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This section looks at analysis and argument. Analytical thinking is a particular type of higher order thinking central to much academic activity. It is concerned with examining 'methodically and in detail the constitution or structure of something' (Oxford English Dictionary). This includes looking at variables, factors, and relationships between things, as well as examining ideas and problems, and detecting and analysing arguments.
Many essay questions require argument. Skills in manipulating content to make a good argument can make the difference between higher and lower assignment grades. An argument is a point or a case you wish to prove and you provide evidence and reasons to support it. This is very different from the everyday sense of the word, 'having a disagreement'.
In many instances, we are not just concerned with arguing a particular case or taking a particular point of view, we are interested in looking at all sides of an issue and producing a balanced argument. This can be helpful in drawing conclusions on an issue.
Particular perspectives and points of view underpin speaking and writing. Being successful at many academic tasks, including balanced argument, often requires you to be conscious of and to try to break away from your usual perspectives and ways of thinking, and to attend to things you might not normally notice. The challenge is often to be more open-minded and broad in your thinking, to consider more than one point of view. It can be useful to have strategies for helping you to examine and change your perceptions. The next activity will start you off on this road
Copy the diagram below then, without taking your pen off the paper draw four straight lines so that all the dots in diagram are joined.
Activity 1 - Discussion
How did you get on? In order to complete this task, you needed to 'think outside the box' (that is, to perceive the task in a way that might not have been immediately obvious.) The solution to this puzzle is given below.
There are many useful thinking tools for helping you to 'think outside the box'. Playing 'devil's advocate' is one - that is, what would somebody with an opposite view or someone who disagrees say?
Think of as many ways as you can to finish the following sentence.
People should be encouraged to smoke because …
Activity 2 Discussion
Did you find this difficult? Perhaps you have particular principles or feelings that influenced your ability to respond to the task?
Here are some reasons you could have given: many people find smoking enjoyable; smoking helps people to cope with life; smokers generate employment in the tobacco industry; smoking raises taxes; smoking lowers the cost of geriatric care because smokers tend to die younger than non-smokers; smoking reduces the level of chronic illness in the elderly population because smokers tend to die younger than non-smokers; smoking saves on pension payments because smokers tend to die younger than non-smokers; young people think smoking is cool - it makes them feel they belong (adapted from Seedhouse, 1997).
Looking at this list were you itching to argue against some of them? If so, you can see how valuable this is in stimulating thinking! It is hoped that this activity will help you appreciate that you can consider other points of view (even if you do not agree with them).
The PMI technique (de Bono, 1999) is another tool to help you think outside the box and make a balanced argument. The idea is to look at the plus (good) points, minus (bad) points and the interesting points.
Use the PMI technique to look at the case for promoting smoking or another subject of your choice.
Activity 3 - Discussion
If you chose smoking, you could put the points noted above on the plus side.
On the minus side, some possibilities might include: smoking causes sickness and shortens lives; smoking makes people unfit; treating smoking related diseases is a drain on NHS resources; smoking leads to absenteeism and loss of productivity; smoking damages non-smokers through passive smoking; smoking is dirty and smelly; smoking causes accidents such as fires and other damage to property (adapted from Seedhouse, 1997).
On the interesting side, some suggestions might include: if we promoted it, would smoking become less fashionable among the young, would the price of cigarettes go down, and would a cure for cancer be found more quickly?
You may have noted that both the style and language of these type of arguments are different. Different perspectives on an issue are presented and there is evidence to back up the points made. References are included to give the points weight and to show the sources used. An author should demonstrate higher order skills and independent thinking. For example, ideas are put together (synthesis), their worth evaluated, a conclusion on the issue reached (independent thinking).
Debates over issues can be complex as a result of the many points of view and arguments. One way to make sense of all this might be to produce a visual map in which you summarise the key arguments and how they are linked to each other.
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