When was the last time you were stumped by a problem? Was it the time you were looking for your car keys? Troubleshooting a technical issue over Zoom?
Many of us do not have to go too far back to think of a situation that perplexed us or to recall the last problem that we solved. That’s because problems are a part of our every day life. And yet, because of our proximity and familiarity to these experiences, our process of solving problems is so second-nature—so unconscious—that we may not realize when we are doing it, or remember how we arrived at the solution.
This is also true of academic writing. A common focus of academic writing and learning is the ability to think critically about an issue and demonstrate our critical thinking to others. However, our own critical thinking can encompass our minds so completely during the process that the exact steps involved are hidden from us, and as a result, we sometimes struggle to communicate our solutions to others.A good way of discovering, guiding, and improving your critical thinking during the writing process is to make self-reflection a deliberate and conscious habit or routine. For example, at multiple points during your writing process, remind yourself of the main problem or problem(s) you are investigating, your current understanding or interpretation of possible approaches and answers to the problem(s), and your own position or preferred response to the problem(s).
Here are just a few possible questions that may prompt self-reflection during your writing:
Reminding yourself of these steps in your writing is similar to pausing in a search for your car keys to trace your steps and note the possibilities you have already considered as a way of bringing new solutions into focus. For example, “I don’t see the keys in the car, so they must be in the house; if the keys are in the house, I should be able to find them by recalling where I was in the house this morning. Sure enough, there they are on the kitchen table!”