Critical thinking for reading and research

Critical thinking is important in every part of your study, and is a useful skill for work and life. It isn’t about being negative. It's when you don’t automatically accept what you read or hear. Instead, you question information, ideas and arguments, analyse them, and reach your own conclusion.

In your study you should think critically when you research, read and make notes. For an assessment or exam, it’s an important part of showing you understand the topic, have thought about it, and can express your thinking.

 The ideas below will help you to question ideas and think critically as you do your work. 


Ask questions

The most important part of critical thinking is asking questions.

Who, what, where, when, why and how questions will help you understand, analyse and evaluate the information and ideas you are looking at.


  • Who wrote it? Someone with authority on the topic?
  • Who does it involve or affect?
  • Who could benefit from this information?


  • What is this about?
  • What is the aim of this information?
  • What is most or least important?
  • What assumptions has the author made?
  • What similar information is there on this topic?
  • What information is there from another perspective?


  • Where is this information from?
  • Where was the information sourced from?
  • Where are the gaps in this information?
  • Where did this happen?


  • When was this written? Is the information current?
  • When did this happen?


  • Why did they say it? Did they explain their opinion?
  • Why are these theories discussed?


  • How did they say it? Fact or opinion?
  • How was the research done?
  • How does one factor impact another?
  • How is this relevant to my assessment?



Use 'for example', 'why' and 'so what?'

For example, why and so what?’ can help with your questioning.

For example, say you were thinking about the problems caused by learner fees. Start with the topic and ask yourself: ‘Can I think of any examples?’ Basic idea: High learner fees.

  • For example: Course costs are as high as $8,000 a year.
  • Why: More learners want to study, so there is less tax money per learner for higher education.
  • So what: The costs might put people off tertiary study.

You also need to find good sources to back up the 'why' and 'so what' examples of your idea.

Next take each of your new ideas and apply 'for example', 'why' and 'so what' to it. This will lead to more ideas that you can apply the same technique to.

Tip - Remember to look at opposing views. In the example above you might consider reasons why learners should pay their own way.


Use diagrams

Diagrams, such as an organisational chart or a flow diagram) or mind maps can help you see how ideas relate to one another. They can help you see:

  • Sequences – 'This is followed by . . .'
  • Cause and effect – 'A leads to B because . . .'
  • Relationships between information – 'This is important because of that.'
  • Hierarchy (how things are organised) – 'This comes before that...'


Got a question?

If you want to talk with someone about critical thinking and research, contact The Library and Learning Centre | Te Whare Pukapuka Wāhanga Whakapakari Ako. 

Contact the Library and Learning Centre