“Personal effectiveness is the core of our business.”
- Sheila Viesca, TalkShop

Monday, July 20, 2015

The Real Deal with Critical Writing

Robert H. Ennis, author and Emeritus Professor of the University of Illinois, wrote: Critical thinking is reasonable and reflective thinking focused on deciding what to believe or do.This was the opening line of his overview, The Nature of Critical Thinking: An Outline of Critical Thinking Dispositions and Abilities.

Critical thinking gets us to extract the whos, whats, whens, wheres, whys, and hows of any situation in an objective manner.

Let us focus on this part of Mr. Ennisstatement: deciding what to believe. The conclusions we come to after thoroughly analyzing the facts.

While critical thinking may seem like it should be an automated task for our brains to process, our emotionally-driven tendencies can lead us towards biased conclusions. And this could lead to severe consequences in our personal relationships, work environment, and important transactions.

Fortunately, critical thinking is a skill that can be learned, and in many ways, mastered. It is included in management trainee programs, and other employee development workshops. Good schools also teach children about critical thinking at an early age.

The next step, however, can get tricky. Say we are now mastersat critical thinking. Our events agency was hired by a company to launch its newest product. Everything seems to be going well. But the next day, we are invited to meet with the clients to discuss the event in detail. We talk about what went well, and what didnt. It is a healthy discussion, and everyone contributes objective points about the good (e.g. targets for initial product orders were met) and the areas in need of improvement (e.g. food supply was underestimated, so guests who arrived late had little to eat).

When we get back to the office, we bump into the president of the company, who asks for a report of the meeting.

This is where critical writing comes into play. Equally crucial to the thinking process is the ability to pass on the information in a straightforward, unbiased manner.

There are many factors that can affect our ability to write as well as we think. How are our English writing skills? When it comes to report writing, we need to be careful about word usage and sentence construction, as any misuse of words or phrasing can lead to misinterpretation of the facts.

Take this sentence for example:

The client said he was happy about the number of initial orders that were placed for the product.

We should avoid using words that describe an emotion and stick to the facts.

Instead, we could write:

Initial target of orders was set at 200 units. By the end of the evening, 300 orders were placed, which exceeded targets by 150%.

There are instances, however, when critical writing is used for the purpose of swaying audiences towards one side versus the other. We see this every day in the news. News report writing is sometimes crafted in a way that puts the focus on one aspect of the entire story, rather than present a more holistic view.

If one news channel were in support of the Democratic party in the United States, their news reports would obviously put more emphasis on the great work the Democrats are doing, and either downplay the efforts of the Republicans, or not talk about them at all.

Is this fair? The answer to that depends on who you are talking to. Again, Mr. Ennis says that critical thinking leads us to decide what to believe.

And critical writing is the means by which we deliver the messages we want to convey.

The important thing to note is that by learning the skill of critical writing alongside critical thinking, we have the ability to process all the facts as accurately as possible, so that when it comes time to share our reports with others, whether it be through writing an essay, writing a post-mortem report, or delivering the news, we have the power to know how best to write it according to our objectives.

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