So far we’ve looked at the need for evidence-based practice and critical thinking skills in my Critical Practice course. Today, in the last chapter, we’re going to think about how we bring all this together and present our findings. In other words, how to write critically.
In my previous post I looked at the difference between critical thinking and criticism; this is just as important when writing critically. You’re not simply writing about negatives or problems, you are providing an objective analysis or evaluation of whatever is your focus, looking at all features, both positive and negative. You’re providing a critique.
In this post we will explore how to structure and present your critical writing and look at how to write critically with some helpful hints and tips.
In many ways, critical writing, or writing a critical analysis has a similar layout to other formal (academic and professional) writing. Obviously with academic writing you should be providing references throughout, but with the emergence and rapid growth in the use of AI you should reference your work as it will prove it is your own work (AI hasn’t learned to do this … yet). The structure to follow is:
- Analysis and Interpretation
We will explore together how to present all the evidence you have gathered and your thoughts based on your critical analysis of said evidence. I can’t stress enough how important your evidence is to this process. If you don’t have evidence or haven’t read enough, your analysis will be weak. If you’re not sure about evidence, you should read my post on evidence-based practice.
I think for ease of understanding critical writing, a working example would be advantageous, so we can see how to write critically and possibly give you the opportunity to practice. I’m going to use my Quiet Quitting post as our working example. It will give you something to refer to and see what I’m talking about, but maybe also critique about where it can be improved.
Using the heading provided above, I will discuss what should be included and how you might consider presenting your information. (Please use the comments at the end of the post to raise any questions you might have).
In your introduction you should be clear about what you’re going to do – are you providing a critique, an evaluation etc? What questions are you trying to answer?
Often my students will be asked to relate their analysis to a case study organisation. Where this happens, I would also expect the introduction to put the organisation into context – who are they? – if we were writing about the impact of quiet quitting on them, I’d expect you to tell me if this is an issue for them, how it might be affecting them and why management want you to look at this topic. You might also want to point out how the analysis will benefit the organisation.
Please note, the introduction is written in the future tense – what you will do in this assignment, so you are hypothesising, you don’t have the answers yet as you’ve not technically completed the analysis (although in practice, you should write the introduction last).
Generally an introduction is just an overview, so I wouldn’t necessarily be looking for evidence and references at this point, you’re simply setting the scene for your main work.
Analysis and Interpretation
This is where you are presenting your evidence (your research). It won’t be sufficient to simply say X was read and here’s what I found out. You need to critique the articles etc you have used. You need to tell your reader what you read, what’s good about the arguments (and why) but also looking to identify any weaknesses or flaws in the evidence presented. For example, I recently saw an advert on TV for one of those digital smart exercise bikes. The marketing, in January, said they had a very high percentage of members still subscribed after 12 months – but when I checked the small print, the statistics were for 12 months from May. If you were to critique this, then I would expect you to say they’re giving a false impression, the information may be accurate, but could it be misleading? They will have had fewer subscribers join in May – why do you think they wouldn’t use the January figures which im sure they have?
So when you look at information, stop to think about what you’re being told. Are you being given all the facts? Is the information being presented in a skewed way.
You will also not just be using one source for your information. Do you have other sources that convey the same message? Or are they saying something different? You need to read enough so you can present all of the different arguments in your work, presenting your arguments clearly:
X says ‘a’ and ‘b’
Y agrees with ‘a’ but also says ‘c’ (introducing a new idea)
What do these two pieces of information from X and Y tell you? You need to interpret the information you’re reading. It is also likely that you will find opposing arguments:
Z disagrees with X and Y, and thinks ‘d’ instead
You need to present all the arguments clearly and logically, analysing and interpreting the information, not simply describing what they state. Remember to highlight the strengths and weaknesses of the different arguments to help shape your interpretation of the facts. Coming back to our example, you would be expected to review all the information and say which approach is most likely to work with your case study and why. Not only do you need to analyse the information, you also need to be able to interpret it and apply your reading to the business situation.
Continuing with our example of quiet quitting, I’d be looking at a range of literature, looking at the different forms of quiet quitting – that’s probably a good place to demonstrate critical analysis. Each article will have a slightly (or very) different definition of the phenomenon. Some might even suggest that is just a fancy new term to describe already existing work practices.
If you were critiquing the range of definitions, you would need to explore a few different articles, ensuring you are covering the range of definitions. A good indicator that you’ve done this is when you feel that you are just reading the same ideas over and over again, and not finding anything new. Once you’ve done that, you should consider, given everything you’ve read, whether there are any shortfalls in the definitions – are some elements missing? Are there some that contain too many elements? Why might that be a problem? You might also look for commonalities – are there certain elements that appear more frequently? Are they significant? Finally, you’d probably want to think about whether any one definition stands out as the most appropriate for your needs (if you’re going to apply it to your organisation, for example, or do you need to adapt the definitions, taking elements from a few to create your own definition. Until you look at a range of literature, you’re not going to be able to write up your analysis into an assignment, report for work, or blog article for example.
In most situations there is unlikely to only be one opinion or one version of events. To successfully write a critical analysis you must read widely to expose yourself to the full range of opinions expressed. If you find you’re in the situation where you can’t find a lot of literature, you should acknowledge this in your write up and consider the limitations on your analysis of only having partial information.
When you look at my post on quiet quitting am I just presenting one viewpoint? Have I referred to different sources? Am I being critical in my work? Could it be improved? How?
Conclusions are not a summary of everything you’ve written about; you should be pulling out, highlighting and discussing the key points from your analysis. I try to advise my students to go back through their analysis once they’re finished and on a sheet of paper jot down the most important things from their analysis. Then, with those key word prompts, write up their conclusions. What’s important about these points, what is your conclusion? Why is it important? What’s the impact?
The final point about conclusions (and recommendations if you’re writing them), is that they don’t contain any new information and should never contain any references. From an assessor’s point of view, new information in the conclusions or recommendations is excluded for grading purposes.
I hope you have a clearer idea of how to present a critical analysis now and that you have enjoyed this series on critical practice. I wish you success as you develop your critical thinking skills.
Thank you for reading my post.
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