The Study Dude – Thinking Skills

Study Tips from a Semi-Anonymous Friend

There is nothing more that The Study Dude wants for you than to know how to insert compelling and complex arguments in your paper.

Well, in these articles, as The Study Dude, I’ll try to give you the study tips you need to help make your learning easier. I’ll also give you straight and honest opinions and personal anecdotes?even the embarrassing ones that you wouldn’t ever dare read about from any other study tip guru.

This week’s article begins by slogging through some heavy material in a book called Thinking Skills: Critical Thinking and Problem Solving by John Butterworth and Geoff Thwaites. If you love math and logic, then this book will tickle you pink; if you don’t love formulas and conditionals, then don’t run away. You’ll learn the craft of making compelling arguments in the matter of 1500 words or less: the length of this article.

Introducing Critical Thinking
In a previous article, I mentioned asking a professor what was meant by the words critical thinking. In that article, I talked about how her lips curled and eyes furrowed when she replied, “If you don’t know what critical thinking is, then you don’t belong here.” After reading the start of Butterworth and Thwaites book on critical thinking, I realized that I probably had a solid foundation in critical thinking, maybe even a better grasp than the professor had, given my success in logic and math courses. Yes, critical thinking deals a lot with logical principles, such as how to build an argument, and it later delves into some probability and statistics.

However, in spite of all the success in logic and math, none of the information seemed to make everyday problem solving easier. I still woke up in the morning with struggles ahead, obstacles throughout the day, and even sorrows. These fundamental everyday issues are just part of life for everyone. After reading Butterworth and Thwaites’s starting chapters, I realized that the principles of problem solving and argumentation may have great benefit for writing essays, especially at the more advanced undergraduate or graduate levels. Critical thinking can help you make complex arguments that propel not just the views you read, but your own views in making claims, synthesizing (putting together in unique ways) materials, and coming to conclusions. And who doesn’t want to actually insert their own views and conclusions in a paper rather than just reiterate what Professors Jack and Jill said?

The following outlines Butterworth and Thwaites’s introduction to critical thinking:
– Critical thinking involves “giving a fair and unbiased opinion of something.”
– Judgement, often construed as opinion, could lead to critical thinking, if supported with enough compelling evidence.
– We tap into critical thinking skills when we read, listen, or think about content.
– We need to learn how to analyze the structure of an argument as well as be able to evaluate how well the reasoning supports the conclusion derived.
– Critical thinking paves the path where you do not think passively or pigheadedly.
– You need to possess the following traits to critically think: 1) open-mindedness, 2) non-passive and information driven thought, 3) a degree of scepticism, and 4) independent thinking.
– You should only make claims insofar as your reasoning provides support for your conclusion.

Argument Identification
If you can identify an argument, you can present one, too: it will likely be a compelling one, given your skill-set. I need to learn this skill. Whenever an argument comes into play, I’m the first to back down. Yes, I tend to listen to the other person’s views, internalize their perspectives, and integrate them with my own views. I’ll even nod my head in agreement and pipe up with a “really?” when they tell me an outlandish claim, not meant to be taken literally. In other words, I truly need to apply the ability to identify and construct an argument.

With the talent of identifying arguments, you can put forth compelling reasons to support your conclusion. Your reasons may overflow with subjectivity, and may not even be true, unbeknownst to you, but, hey, they belong to you and therefore have merit. So, spill the beans and let your point-of-view come to the forefront.

Let’s delve into how to identify an argument, according to our friends, Buttersworth and Thwaites:
– Before you can evaluate an argument, identification of the argument is essential.
– Try to determine the conclusion of the argument by positing a ?so?, ?therefore?, ?because?, or ?since? in the line of reasoning. If you can say, for instance, ?therefore, global warming poses a threat to humanity” as a summation of the reasons presented, then your conclusion is that global warming poses a threat to humanity. Simple.
– You can have reasons that lead to an implied conclusion.
– The standard form of an argument has reasons leading up to a conclusion.

Argument Analysis
When you insert an argument in your paper, many alternative argument structures exist for you to choose from. I just love that about logic; you can view through visual diagrams or charts a seemingly infinite number of alternatives that you can choose from to craft your argument. With an endless supply of possible argument patterns, you can get ultra-creative in how you map together your conclusions. And then?boom!?you just advanced your writing to a graduate level. Crafting advanced, compelling arguments does not entirely rely on logic, however; visual thinking is also instrumental. Either logic or visual learning will get you in the door on making complex, convincing arguments.

So, let’s get started with Butterworth and Thwaites’s rundown on how to analyze arguments:

– Typically, a conclusion finds support in from one to six supplied reasons.
– The conclusion should be true as a result of the reasons being true, and the conclusion follows from the reasons. In other words, the reasons should support and lead to the conclusion.
– Some reasons might have independence from one another, and other reasons might have dependency. For instance, to conclude that forgiveness is divine, you might say that (1) Jesus Christ died for our sins on the cross and that (2) the Sikh Guru’s bolstered forgiveness as the highest virtues; thus, forgiveness is divine. These reasons would be considered related, but independent, both leading to the conclusion. If you said, however, that (1) Jesus Christ died for our sins on the cross and that (2) to prove the extent of his forgiveness, he forgave the disciple Peter for his betrayal, these reasons would seem more dependent. Now, for all the atheists, if you forgive me for engaging in spiritual discussion, you will have realized the epitome of virtue, according to the previous arguments.
– When you have independent reasons leading to a conclusion, you map this by placing the reasons as the letter R1, R2, etc. and drawing an arrow from each one independently pointing toward the conclusion, C. If you have reasons that are dependent, say reasons one and reasons two (R1 and R2), you draw a circle around them both together to show that they are dependent and from that circle, draw an arrow pointing toward the conclusion, C. You can have some reasons independent and other dependent in the same argument. That’s the beauty of logic–you can craft your own design based on an unlimited amount of possibilities.
– Some arguments have intermediate conclusions, where the reasons lead to a conclusion, which then leads to a main conclusion. These reasons supporting intermediate conclusions are together called sub-arguments, and one or more sub-arguments can lead to a main conclusion.

So, there’s nothing to fear. The Study Dude is determined to make right for you all the wrongs I made in grad school?one A+ at a time.

Butterworth, John & Thwaites, Geoff. (2014). Thinking Skills: Critical Thinking and Problem Solving. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

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