Analytical & critical reasoning

Analytical & critical reasoning

Analyze and synthesize complex information. Critically evaluate ideas and options. Develop and test hypotheses. Analyze and interpret findings.


Jump to section: Understanding Analytical & Critical Reasoning | Cultivating Analytical & Critical Reasoning | Quick Guide to Becoming an Effective Analytical and Critical Thinker | Taking Action | Need Help? Resources | References


Understanding Analytical & Critical Reasoning 

Analytical and critical reasoning is the rational process through which you “obtain, interpret, and use knowledge, facts, and data”, while exercising logical thinking in analyzing issues and making proper decisions, to ultimately solve problems.[1] 


Why does it matter?

Analytical and critical reasoning is a highly transferable skill set that is widely sought after in a variety of career paths. [2] Being an analytical and critical “thinker” is the most common attribute of successful researchers, regardless of their field. [3] This ability allows you, whether you are a graduate student or a professional, to effectively navigate the different phases of the research process: From compiling and synthesizing information, to evaluating variable evidence, formulating questions and testing hypotheses, and interpreting and reflecting on your own findings in connection to other studies. Developing analytical and critical reasoning skills is important to reduce biased practices in professions that rely on complex decision making such as healthcare, where errors in judgement have severe consequences. [4] 

While being critical is a way of utilizing your subject knowledge to solve problems and make decisions, this process compels you to seek and validate new information, thus expanding your knowledge in a familiar or new subject areas. Moreover, analytical and critical reasoning allows you to improve on other skills such as writing and presenting. For instance, by critically examining published evidence and pertinent facts, you will enhance your argumentative writing skills needed for drafting a research manuscript or a thesis. [5] 

In everyday life, analytical and critical reasoning is essential for solving problems and making adequate decisions. In contrast to the passive “sponge approach” of merely absorbing information by relying on concentration and memory, analytical and critical reasoning provides you with an interactive approach to reach an independent decision or belief about the worth and validity of what you read, hear, or experience. [6] Therefore, through this thinking process, our decisions and beliefs are based on reflective judgement rather than associations or assumptions. 


Cultivating Analytical & Critical Reasoning 

Graduate students are provided with many opportunities to acquire and practice their analytical and critical reasoning skills which, while enhancing the learning process, provide a lifelong tool that goes beyond graduate studies. [7] While it may come to you as second nature, analytical and critical reasoning can be further honed through practice, during and following graduate studies. [8] For instance, in a data-driven learning setting, repeated cycles of making, reflecting, and deciding on how to act vis-a-vis quantitative comparisons, have remarkably improved students’ critical thinking, as well as their learning outcomes (e.g., evaluating models, making appropriate changes to methods).[9] 

Be a critical reader and writer 

Cultivating critical reading will enhance your critical writing. Critical reading implies that readers should focus on the “Ways of Thinking” about a topic, rather than exclusively gathering the information about it in the text. [10] For example, examine how arguments were presented and conclusions were reached. Adopting a question-asking attitude and reflecting on the answers will guide you through this process.  

Depending on the nature of the questions, the answers could either be definite such as the distance between the moon and the earth in physics, or limited to intelligent guesses such as the reason behind a given human behaviour in psychology. 

Here are some examples of guiding questions: [11]

  • What are the issues of the conclusions?
  • What are the reasons?
  • Which words or phrases are ambiguous? 
  • What are the value conflicts and assumptions?
  • What are the descriptive assumptions?
  • Are there any fallacies in the reasoning?
  • How good is the evidence?


Quick Guide to Becoming an Effective Analytical and Critical Thinker 

  1. Consider what a critical thinker would expect, comment, or ask as you write a manuscript or prepare a presentation 

  2. Be a curious learner by continuously seeking information and discussing concepts and novel discoveries with your peers or supervisor [12] 

  3. Avoid “analysis paralysis” by focusing on both the details and the big picture, ensuring a rational decision-making process [13] 

  4. Analyze your own reasoning process and effectively communicate it as a way to persuade others [14] 

  5. Connect with ideas, people, and organizations beyond your comfort zone to expand your perspectives  

  6. Engage with challenging and dissenting views, and consider unconventional, alternative solutions [15] 

  7. Consider how your personal biases, values, views, and location in time and space ‒ collectively known as positionality ‒ influence your reasoning and actions. Positionality is a challenge for objectivity in research, especially in qualitative studies [16] 

  8. Play brain training games (validated): Brain AgeLuminosityElevate.. 


Taking Action  

Professional Development & Training 

  • Program – McGill Analytics Decision Making: An intensive program designed for those in a strategic role. The program includes the use of analytic tools to generate insights and making decisions.  
  • Workshop – McGill Balanced Thinking Skills: This workshop is designed for participants to acquire a well-balanced thinking style when solving problems, making decisions, communicating and leading others. 
  • Check myInvolvement for upcoming workshops and programs by searching for events tagged with this category: Analytical and Critical Reasoning 



  • Foundation for Critical Thinking: This site provides a list of programs, courses and materials relevant to improve critical thinking skill 

  • Farnam Street by Shane Parrish: a popular intellectual blog covering various topics such as mental models, decision making, learning, reading, and the art of living. 

Groups & Associations 

  • Association for Science & Reason: This association promotes critical thinking skills and scientific methodology. 

  • The Critical Thinking Consortium: This organization aims to work in sustained ways with educators and related organizations to inspire, support and advocate for the infusion of critical, creative and collaborative thinking. 




Need Help?

McGill Teaching and Learning Services – SKILLSETS 
Tel: 514-398-6648 
Email: skillsets [at]  


[1] Career Readiness Defined. NACE. (2014). 

[2] 2013 Campus Recruitment Educator Summary. Smith, P. (2013). 

[3] Vitae Researcher Development Framework (RDF) 2011. 

[4] Cognitive forcing strategies in clinical decisionmaking. Croskerry, P. (2003). 

[5], [6], [11] Asking the right questions: a guide to critical thinking. Browne, M.N. (2011). 

[7] Targeted Competencies in Graduate Programs. ADESAQ (2015). 

[8], [9] Teaching critical thinking. Holmes, N.G. (2015).

[10] Critical Reading Towards Critical Writing. University of Toronto. 

[12], [13], [14], [15] 5 strategies to grow critical thinking skills. Wiley, S. (2015). 

[16] Positionality. Sanchez, L. (2010). 

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