Unit 3: Reflecting Anlytically & Critically

Reading is only the beginning of effective study. Once you have read the material, you need to begin reflecting on and thinking about what you have read. The rest of this unit is dedicated to using the CAP (Creative, Analytical, Practical) approach to thinking about what you have learned. This second section covers thinking and reflecting analytically. In each unit, try to use at least two CAP exercises, listed here and in your sample Digitial Notebook.

Almost every unit you study will present you with material that will help you explore professional problems and questions that require you to not only find potential solutions (which requires creative thinking) but to carefully understand the questions and the potential solutions and decide which is best (which requires analytical and critical thinking).

Know The Type of Question or Problem

Every day, in all walks of life, you spend time solving problems. Some are solved so quickly that you almost do not realize they are problems. Many of the simple problems have easily-defined answers with clear solutions (even if reaching those solutions takes some work):

These problems are called well-structured problems, because, for the most part, information already exists to answer them. There are few ambiguities or complexities that cannot be managed with the available information. The solution, once you find it, fits the problem or question like a plug fits a socket. For the most part, the answers to well-structured problems are either right or wrong — or at least either better or worse.

In your professional life, some of the most important problems you encounter will be ill-structured problems. While they are less common than well-structured problems, they are often Ill-structured problems are problems and questions that do not have clearly defined answers. Sometimes, they do not even have clearly-defined ways of finding answers. These might include:

These answers are often not a simple matter of right or wrong, but they aren't a matter of simple opinion. While professionals may disagree about how to handle these questions and problems, they should think carefully about why the disagree. Thus, their disagreements aren't a matter of simple opinion but of reasoned judgment. The article Three Categories of Questions: Crucial Distinctions looks at the difference between matters of reasoned judgment ("given that we have more work than our current staff can handle, what should our priorities be?"), matters of fact ("what color is the sky?") and matters of simple opinion ("what brand of soda should we sell in the break room?").

As you look at questions and problems you are thinking about in each unit, be sure to look at two issues:

The Importance of an Open Mind

Having an open mind sometimes gets a bad name. Too often, people confuse having an open mind with either having no opinions at all or else believing anything anyone tells you. In fact, an open mind is the opposite of these two examples.

Instead, having an open mind means that while you are willing to make reasoned judgments and form your own ideas, you are also willing to listen fairly to the ideas of others, consider their evidencce, and weight that against your own evidence and assumptions. In each situation, a person with an open mind is willing to weigh all reasonable evidence in the time they have and consider the perspectives of others (including others who they may disagree with). The open-minded person is willing to make the best decision they can make in the time they have available, and is neither too quick to rush to a conclusion nor is too slow to act when needed. An open-minded person is willing to admit that their previous decisions may have been wrong and to learn from those for the future.

Open-mindedness (also called "fairmindedness") is one of the key Valuable Intellectual Virtues important to all professionals.

Weigh Arguments

The exercises in your sample Digital Notebook will guide you through carefully considering the various types of claims you find in your readings. Claims are statements in which someone asserts a fact, value, or recommended course of action based on their own judgment. Your textbook may make some claims and/or summarize the claims of major scholars in your professional field. The exercises here will help you consider what their claims say, what evidence they present, and what assumptions they seem to be making. (In some cases, they may assume that you are already familiar with their evidence!) You can use this exercise to consider why you agree or disagree with a particular point of view and what types of evidence it would take to get you to change your mind.

Additional Links

  • The Problem-Solving Process: Ill-structured problems are complex issues, often entangled with emotions, personal agendas, and organizational or community politics. Having a clear process can help you sort out the issues and keep focused on the real needs. Keep in mind, processes should be tools, not the sources of new problems. Use them to the extent they will help!
  • Strategies for Problem Solving: This article lists several strategies that can be used in problem-solving, including working backward, reasoning by analogy, and using mental imagery. SparkNotes.com also has an interesting study guide for problem solving.
  • CriticalThinking.org also has several articles on analytical and critical thinking.