Jeff Bergthorson

Professor, Engineering

Q: How do you perceive the relationship between academic writing and critical thinking?

A: For me, the best way to learn something is to teach it to someone because this forces us to crystallize our fluid thoughts into a coherent story. Academic writing takes this one step further, since we have the chance to read our thoughts and critique our own thinking beyond the moment. This self-criticism is the key to critical thinking and it is during the writing process that we evaluate exactly what we really know and what we don’t. I have found writing review articles to be the most challenging and rewarding papers to write. When preparing a review, one cannot passively read the literature, as so many of us do. Instead, we need to be actively engaged to pick out the key ideas from each paper and then weave these ideas together into the coherent story of the review. A good review should distill the broad literature in order to explain to the reader what is our current collective understanding of, and what are the most important outstanding questions in, a given research field. I encourage every student to be actively engaged when writing their literature reviews, within papers and theses, to hone their critical thinking skills.

Photo credit: Michael Johnson