Critical thinking, reading and writing

R19–0652 PLAN60191

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Welcome Video

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Critical reading and using sources critically

  1. Introduction
  2. Section 1: Using Eikon and Finding Reports
  3. Section 2: Reading critically
  4. Section 3: Writing critically
  5. Summary

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Photo by Bram Naus on Unsplash

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Introduction

For your assessment, you have been asked to write an individual critical report. The assignment brief explains that you have been appointed to advise a UK real estate fund, whose investment assets are mixed. The board is undertaking strategic review of the portfolio and allocating 20% more into direct real estate asset and requires you to provide:

  1. A critical performance analysis and review of the fund (c. 1500 words);
  2. The reasonable recommendations for the investment split of the 20% asset in direct real estate asset (c. 1500 words).

The advice, strategies and techniques you will work through here will help develop your critical analysis and critical thinking skills, which will be particularly important in writing the performance analysis section of your assessment.

You don’t have to work through these resources in one go. They will work better if you use each section in line with your own progress. For example:

  • Section 1 will be useful when searching for reports in Eikon
  • Section 2 will be useful when reading and analysing the reports and other materials you have found
  • Section 3 will be useful when you are at the writing stage.

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Activity: Being Critical

Work through the Being Critical: Thinking, Reading and Writing Critically resource to find out more about what being critical means, discover some useful strategies and practice identifying critical and descriptive writing.

While working your way through this resource, keep thinking about how you would describe being critical in your own words.

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Being Critical: Thinking, Reading and Writing Critically

After you have worked through these resource, use the Padlet (Column 1) to record how you would describe being critical in your own words.
(To add a new box for your comments click on the + sign at the bottom of the column)
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After adding your own description of being critical, read what other students have shared in the Padlet, and consider if their description helps you to further understand what being critical means.

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Photo by Carlos Muza on Unsplash

[New Folder - Using Eikon and Finding Reports]

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Section 1: Using Eikon and Finding Reports

The Eikon database features market quotes, earnings estimates, financial fundamentals, press releases, transaction data, corporate filings, ownership profiles and research from Refinitiv (formerly Thomson Reuters).

Activity: Using Refinitiv Eikon to find company information

Follow the instructions in this guidance document to access Eikon and carry out example tasks in order to access different documents. You will need to be able to access the documents you require for the company you have been asked to used for your assessment.

Note: You can also find the other databases for your subject through your Subject Guide. Once you have selected a subject click ‘Databases’ to view the Library’s curated collection of databases for your Business and Managment.

(Embed business subject guide: https://subjects.library.manchester.ac.uk/business/databases/)

[New folder - for Reading Critically]

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Section 2: Reading Critically

Once you have obtained company reports, financial reports and other company information, reading critically is important in forming your own ideas and opinions about a fund’s performance.

In this section we will introduce you to a number of strategies that will allow you to read reports and other sources critically. We will practice these strategies on the British Land Company PLC reports (which you are asked to find in the previous activity in Section 1) or any other company report you have found.

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Critically analyse a source

The main idea within a report will be the author’s interpretation of the data. It’s the interpretation itself, not the facts presented alongside it as supporting evidence, that you need to focus on. Since it’s an interpretation, you can decide whether you agree or disagree with it and crucially, you can get critical about it! Also when we talk about the author this could mean the company itself or an independent company analysing the data.

If it’s the company itself e.g. British Land Company PLC that’s produced a report, what is their agenda? What are they saying in their report? What are they not saying? They will probably only be focusing on their successes and putting a positive spin on anything that are not happy about. Is there an element of bias? If it is an independent company report does that mean it’s more useful? What do you think?

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Three circles containing text. Opinion not fact. Supported by evidence. Argue or agree
Interpreting the report

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The author’s main idea is opinion, not fact. It is supported by evidence and is something that you can either argue or agree with.

  • Identify the evidence: The evidence supporting the opinion, or main idea, will include facts. Wherever you see references, citations, footnotes, web links, statistics or quotations, you know you the author is attempting to back up their opinion with some evidence.
  • Identify the analysis: The analysis is where the author examines the evidence they have presented. They may discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the evidence. In the analysis the author will make connections to trends, larger ideas and the rest of the text. The author will use the evidence to make an argument and communicate their main idea.
  • Summarise for understanding: Do you ever feel like you’ve spent lots of time reading a journal article or chapter but you still don’t understand what you’ve just read? By actively engaging with a text and drawing out the author’s main idea, you should be able to succinctly summarise the whole piece in your own words. Imagine you are explaining what you have read to a friend; if you are able to communicate the author’s main idea(s) in your own words, it demonstrates that you understood the text.

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You can apply this critical strategy to the British Land Company PLC report, or any other company report you have found, by working through these four questions in turn:

  1. What is the main argument or idea?
  2. What evidence is used to support it?
  3. Where is the analysis?
  4. What’s your critical opinion?

Question 1: What is the report’s main focus? What is it trying to convey?

Activity: Identify the report’s main idea or argument.

Read through the report and identify what you think the main idea of the report is. Does it make the case that the fund is performing strongly or not strongly?

Padlet instructions

  • To add your responses to the Padlet simply double click the + sign underneath Column 2 and start typing.
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Question 2: What evidence is used to support the conclusions in the report?

Wherever you see data, references, citations, footnotes, web links or statistics, you know the author is attempting to back up their opinion with some evidence. Analysing the type, variety and strength of the evidence used is a really useful method to critique a report.

Its also important to think about where the data came from, what the data is and how the data has been interpreted by the writer. Evidence can be used to underline the analysis in the report but evidence can be interpreted in different ways — sometimes it is not very clear and straightforward and this is where your critical thinking is important.

Activity: Identify the evidence

Work through the report and identify all the evidence the author has used (you may wish to highlight or underline this as you go).

As you read through the report, make a list of the different types of evidence used and jot some thoughts down about how relevant and reliable you think the evidence is.

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Question 3. Where is the analysis in the report?

This is where you get to critically analyse what you’ve found. Where is the analysis in the report and the evidence that is being used to support it: does the analysis and the evidence make sense — is there anything missing? As a critical reader you’ll want to investigate the evidence further in order to decide if a fund is performing well or not and/or if you should recommend a particular property market as a possible investment opportunity.

A lack of analysis in a report can demonstrate to you, the reader, that the writers of the report have only taken a surface approach to their subject. They haven’t looked in enough depth at the data and why haven’t they? Are they hiding something? Is there something they don’t want you to see?

Activity: Identify the analysis

Work through the report and identify all the evidence the author has used (you may wish to highlight this in a different colour to the evidence you identified).

Once you have identified the analysis, take some to consider the language the other has used to discuss the evidence and how they present their own thoughts to the reader.

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Question 4. What’s your critical opinion of the report?

Finally, what do you think about the source as a whole. To help with this you might consider the following questions:

  • Do you think the fund is performing well or not so well?
  • What parts of the fund are performing above expectations? What parts of the fund are performing below expectations?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of the fund?

When answering these questions, remember to make reference to the evidence and the author’s analysis to support your own viewpoint.

Do you agree with the report, or would you argue that its analysis is poor and there are gaps in the report? If you choose to argue, where are the weaknesses in their argument?

Activity: What’s your critical opinion of the report?

Share your thoughts about this report in the Padlet. Do you think it is performing well or not well — and explain your answer (in relation to the evidence and analysis you have identified in the previous tasks).

To add your responses to the Padlet simply double click the + sign underneath Column 3 and start typing.
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Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

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Reflection

After going through the critical strategy you can now make an informed decision about a company you have been given for your assessment.

  • For Part 1 of this assignment, you, can make an informed judgement on the fund’s performance.
  • In Part 2 of this assignment, you can decide whether you would recommend or reject an investment opportunity.

Activity: Create a new idea or question

As well coming to a critical judgement on a report, it is also important to think of some areas or questions for further research to help guide your own further reading.

Take a few minutes to look back at the report and the notes you’ve made around it and consider the following questions:

  • Which parts of the analysis and the evidence most engaged you, and why?
  • Where are most of your notes concentrated, and why?
  • Of the parts that you didn’t understand, which bits do you want to find out more about?

From your answers to these points, come up with a question you’d like to investigate further — this is the part you’re interested in finding out more about.

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Critically comparing sources

Earlier we looked at critical reading strategies to analyse an individual report, however, when analysing a fund’s performance you may need to compare it with other funds and reports to get a full picture of how well it is performing. For example, you may need to:

  • Compare the fund’s performance in the current year with the appropriate benchmark(s);
  • Compare the fund’s performance in the current year with its performance in previous years.

When reading and comparing further documents to help make your assessment of the fund, asking yourself the following questions can help:

  • Has your opinion changed?
  • Why has you opinion changed?
  • Why has it not changed?
  • Do the two sources conflict or confirm each other?

[New folder — “Section 3: Writing Critically”]

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Section 3: Writing critically

In this section we will introduce you to a number of strategies that will help you write critically. Writing critically is important to show you know the advantages and disadvantages of the fund’s performance, and you can explain why it is performing well or not.

You can find out more about the strategies (and more strategies!) below and how to structure critical paragraphs in our Writing the Main Body blogpost.

When writing your own performance analysis, you will need to do more than just reference important information such as statistics or other data, you will need to analyse this evidence and tell the reader:

  • What the evidence means or suggests;
  • Why the evidence is important;
  • What the limitations and advantages of that type of evidence are.

Engaging with evidence in this way helps develop your own academic voice and showcases your own knowledge and expertise. The Academic Phrasebank has lots of useful examples in how to phrase your own thoughts and opinions in the right academic tone.

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Strategy 1: It Says, I Say, And So

This strategy is a really useful technique to engage with evidence and build a good balance between descriptive and critical writing in your own work. It can be applied whenever you integrate any piece of evidence into your own writing and asks you to do three things:

  1. It Says: Tell the reader what the evidence says. This may be through including a quote, statistics, data or figures and graphs. (You would include your in-text reference here)
  2. I Say: Tell the reader what you think the evidence means and/or why you think it is important.
  3. And So: Tell the reader how the evidence relates to your assignment question and/or purpose of your report.

Activity — Strategy practice

Watch the video below to practice using this strategy to write critically about a piece of evidence.
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Strategy 2: Agreeing or disagreeing

Agreeing or disagreeing with other researchers or statements in reports is a great way to show your own critical thinking and engagement with the evidence. It shows that you are not simply believing everything that you read or taking things at face-value.

If you wish to use this approach to engage with evidence, you can follow these steps:

  1. Incorporate the other person’s ideas or statements in your own work (by quoting, paraphrasing or summarising).
  2. State whether you agree, disagree or are neutral about their ideas or statements.
  3. Explain why you agree, disagree or are neutral.

The explanation step is especially important here as it shows your critical thinking and justifies to the reader why you agree or disagree with someone else.

Activity — Strategy Practice

“Several property performance measures are now regularly published in the United Kingdom and their contribution to improving knowledge in the property market should be welcomed. However, the existence of several indices has also caused confusion (Morrell, 1991).”

Take a few minutes to think about the quote above and decide if its something you agree, disagree or are neutral about. Once you have decided, use the steps above to practice writing out your thoughts on this statement.

Share your written agreement or disagreement of the above statement in the Padlet.

To add your responses to the Padlet simply double click the + sign underneath Column 4 and start typing.
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Strategy 3: Giving examples and/or illustrations

Giving examples and illustrations is a useful way to interact with concepts and theories. It highlights your own understanding and perception of those ideas. This technique can also help make abstract ideas clear and allow you to connect them to your own argument. It is particularly useful to show your understanding of evidence in graphs, charts or other figures.

Activity — Strategy Practice

In this strategy you will practice analysing a graph by giving specific illustrations or examples to explain what the graph means to your reader (as well as show your own expertise and knowledge!).

Below you can see a graph outlining the prominence of private renting amongst different age groups in the UK.

Graph showing private renting sector by household reference person
Graph of population survey

To help your own analysis of this graph consider and note down your responses to the following questions:

  • What is the key take-away point from the graph?
  • What other evidence or data could you use to further illustrate this point?

Once you have noted down your thoughts, write these up into a few sentences that would explain this graph to someone who had not seen it before.

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There are lots of different models and approaches to critiquing evidence and writing critically. The three above give you different options when it comes to writing your own work. You may find that each of the above strategies work best with different types of evidence. It is important to choose the strategy that will allow you to best show your own understanding and critical thinking of the evidence you engage with.

When writing your own report remember to engage with and explain the importance of all the evidence you reference and incorporate into your own writing

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Summary

Critical thinking and the ability to analyse and interpret evidence from a range of sources will be a core activity during your time at university and beyond. It is how you build and show your own expertise and knowledge.

The My Learning Essentials team has a lot of resources you can use to continue to learn new strategies and approaches to searching databases, reading and writing.

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