Great writers are great thinkers. As two-time Pulitzer Prize winner David McCullough said, “Writing is thinking. To write well is to think clearly. That’s why it’s so hard.” It’s through writing that we exercise our ability to think; they’re not mutually exclusive tasks.
Great writing requires observation, reflection, analysis, and an artful presentation of information, in addition to selecting information in the editing process. Critical thinking is the discipline of “actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing . . . information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action.” By improving your writing, you can improve your thinking. It’s a wonderfully simple, but misunderstood, relationship.
Despite the apparent importance of critical thinking, it’s lacking in today’s workforce. Last year, Forbes.com released the results of a study showing the top-ten job skills employers want. Topping the list is “the ability to make decisions and solve problems.” In order to succeed in today’s workplace, we need to demonstrate that we have the critical thinking skills necessary in order to make decisions and solve problems.
Writing develops critical thinking skills
Writing improves the thinking process and contributes to the development of critical thinking skills because an individual has to clearly state ideas and lay out arguments in such a way as to cultivate higher order thinking. When writers respond to complex problems, they have the opportunity to state all their ideas and explain how they would solve these problems. This is critical thinking in action.
Writing improves how you learn
Writing also improves conceptual learning. Studies have shown that the “recursive and reflective nature of the writing process contributes to student learning” and writing helps students to think. Writing in certain disciplines promotes analytical thinking on certain subjects, which is in line with critical thinking.
Writing brings you closer to a subject
Furthermore, writing about a subject every day brings you closer to it. When you are dealing with a large, complex problem, or writing about a research subject, for example, writing about it every day keeps the subject fresh in your mind. You are moving closer to the resolution of the problem or research subject each day by thinking it out on screen.
In order to improve your writing and your thinking, apply these three tips:
1 Learn to create an outline
A good outline structures your thinking and shows you a clear path from the beginning to the end of whatever you’re going to write, whether it’s a blog post, essay, research paper, or dissertation. You will see the bigger picture, or point, of your writing. An outline shows where any ideas need to be clarified further and where strong connections or transitions need to be made. The classic outline structure organizes ideas and supporting information using roman numerals followed by capital letters followed by lowercase letters; you can learn to create an outline here.
2 Start strong, finish stronger
The comedian Louis C. K. says that he improves his acts each time he writes by putting his best joke from his last show at the beginning of the next. Then he writes the rest. All the jokes have to be better, because he needs to finish stronger, guaranteeing his shows get better each time. This foresight pushes him to improve constantly. Try applying this to your writing. Go through your journal, portfolio, or last piece of writing and find your best paragraph or sentence. Use that as the beginning for a new piece; then write the rest.
3 Explore a complex topic
A study from 1978 showed that students who were given challenging writing assignments were prompted to delve into deep, serious thought on the subject of their study. This proves the link between writing and thinking. Give yourself a challenging topic, perhaps something you’ve never studied or read about before, and write about it. You’ll be forced to extend your thinking in ways you haven’t before.
World Thinking Day is coming up on February 22, which is the day Girl Scouts, Girl Guides, and other organizations will reflect on this year’s theme, “Connect.” How do we connect to ourselves and to others? How do connections improve our lives? Consider the connection between your writing and critical thinking skills and how you can work to improve both of them. They’re inextricably linked, so apply these tips to become a better critical thinker and writer, and note how, as you focus on your thinking process, your writing improves.