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Developing your critical skills

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Developing your critical skills

This guide looks at applying some of the points that Ian Wells made in the Developing your critical thinking skills video. Ian highlighted the importance of citing evidence from across the literature and showing you have evaluated different views within your essays. This guide shows you some different ways you could develop a critical paragraph based on interpreting evidence from articles.

To start with, consider the following essay title:

Tourism is overwhelmingly beneficial to a country's development. Choose one specific country and discuss to what extent you think this statement is true.

The paragraph below is part of the answer to this question:


Turning first to the economic benefits of tourism, we can see that in the case of the Cook Islands, there is a variety of sources of income from tourist receipts. According to a 1991 visitor survey (Tourism Council of the South Pacific, 1991), after beach activities and natural scenery (62%), visitors to the Cook Islands are looking for entertainment and folklore and cultural experiences (37%).

Source: Based on http://www.vuw.ac.nz/llc/academic-writing/essay.html. Reproduced with permission from the author.

This paragraph presents factual information that is related to the economic benefits of tourism in the Cook Islands. However, as it stands, the author has (excellently) summarised information from the Tourism Council of the South Pacific (1991), but has not dug any deeper.

To develop your critical skills, you need to interpret the data in some way. This might mean:

Comparing the data with different sources to see if they are going in the same direction.
Contrasting the data with other work to see what the differences are.
Trying to find 'holes' in the data, so you can work out how reliable the evidence is and how strong your conclusions should be.

Below are some examples of how you could develop your critical response in these ways.

    For example, you might have found similar evidence (from Myles, 2004) that adds a breakdown of the main activities tourists spend money on. You could then write:

    Turning first to the economic benefits of tourism, we can see that in the case of the Cook Islands, there is a variety of sources of income from tourist receipts. According to a 1991 visitor survey (Tourism Council of the South Pacific, 1991), after beach activities and natural scenery (62%), visitors to the Cook Islands are looking for entertainment and folklore and cultural experiences (37%). Similarly, tourists contribute to the local economy by spending money on travel to and around the country, as well as on accommodation, food, entertainment and souvenirs. Myles (2004), for example, found that close to 70% of total tourist expenditure was on accommodation, restaurants and bars, with a further 16% on transport, tours and entertainment.

    Comparing the data with different sources to see if they are going in the same direction

    Alternatively, you might have found evidence (from Peters, 2007) that the vast amount of expenditure was on airline tickets and foreign-owned tour companies (which take people around the islands). You could then write:

    Turning first to the economic benefits of tourism, we can see that in the case of the Cook Islands, there is a variety of sources of income from tourist receipts. According to a 1991 visitor survey (Tourism Council of the South Pacific, 1991), after beach activities and natural scenery (62%), visitors to the Cook Islands are looking for entertainment and folklore and cultural experiences (37%). Although the data from the Tourism Council of the South Pacific (1991) suggest that tourists are helping the economy in the Cook Islands, the recent increase in foreign-owned tour companies (Peters, 2007) may well have reduced the percentage expenditure on local tourist agencies, which would therefore reduce the significance of tourist receipts.

    Contrasting the data with other work to see what the differences are.

    Say, on closer examination, you find that the data from Myles, 2004, and the Tourism Council of the South Pacific, 1991, was based on the same source, and that the information had been gathered in 1987. One question you would probably ask is, 'Has it changed since then?'. Tourism has certainly changed significantly over the last twenty-five years. With this in mind, you might put forward a weaker statement like this:

    Turning first to the economic benefits of tourism, we can see that in the case of the Cook Islands, there is a variety of sources of income from tourist receipts. According to a 1991 visitor survey (Tourism Council of the South Pacific, 1991), after beach activities and natural scenery (62%), visitors to the Cook Islands are looking for entertainment and folklore and cultural experiences (37%). The data from the Tourism Council of the South Pacific (1991) suggests that tourists are helping the economy in the Cook Islands. However, the data from the survey originates from a 1987 census, suggesting that there may well be differences between then and now.

    Or if you find no weaknesses in the data or contrasting findings from other sources, you might decide to rely on the Tourism Council data and make a stronger conclusion as highlighted below:

    Turning first to the economic benefits of tourism, we can see that in the case of the Cook Islands, there is a variety of sources of income from tourist receipts. According to a 1991 visitor survey (Tourism Council of the South Pacific, 1991), after beach activities and natural scenery (62%), visitors to the Cook Islands are looking for entertainment and folklore and cultural experiences (37%). Tourists are thus helping to create jobs which are based on making them feel welcome and at the same time they put cash into the economy directly by paying for services.

    Trying to find 'holes' in the data, so you can work out how reliable the data is and how strong your conclusions should be.

    These are just a few simple illustrations of developing more critical responses in your writing. With practice, assessing evidence and forming arguments and conclusions will become second nature to you. Make sure you pay particular attention to any feedback from your tutors as to where you can improve your critical responses to specific aspects of your essay questions. The links below also provide more helpful practice.

    Other useful resources

    Other useful resources