arranging ideas in arguments that are clear, logical
Is one of the most important “employability skills” a person can
have. From fact and opinion to arguments based on a critical attitude
Fact and Opinion
It is often assumed that there are only two types of argument.
o Those based on fact: have only one right answer.
o Those based on opinion: depend on human preferences, convictions or
personal beliefs about an individual's choices.
Moving from Holding an Opinion to Establishing a Position
The main difference between an opinion and an argument is whether or not the
position taken can be disagreed with.
o If it can be disagreed with, it is moving toward an argument.
o If it cannot be disagreed with, it is an opinion.
o Disagreeing with a position does not dismiss or replace it with another
opinion. Instead, an effective argument involves:
Making a judgment on the basis of critical thinking, and
Taking a reasoned position on the material being discussed. Analyzing the Objectives of your Assignment
There are four preliminary procedures that allow us to break down the elements of an
assignment and reassemble them using a well formulated argument and relevant
Stressing your own Analysis
1. The terms of the assignment should be analyzed first, so that it is clear, what is
being asked of you.
Whether it is required to outline, summarize or compare and contrast.
What materials should be drawn upon in the assignment?
2. Next, distinctions should be made within the readings. These distinctions should be
The assumptions behind the readings,
The concepts the author is using to structure his or her analysis, and
The data or examples to which the concepts are being applied.
3. Position yourself in relation to the reading, problem or material.
To form an analysis, the following methods can be used:
o Exposition and examples
Describe an argument in terms of its parts and conclusions,
illustrating each stage by examples.
o Concept and application
Formulate a basic idea about the material and apply it to the
Note ways in which the concept needs to be qualified.
o Compare and contrast
Select key ideas, passages or issues from the material to show
similarities and differences.
Organize points of comparison and contrast on the basis of
importance, relevance to other course material, assumptions or
Using different approaches for different assignments
Different kinds of writing require different approaches or a combination of approaches.
o Write a specific concept in the course, applying it to one or more texts
or examples from the course to demonstrate your ability to use the
o Use a particular theme or idea in your paper and read and analyze the
text in light of that notion, citing appropriate evidence.
Comparative essay o Use one or more ideas or texts, and it involves greater problems in
o Undertake library work on the topic, analyzing and arranging your
materials into an argument.
o Apply the research to your topic in a coherent and clear way.
Speaking and Writing to the Assignment
There is a misconception that written or oral presentations are a free expression
of an individual's ideas and feelings about a particular subject.
In reality, most assignments have certain limitations which should be followed to
o The due date.
o The scope of the topic.
o The time of the meeting or class, where the information has to be
Even though university instructors usually assign essay topics, sometimes we as
students will have to formulate a topic ourselves as part of the assignment.
o Either way, it is essential to become aware of the scope of the topic, of its
terms and limitations.
Essay on Assigned Topic
Undertake systematic reading, including some library research.
Sometimes, you will begin with an impression, later developed into a hypothesis
that has to be proved from some passages in the text under consideration.
A problem or contradiction that the text or issue raises or an idea that needs to
be developed can be used to begin the essay.
Eventually, several hypotheses about the text or problem will be developed.
o As these are tested, the thesis of the essay will be constructed.
Following the terms of an Assignment
It is important to follow the specific instructions provided when completing
academic work. These instructions include:
o The topic and scope of the paper.
o The kind of essay you are to write.
o The number of texts you are to use.
Neglecting the instructions provided, can lead to mistakes with formatting,
using too few texts or even failing to answer the question or address the topic.
An assignment’s instructions, when read with a critical attitude, open up many
possibilities for you to position yourself within a set of logical options. The following steps outline how to ensure that you examine the terms of an
Separate the subject matter from the formal requirements.
o “Use at least two texts from the course syllabus.”
o “Hand in a paper of six to eight pages.”
At this stage of assessing the assignment, it is not necessary to decide on
exactly how you will follow the requireme