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Gone are the days where you can write a five paragraph essay. Such rote writing assignments will barely earn you a passing grade in college. Why? Good question! Many, if not all, of your college-level writing assignments will demand aspects of critical thinking. Several professors will likely assign a critical thinking essay. These essays aim to hone a student’s analytical skills, or the ability to articulate a clear argument regarding a particular topic. Such writing assignments mandate the incorporation of personal insight along with analysis of key elements. University professors not only assess critical thinking essays based on writing skill and grammatical mastery but also the student’s skill in developing a clear, concise, logical, and supported argument. In other words, can you think critically?

What is critical analysis, anyway? This skill separates the kids from the adults. It’s the ability to see a topic from many different angles, analyze each one, and make an informed decision regarding the available information. It means that you take into account opposing viewpoints, assess each for validity and discuss their pros and cons dispassionately. Need an example of critical thinking? No problem!

While on the internet, you come across a “breaking” news story. But is it real? Anyone can put anything they want on the internet — much of the news today is fake. Critical thinking allows you to figure this out. You can track down the source to determine if the website publishes reliable news (CNN, BBC, NPR, The Economist, The Wall Street Journal) or unreliable news (BuzzFeed, Breitbart, The Huffington Post). You can also fact-check the article on sites such as to determine the reliability of the information.

Tackling a Critical Thinking Essay

Writing a critical analysis takes planning; not only will you need to find good research to support your argument, but you need to present it in the most compelling way possible. While the basic writing process is similar to other papers, some will be a bit different. Let’s take a look at how to tackle a critical thinking essay.

Select a Topic

So now that you’ve got the critical thinking aspect down, what’s next? Everything. Start by choosing your topic. While you may hate being assigned a topic, it’s often easier to write these papers. Why? Because professors only assign topics that they know have enough quality sources to explore the topic. Critical thinking essays are popular across the academic spectrum, so you may be asked to write them for Humanities, Science, Math, or Social Studies classes. Many times, these essays will be assigned in response to something you’ve read in class.

Create a Thesis

Your thesis should focus on developing a single argument and provide a roadmap discussing how you plan to support it. The roadmap can then be divided into body paragraphs, which each serve to strengthen your argument by providing cited evidence from primary or secondary sources.

Conduct Good Research

Hit the library and online resources to find information that supports your argument. Take notes, and remember to cite each and every source you use. Doing so during this stage makes putting together a Bibliography and/or a Works Cited page significantly easier towards the end. By now, you should have some idea of how you best take notes: on index cards, on a resource outline, typed onto a Word document, or another method. It’s best to take all the notes you need and then review your thesis; consider if the gathered information supports the original thesis or if it needs to be modified to reflect the data you discovered.

Brainstorm Your Approach

Whether you like lists, mapping, or sentence outlines, it’s important to brainstorm how you’ll develop your argument. Outline your research and ensure that it connects. Most often, essays are organized with the weakest argument first. This allows the reader to end with the strongest argument, increasing the chances of persuading the audience that the thesis is valid.

Draft and Draft again

First drafts will be riddled with errors — both grammatical and logical. Leave yourself enough time to complete a rough draft and have classmates or the professor review it and identify weaknesses. Ask them to be brutally honest — if they aren’t, you won’t be able to fix it! Remember: the focus on each paragraph should be stated in the topic sentence. Then each subsequent sentence should support the topic sentence in some way.

A critical analysis requires the writer to anticipate the opposing argument and discredit it with evidence. This may occur as required in the body paragraphs or in a paragraph unto itself before the conclusion paragraph. The most important truth to remember is this: critical thinking requires analysis — not summary. This essay should present your own ideas and not merely regurgitate the ideas of others.

Critical Thinking Essay Topics

Critical thinking essays starting to make sense? Good. These essay types require some type of argument since the writer must analyze a certain position. This means that the topic selected must have two sides.

Let’s take a look at possible critical thinking essay topics:

  • How Odysseus Influences Modern Heroes.
  • Charter Schools and the Decline of the Public Education System.
  • The Economic Benefit of Microloans in Poverty-Stricken Communities.
  • The Death Penalty and Modern American Society.
  • The Media’s Role in Public Perception.
  • Harry Potter as the Modern Incarnation of Hamlet.
  • Democracy: The Most Stable Form of Government.
  • The Case for Alternative Energy.
  • Eat, Pray, Love: A Meditation on the Modern Disconnect.
  • The Relevance of Time in Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.

Bet you were wishing for a short and sweet book review right about now. Don’t worry! A critical thinking essay can actually be fun to write because it focuses on your ideas. You’re basically figuring out what you believe about a topic, conducting research to support it, and organizing an argument to convince others your thinking is correct. What better way to spend your time than proving yourself correct? Like any writing assignment, it will be hard to catch your mistakes, so it’s important to have an academic network to review your work.