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Critical thinking: Home

This guide looks at how you can demonstrate critical thinking, what triggers critical thinking, and how you can reflect on your learning process.

Critical thinking is a mental process of questioning and evaluating what you read, hear, and see (Palgrave, n.d.). Being able to question or doubt ideas or arguments and not accept them at face value is part of the process. You will need to demonstrate the ability to think critically by:

  • analysing – breaking information down and drawing together your own judgements of the evidence, then synthesising or recombining it in different ways and explaining how parts fit into a whole
  • interpreting – the ability to understand information, look at trends and patterns, identify repetition, and note the finer details which may help you clarify its meaning
  • reasoning – using a logical process to build an argument
  • evaluating – judging the strength of an argument and ensuring that it is well supported. For more information on this key skill take a look at the Evaluating Information page on this site. 

This process involves:

  • critical reading – questioning the information and arguments in the text
  • critical reflection – deepening your learning by focusing on your experiences to help you clarify your thinking
  • reasoning – developing a line of reasoning to reach a conclusion
  • critical writing – supporting your argument, be clear, well-structured and well-referenced

You can use the learning cycle and the six questions (5W + 1H system) to trigger your critical thinking.

Think about the six questions: What, Who, When, Where, Why, and How, as demonstrated in the table below.

  Question Example
what icon What

What are the main messages, arguments, results, or findings?


What type of source is it?  e.g. a research study, professional opinion, discussion, website or other?
who icon Who

Who is the target audience?

Who has written, said or produced the source?

Is the author/speaker an organisation or an individual?

Are they an expert in the topic?

Could they have any bias?

How do you know?

calendar icon When

When was it published or updated?

Check if recent work is available; older key information may still be valid. 

where icon Where

Where did you find the information? Where was it published?

Did you find the information by chance? Or did you find it through a systematic search?

why Why

Why has this been written, said or produced?

What is the aim of the information?

Who is the information aimed at – professionals or patient/client groups?

tutorial how icon How

How has the author/speaker come to their conclusions?

Is their line of reasoning logical and understandable?

If it is research or a review of research, how was it carried out, was it done well and do the conclusions reflect the findings?

Six questions (5W+1H) to trigger your critical thinking (adapted from Aveyard et al., 2015).

This is the learning cycle that can help you reflect on your learning process. In this cycle there are four stages, as summarised in the diagram below.

[Click on the image to enlarge.]

A learning cycle showing the following stages Do something, What happened?, So what?, What next?.

 Learning cycle (adapted from Batista, 2007). Summary of a learning cycle which can be used to bring about critical thinking.



Aveyard, H., Sharp, P. and Wooliams, M. (2015) A beginner's guide to critical thinking and writing in health and social care, 2nd ed. Maidenhead: Open University Press, p. 19. Available from:  [Accessed 14 July 2016].  

Batista, E. (2007) Executive coaching change management. Available from: [Accessed 14 July 2016].

Plagrave (n.d.) Critical thinking skills IN: Skills4StudyCampus. London: Palgrave Macmillan Higher Education. Available from: [Accessed 18 July 2016]. 



“Question” icon by Vandita Malhodra from the Noun Project 

(Used in table 1 next to ‘What’).


“About Us” icon by Ben Peetermans from the Noun Project

(Used in table 1 next to ‘Who’. Icon revised by Gil Dekel).


“Calendar” icon Bohdan Burmich from the Noun Project

(Used in table 1 next to ‘When’).


“Location” icon by Ecem Afacan from the Noun Project

(Used in table 1 next to ‘Where’).


“Crowdsourcing” icon By Iconathon

(Used in table 1 next to ‘Why’).


“Tutorial” icon by Peipei Feng from the Noun Project

(Used in table 1 next to ‘How’).


Head image by Max Griboedov/Shutterstock (image ID:332573291).

Related resources:

Critical thinking: an introduction - This recorded workshop by the University of Southampton looks at what critical thinking and how to do it.

Critical thinking - by Leeds University

Critical Thinking - by QualiaSoup

Sort Fact from Fiction Online with Lateral Reading - by Stanford History Education Group

Critical Thinking Fundamentals - by Northern Illinois University, Wireless Philosophy

Critical thinking by University of Southampton [PDF].

Critical thinking by Dublin City University [Slide deck]. 

Be more critical - a practical guide to critical thinking, produced by Oxford Brookes University for Health Sciences students [PDF].

Critical appraisal of a journal article by University College London [PDF].


Critical thinking module - Skills for Study modular resource. Log in with your University account for access.

Critical thinking toolkit  - produced by De Montfort University this course looks at critical reading, writing, confirmation bias and evaluating information effectively.

The difference between descriptive and critical writing by the Open University 

Evaluating information - a 7 minute tutorial from the University of Southampton which covers thinking critically, and understanding how to find quality, reliable information. 

Fake news - tips for spotting this online by BBC Bitesize 

Reflective learning by Reading University.

Reflective writing  - a 15 minute tutorial by Teesside University



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