1 Starting thoughts
When an essay assignment arrives, read the title slowly. Put it aside for an hour then read it again. Take 15 minutes to ask yourself:
• Do I understand what’s being asked of me?
You might need to do some research before you really understand what you’re being asked to do. If you’re still unclear, don’t be shy: ask your tutor or lecturer for clarification.
• What do I think of what’s being asked?
Do you agree with the statement or have an answer to the question?
• Are there different angles to this question or statement?
Write down your thoughts.
2 Deepening thoughts
Once you’ve read and made notes on the recommended materials, close your notes file. Read the assignment title again. Now put on your coat and go for a ‘thinking walk’. As you walk, think about what you’ve read. Have new angles opened up? Have your initial thoughts shifted? Any fresh insights? You could do your ‘thinking walk’ with a friend and discuss the topic together.
3 Writing as thinking
Writing is also thinking. Your first draft, particularly, is part of the thinking process. As you write, your argument may gather strength. Conversely, contradictions or weaknesses might appear. This is perfectly normal.
Embrace both strengths and contradictions, and set aside thinking time to consider them. This type of thinking might involve making ‘for’ and ‘against’ columns to weigh up the strengths and weaknesses of your argument. Factoring thinking time into each stage of your assignment schedule will help keep your argument focussed and on topic. Time spent thinking is rarely wasted.
14 January 2021
Keep a notebook with you at all times to jot down ideas for your next writing stint.
Critical thinking is a skill you already have, put to work in a new environment. It gets easier with practice.
Working from the bottom up can be a creative way to grow a project. You write notes as you read to create a rough draft as you go.