Critical reflection is careful and rigorous analytical thinking on a topic. It is a learned art, requiring prayer, patience, and practice.
While the critical thinker is not forever suspicious of trusting a source, agreeing with an argument, or arriving at old conclusions, he cultivates a spirit of inquisitiveness and healthy suspicion when dealing with ideas. True ideas are able to stand up to the probing of critical thought; false ideas stand only as long as they remain unchallenged by critical analysis.
You are interacting critically when you do one or more of the following:
- Examine the credibility of author, sources, and assumptions
- Focus on the author’s definition of terms
- Evaluate the extent and quality of claims and supporting argument
- Note biases and stereotypes in the text
- Offer objections and counter-evidence to what is presented in the text
- Point out simplistic explanations and polarized thinking
- Note inconsistencies and contradictions
Avoid the following mistakes when interacting critically with others’ work:
- Reaching a conclusion too hastily
- Assuming the truth of your ideas before subjecting them to investigation and proof
- Not understanding an author or topic fully
- Assuming, rather than demonstrating, the implications of an idea or proposition
- Failing to consider all the information relevant to your topic
- Treating only those factors which support your conclusions
- Assuming the total untrustworthiness of a source or position because you believe it to be in error on one point
- Assuming the adequacy of a position or source because you believe it to be true
- Resorting to ad hominem attacks against an opposing viewpoint
By asking and answering critical questions and avoiding mistakes in critical thinking, you can begin to hone your own viewpoint on the material. The process of critical interaction is one way to develop a thesis.
For assignments that are already highly structured by the professor, or for papers that interact with a source assigned by the professor, critical interaction is the most important tool for developing your viewpoint.
However, for other types of theological assignments that are less structured (for example, “write a 20-page paper on a topic of your choice that relates to themes discussed in class”) you will have to find out more information before you can interact critically or write a good thesis. For this type of paper, follow the additional steps in the research process outlined below and on the following pages.
The Research Process
Research generally proceeds by defining a general topic, asking a probing question of that topic, and evaluating potential answers. The goal is to arrive at a thesis that articulates the best answer to the research question, or a purpose statement that expresses the aim and scope of your response to the research question. Each of the points in this process represents a progression toward greater specificity and will be considered in sequence.
Other "Moving from Topic to Thesis" topics:
Moving from Topic to Thesis Home
Phase 2 - Choosing and Narrowing a Topic
Phase 3 - Formulating a Question and Thesis
Becoming a Better Writer Home