Academic writing is critical writing

A person writing in a notepad

For many it goes without saying, but often students at the beginning of their studies have to get used to what is meant by both academic writing and critical thinking. Both are important features of scientific thought and integrally related to one another as well. Writing academically or scientifically can help us to hone our critical thinking, and critical thinking allows us to write in a clear, scientific manner.

Critical thinking includes both critical reading and critical writing. Critical reading involves both understanding and interacting with texts, so that you both learn from and question the conclusions of any given author. Those processes are addressed in other posts on this blog.

Critical writing is writing which evaluates and analyses more than one source in order to develop an argument.  That is, as you write about your sources, you are not only presenting another scholar’s work, but also taking the time to express your own assessment of that scholar’s conclusions. In addition, you are creating a synthesis of the research from several sources, sometimes in a literature review, showing the connections and relationships between their ideas. Finally, you are pulling those ideas together to show how you have developed your own ideas about the topic, whether for a research method, a theoretical approach, or a potential interpretive conclusion.

You can make sure your writing is critical in this sense with the help of a checklist:

FeatureQuestionsComments / Tips
Descriptive vs. CriticalWhat is the balance between descriptive and critical, i.e. evaluative or analytic writing? Is there more critical writing than description?Try colored pens or highlighters to set apart descriptive and analytical text. Description is necessary, but should not be too extensive.
EvaluationHow much information do you include about the sources and how do you approach them? Have the strengths and weaknesses of each source been identified? Are the sources all reliable, relevant and up to date? Check that you have put each source in its historical and
disciplinary context, and make sure that all quotes and their relevance to your argument are explained.
AnalysisDo you present other
writers‘ work straightforwardly, or do you show how and why their research is either problematic or acceptable? Are there reasons why the conclusions of the writers you refer to should be treated with caution?
Look for analytic and
evaluative language in your writing like quantifiers, adjectives and adverbs.
EvidenceAre your arguments supported by more than one source? Are there any unsubstantiated statements, i.e. statements without evidential support? Outline your own arguments and make sure the support is included for each one. Look for language of causation and problem-solving.
ConclusionsAre your conclusions justified? Is there a clear line of reasoning leading up to the conclusions? Check your argumentative structure and organizing principle. Do they work to persuade your readers? Look in particular at your linking phrases and cohesive devices.

If you are unsure about how to answer the questions in the second column, try out the tips in the third. A major part of critical writing is showing your own thought process, and how you took others‘ work to develop your own. Let your own light shine through!