Critical Thinking in Reading and Composition

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

The ultimate goal of critical thinking...

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Critical thinking is the process of independently analyzing, synthesizing, and evaluating information as a guide to behavior and beliefs.

The American Philosophical Association has defined critical thinking as "the process of purposeful, self-regulatory judgment. The process gives reasoned consideration to evidence, contexts, conceptualizations, methods, and criteria" (1990). Critical thinking is sometimes broadly defined as "thinking about thinking."

Critical thinking skills include the ability to interpret, verify, and reason, all of which involve applying the principles of logic. The process of using critical thinking to guide writing is called critical writing.


  • "Critical Thinking is essential as a tool of inquiry. As such, Critical Thinking is a liberating force in education and a powerful resource in one’s personal and civic life. While not synonymous with good thinking, Critical Thinking is a pervasive and self-rectifying human phenomenon. The ideal critical thinker is habitually inquisitive, well-informed, trustful of reason, open-minded, flexible, fair-minded in evaluation, honest in facing personal biases, prudent in making judgments, willing to reconsider, clear about issues, orderly in complex matters, diligent in seeking relevant information, reasonable in the selection of criteria, focused in inquiry, and persistent in seeking results which are as precise as the subject and the circumstances of inquiry permit."
    (American Philosophical Association, "Consensus Statement Regarding Critical Thinking," 1990)
  • Thought and Language
    "In order to understand reasoning [...], it is necessary to pay careful attention to the relationship between thought and language. The relationship seems to be straightforward: thought is expressed in and through language. But this claim, while true, is an oversimplification. People often fail to say what they mean. Everyone has had the experience of having their \ misunderstood by others. And we all use words not merely to express our thoughts but also to shape them. Developing our critical thinking skills, therefore, requires an understanding of the ways in which words can (and often fail to) express our thoughts."
    (William Hughes and Jonathan Lavery, Critical Thinking: An Introduction to the Basic Skills, 4th ed. Broadview, 2004)
  • Dispositions That Foster or Impede Critical thinking
    "Dispositions that foster critical thinking include [a] facility in perceiving irony, ambiguity, and multiplicity of meanings or points of view; the development of open-mindedness, autonomous thought, and reciprocity (Piaget's term for the ability to empathize with other individuals, social groups, nationalities, ideologies, etc.). Dispositions that act as impediments to critical thinking include defense mechanisms (such as absolutism or primary certitude, denial, projection), culturally conditioned assumptions, authoritarianism, egocentrism, and ethnocentrism, rationalization, compartmentalization, stereotyping and prejudice."
    (Donald Lazere, "Invention, Critical Thinking, and the Analysis of Political Rhetoric." Perspectives on Rhetorical Invention, ed. by Janet M. Atwill and Janice M. Lauer. University of Tennessee Press, 2002)
  • Critical Thinking and Composing
    - "[T]he most intensive and demanding tool for eliciting sustained critical thought is a well-designed writing assignment on a subject matter problem. The underlying premise is that writing is closely linked with thinking and that in presenting students with significant problems to write about—and in creating an environment that demands their best writing—we can promote their general cognitive and intellectual growth. When we make students struggle with their writing, we are making them struggle with thought itself. Emphasizing writing and critical thinking, therefore, generally increases the academic rigor of a course. Often the struggle of writing, linked as it is to the struggle of thinking and to the growth of a person's intellectual powers, awakens students to the real nature of learning."
    (John C. Bean, Engaging Ideas: The Professor's Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom, 2nd ed. Wiley, 2011)
    - "Finding a fresh approach to a writing assignment means that you must see the subject without the blinders of preconception. When people expect to see a thing in a certain way, it usually appears that way, whether or not that is its true image. Similarly, thinking based on prefabricated ideas produces writing that says nothing new, that offers nothing important to the reader. As a writer, you have a responsibility to go beyond the expected views and present your subject so that the reader sees it with fresh eyes. . . .[C]ritical thinking is a fairly systematic method of defining a problem and synthesizing knowledge about it, thereby creating the perspective you need to develop new ideas. . . .
    "Classical rhetoricians used a series of three questions to help focus an argument. Today these questions can still help writers understand the topic about which they are writing. An sit? (Is the problem a fact?); Quid sit (What is the definition of the problem?); and Quale sit? (What kind of problem is it?). By asking these questions, writers see their subject from many new angles before they begin to narrow the focus to one particular aspect."
    (Kristin R. Woolever, About Writing: A Rhetoric for Advanced Writers. Wadsworth, 1991)

Logical Fallacies

Ad Hominem

Ad Misericordiam


Appeal to Authority

Appeal to Force

Appeal to Humor

Appeal to Ignorance

Appeal to the People


Begging the Question

Circular Argument

Complex Question

Contradictory Premises

Dicto Simpliciter, Equivocation

False Analogy

False Dilemma

Gambler's Fallacy

Hasty Generalization


Non Sequitur


Poisoning the Well

Post Hoc

Red Herring

Slippery Slope

Stacking the Deck

Straw Man

Tu Quoque

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Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "Critical Thinking in Reading and Composition." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, Nordquist, Richard. (2020, August 26). Critical Thinking in Reading and Composition. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Critical Thinking in Reading and Composition." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 1, 2023).