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Critical thinking model

A model for critical thinking

This model has been adapted from LearnHigher under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 3.0.

To help you develop your critical thinking, reading and writing skills you may find it useful to use our critical thinking model to help you develop a more systematic and analytical approach to your studies.

This model shows you how to use common questions words such as what? who? how? why? what if? to take you through three vital functions for any serious study - description, analysis and evaluation.

Critical thinking model


We start with the descriptive segment of the model. This contains questions such as who? what? where? when? and why? - these questions will generate purely descriptive answers.

  • Imagine you are reading a text- asking these questions will help you gain a general understanding- who wrote the text? when was it written? what are the main ideas or arguments presented? Answering these questions would only equip you with being able to reiterate what another author has said, not demonstrate your understanding of the significance of the text. 

Whilst these questions are important to gain an initial understanding of an issue, topic or text, this is not thinking critically, so we need to ask more in-depth and challenging questions.


We now move on to the analysis segment. We are not going to accept at face value what we have read, seen or heard. We need to pull it apart and explain and examine how each part fits into the whole; give reasons; compare and contrast different elements; show our understanding of relationships. This segment contains questions such as how? and why? Here we are interested in the process or method as well as the causes, theories and evidence. These questions will help you to develop more analytical answers and deeper thinking.

  • Again, imagine reading a text- asking these questions will help you to engage critically with what you are reading. So how has the author reached their conclusions? What method has been used and was the method appropriate? Why does the author think what they think? Is relevant and reliable evidence used to support any arguments, ideas or conclusions presented? Does the data presented support the conclusions made?


Finally we come to the evaluative segment. This involves judging the failure or success of something, its implications, significance and/or value. Evaluation leads us to conclusions or recommendations. This contains questions such as what if? So what?

  • Again, imagine reading a text- asking these questions will help you to assess the worth and significance of what you have read. Questions might include how relevant is this text to your purpose? What do you think about what you have read? What is your position on the subject? How does this relate to other information you have read or heard-does it contradict, support, challenge other evidence?

You won't need to think or read about everything in this much depth. Sometimes just asking the descriptive questions may be enough, if you are just reading something to gain a basic understanding of a topic for example. It is when you need to make sense of and produce assignments in particular that you need to engage critically with a topic and this model can be used to help you.

The rest of the critical thinking pages will show you how to use this model in practice.