For most people, critical thinking is a key element of their day-to-day work, including the writing they produce, yet many professionals fail to apply it to their writing.
In writing, critical thinking is the next step from descriptive thinking. It goes beyond merely reciting facts and describing the subject matter. Critical thinking starts with description but then analyzes, evaluates, and interprets. It connects dots and helps readers put facts together to form specific conclusions and use the writing to solve problems. Descriptive writing presents information. Critical thinking transforms information into ideas and solutions.
Writing without critical thinking, however, results in a haphazard approach that yields poorly written and confusing documents that fail to adequately communicate their subject matter.
Because it's an active and sometimes time-consuming process, critical thinking requires energy and time – two resources many professionals lack. Consequently, when they encounter a new problem or decision, they take shortcuts. In the case of writing, this means that professionals will often recycle a document they’ve already written or find one that seems to fit the bill. The problem with this approach is that it results in a one-size-fits-all document that ultimately ends up being a poor fit for the situation at hand.
Remember, the documents your company produces are the “face” of the organization; documents dictate if potential customers want to do business with you. If a client isn’t convinced that your solution, your company, or your team can solve their problem, whatever that problem may be, they probably won’t do business with you.
How do you deal with this situation?
One way is to remove external constraints. For example, if time seems to be the issue – you're working "under the gun" and the rush is limiting your ability to spend time with the material – consider revamping how you handle writing assignments and deadlines to give yourself and others more time with the material.
Another way is skills development. After all, when did any of us ever receive specific training in this area? A 1997 study of 38 public colleges and universities and 28 private ones across California – including Stanford, UCLA, and UC Berkeley – asked this very question. Most faculty – 89% – said they included critical thinking throughout their curriculum as a primary objective. However, only 19% could explain what critical thinking is. Furthermore, according to their own answers, "only 9% of the respondents were clearly teaching for critical thinking on a typical day in class."
Has the situation improved in the last two decades? Well, a 2017 study tested young adults between the ages of 19 and 30 on their critical thinking skills and asked them to self-evaluate. Only about a third (36%) said they believed themselves to be well-trained in critical thinking. Even fewer, just 20%, thought their colleagues were skilled at critical thinking.
If skill or practice is the problem, consider arranging some professional writing training to bridge that skills gap. It's never too late to learn this valuable skill, which will have benefits not just for writing but for all aspects of the workplace.
About Hurley Write, Inc.
Hurley Write, Inc., a certified women-owned small business (WBENC and WOSB), Historically Underutilized (HUB), and Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE), has been designing and teaching customized onsite and online technical, business, and scientific writing courses for over 30 years. We also develop and teach specialty courses, such as how to write proposals and standard operating procedures (SOPs) and deviation and investigation reports, and how to prepare and give great presentations.