The Difference Between Critical Thinking and Analytical Thinking

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Two essential skills that will help you throughout life are critical thinking and analytical thinking. The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) recently named critical thinking one of the most important skills of 2024, along with communication and teamwork. Critical and analytical thinking skills will also help you outside of the workplace so you can better navigate the world around you. 

Critical thinking and analytical thinking are similar, but they also have significant differences in when you use them and how you hone them. Learn more about these two skills and how to become a better overall thinker. 

What Is Critical Thinking?

Critical thinking is the process of questioning information to challenge previously held assumptions or identify ambiguity. It involves evaluating the information you are given instead of taking it at face value. According to the University of Greenwich, “Critical thinking involves looking beyond the obvious surface issues, asking questions about motivation and purpose.”

You can use critical thinking to identify the meaning behind information and any ulterior motives that come with it. This helps you make strategic decisions. 

What Are the Steps of the Critical Thinking Process?

One of the best ways to learn about critical thinking is to see it in action. There are a few common steps you can follow to practice critical thinking in your day-to-day life.

  • Ask questions: If the information is unclear, ask follow-up questions to learn more. 
  • Gather information: Research the topic to fact-check information or grow your knowledge on the subject. 
  • Think through solutions: Review the natural conclusions that result from the information you receive. 
  • Consider alternative options: Compare your instinctual conclusions with alternative options to weigh the pros and cons of each. 

The final step is to communicate what you have learned and the conclusions you made through the critical thinking process.

What Is Analytical Thinking?

Analytical thinking is the process of evaluating problems or situations to come up with solutions. Hiring managers often look for analytical thinkers because they want employees who can solve problems when faced with unfamiliar situations. 

 

You can’t be an expert on everything, but with analytical thinking, you can tap into existing knowledge and develop hypotheses and solutions until you learn about a specific subject. 

What Are the Steps of the Analytical Thinking Process?

The experts at Radford University highlight how the word analytical comes from the Greek verb “analyein,” which means to break up or loosen. You can see how this applies when you look at the steps involved in analytical thinking. Here’s how to utilize this skill. 

  • Active prior knowledge: Identify what you already know about a subject or similar subjects that relate to what you want to learn. 
  • Break down complex ideas: Instead of focusing on the big picture, look at the individual elements that make up a concept. Document what you know and don’t know. 
  • Look for patterns and trends: Identify where certain concepts are similar and where they are different. 
  • Test different solutions: Once you complete the research process, apply different solutions and evaluate their results.

For example, if you read a news article about a scientific process, you can use your prior knowledge about science concepts to evaluate what you already know about the idea. You can then break down the material into basic parts and make it less complex by analyzing how each part contributes to the big picture.

Critical Thinking vs. Analytical Thinking: What’s the Difference?

Analytical thinking is often part of the critical thinking process. When faced with new or unfamiliar information, you can use analytical thinking to break apart difficult concepts to understand them better. From there, you can use critical thinking to identify whether the information is valid and whether it provides resources to solve your problems. 

The fact that analytical thinking is part of critical thinking is why these two concepts are often linked together. It’s hard to be a critical thinker without analytical thinking skills. However, critical thinking takes the problem-solving process a step further by considering various points of view, gaps in information, and potential solutions available. 

For example, an analytical thinker will break down complex ideas in a news article. A critical thinker will question what information is missing or any biases in the content.

The Importance of Critical and Analytical Thinkers

Critical and analytical thinking is valued in the workplace because it allows employers to trust that employees can find solutions to problems. However, these skills are also essential for navigating daily life. Misinformation runs rampant across the web, especially with the rise of troll farming. Strong thinking skills can help web users identify false, misleading, or biased information. This can prevent them from believing fake news and sharing it with others.

Critical and analytical thinking will help people catch lies before they spread across the web, making the internet a more factual place.

The Professional Value of Critical Thinking and Analytical Thinking

Almost any employee can benefit from using critical and analytical thinking, from the most advanced rocket scientists to grocery checkout clerks. However, there are a few professions where these skills are highly valued. Here are a few careers that require critical and analytical thinking: 

  • Scientists: Critical thinking is the foundation of the scientific method.
  • Business analysts: These professionals take vast sets of data and have to identify important insights and trends
  • Criminologists: These people connect seemingly unrelated clues and use critical thinking to challenge ideas and information.  
  • Developers: While developers are known for writing lines of code, they also have to troubleshoot issues when they arise.

Consider how you react when faced with a problem in your career. You can tap into your critical or analytical thinking skills to solve it. 

Developing Your Critical Thinking Skills

Critical thinking can be a fun skill to develop if you enjoy exploring new ideas and solutions. Here are a few ways to grow this skill

  • Reflect on why you choose certain solutions to problems. Consider if there are better ways to do things.
  • Challenge any news stories you read to identify falsehoods or missing information. 
  • Improve your active listening skills. This will help you consume more information and identify potential red flags and what you hear. 
  • Practice friendly debates. Challenge ideas with healthy disagreements amongst your friends and family where each person has to defend their side. 

It’s never too early to develop critical thinking skills. Many educators incorporate critical thinking lesson plans into their curricula to help younger students foster a natural curiosity about the world around them.

Developing Your Analytical Thinking Skills

You can also hone your analytical thinking skills to better tap into this process when you need it. Here are a few ways to become an analytical thinker. 

  • Explore unfamiliar ideas. Identify what you know about a concept and then learn about it to see if your prior knowledge helped at all. 
  • Invest in creative outlets. Consider taking an improv class or playing online games that allow you to be creative. 
  • Don’t get overwhelmed by large problems. Try to break a large project into smaller tasks to make it more reasonable. 
  • Boost your research skills. Learn how you can gather more information about unfamiliar topics. 

Critical and analytical thinking can help you face new ideas and challenges that you don’t know how to solve. You might not be an expert on a subject, but these thinking tools can give you clues on how to solve almost any obstacle.

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