Critical thinking to Writing

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Learning outcomes

  • Recall the strategy for critical academic writing — it says, i say and so
  • Analyse sentence and paragraph structures to see how to improve on writing


Stepping up to Level 5

Congratulations on entering your second year at university! In this session we will be working on how you can use evidence from reading to write critical paragraphs. To do this, we will build on the strategies we discussed and practiced last year.

Briefly reflect on last year

Before you start we think that it is important to take some time to reflect on what you achieved in first year and to identify what you need to work on this year.

To do this, take a look at your marking criteria (this tells you what your assessments will be judged on), and identify an area or skill/s that you want to develop further this year to help you with your assessments and other work. You may also find it useful to look through your assessment feedback last year to identify any patterns in the advice and suggestions you received. After you have decided on which area/s you want to develop this year, take a look at the My Learning Essentials resources may help you achieve your goal. (marking criteria embed pdf.)

Planning how you will achieve your goal is just as important as recognising what areas you need or want to develop. Read through the “ Achieving your academic goal” resource below to find a really useful strategy that will help you make an effective plan to achieve the goals you have set yourself this year.

(Embed Achieving your academic goals.)

Activity 1— Being Critical

“Evidence of interpretation, critical evaluation and analysis appropriate research findings”

This criterion from your marking criteria shows that another important element of stepping up to second year is showing your own critical thinking about the information you are reading and others’ arguments and ideas.

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.

Descriptive writing: Telling the reader what other people have said (usually through quoting, paraphrasing or summarising) or narrating the results of an experiment / interview.

Critical writing: Telling the reader why you think the evidence is important or limited; interpreting data. Critiquing or discussing other peoples’ ideas and claims.

While working your way through this resource, reflect on the following questions:

  1. What did you discover that you did not know before?
  2. What strategies or tips will you incorporate into your own study habits?

Make a personal action plan for how you may achieve this. You may wish to include these in your plan to achieve the academic goals you set yourself earlier.
(embed resource)

Critical Writing — Writing critical paragraphs

When we met last year we worked together using the It Says, I Say, And So note-making-to-writing strategy used to help showcase your own critical thinking. Look back on the work you did in that session in the Google Notebook for a recap on this strategy!

We are going to look at this strategy further this year to support you in reading more complex texts and to help you write effective, critical paragraphs. Paragraphs are the building blocks of your essays and are central to constructing effective academic arguments . Getting them right can help you meet the marking criteria your work will be assessed against.

For example, your markers will want to see that your ‘Content [is] well organised…and shows clear evidence of structure and planning’ and that your ‘Arguments are clear, logical and well supported. There is clear evidence of critical evaluation and analysis.’ By combining the It Says, I Say, And So Strategy with the paragraph structure below, you will be able to achieve this!

What the research papers say.

Reading for your course should be active, and you should be making notes and engaging with your learning to look for connections and places to study further. Over the past year you will have built up some knowledge in your discipline and you can use this to connect with the research and literature more readily.

Our goals in this section are to work with you to clarify how to work with a critical perspective. Remember, in critical reading we talked about how the literature is there to make us argue or agree with it, and we captured our reactions.

In this next practice we are going to have you answer three questions that will help you make critical notes as you read (Beers & Probst, 2016).

  • What surprised me?
  • What did the author think I already knew?
  • What changed, challenged or confirmed my thinking?

Activity 2— practice

(Embed with the below article)

Read the article below and annotate it with notes that capture your responses to the following three questions.

Workplace support and breastfeeding duration

What surprised you? — identifying something new and something that prompts a reaction will influence your stance which is critical thinking.

What did the author think you already knew?figuring out what assumptions the author has of the readers can raise your awareness of what is confusing you.

What changed, challenged or confirmed your thinking? — reading is important as it can be where we learn new knowledge/practices. This often involves changing how we think or what we might already know to modify, confirm or challenge.

Reading with these questions in mind can help you write with an original and critical perspective.

Using your answers for critical writing

Looking back at your answers to the questions, we can now begin to consider how we might use them to help write a critical paragraph that highlights your response about the paper.

Paragraph structure

There are four types of sentences that make up research paragraphs. Importantly, these sentence types align nicely with the It Says, I Say, And So strategy you are already familiar with. Each sentence type tells the reader something different:

  1. Statement Sentence: This tells the reader what the paragraph is about.

2. Evidence Sentences: This tells the reader what evidence you have found about this topic. (Your It Says notes can help you craft these sentences)

3. Analysis Sentences: This tells the reader what you think about the evidence in relation to the statement or argument that you are making. (Your I Say notes can help your craft these sentences)

4. Move Sentence: This informs the reader that there is more to say and links the reader to the next statement in your discussion. (Your And So notes may help you craft these sentences)

We have used the notes you shared in last year’s session to write this example paragraph using the structure outline above.

Statement Sentence: Breastfeeding is a culturally contentious issue in society. Evidence Sentence: The American Academy of Pediatrics (2012) recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months and continuation until at least 1 year. Evidence Sentence: However, breastfeeding in public is still difficult for many women due to societal attitudes and fear of being judged. This is party due to the breast being viewed as a sexual object. Analysis Sentence: This shows that although the benefits of breastfeeding are well-recognised, cultural and social stigma can prevent mothers from doing it. Move Sentence: Systematic change should be made in the approach to breastfeeding. More needs to be done on a community level to improve perceptions of breastfeeding and make the experience more comfortable for women who choose to breastfeed their babies.

Activity — Paragraph Practice

Use the notes you made in the earlier reading activity to help you write a paragraph using the above structure. Share your paragraph on page 8 of the Google Doc (shared paragraphs will be anonymous!). Take some time to look at paragraphs others have shared to see if they have done anything different that you may wish to incorporate into your own practice.

Importantly, this structure can help make sure your paragraphs are to the point, relevant, and most importantly critical.

Keep it to the point:
Unfocused paragraphs can confuse your reader and make them lose track of your argument. Remember to use a statement sentence to focus your paragraph on a specific topic and perspective.

Keep it relevant:
Your job as a writer is to convince your reader of your ideas and/or answer the assignment question you have been given. Each paragraph should develop your argument in some way. If you are struggling to connect the paragraph to your wider argument or assignment question in your move sentence, you may need to reconsider whether that paragraph is still relevant.

Keep it critical:
You need to make sure every paragraph in your essay is every paragraph adds to your argument and demonstrates the critical thinking that has gone into your work. If you only have evidence sentences your work will be too descriptive. Make sure you have an equal balance of evidence sentences and analysis sentences to keep your writing critical.

Finally, as you gain experience you may want to mix up and combine the types of sentences within your writing to best communicate your thinking in a logical way. As you read, look at how published researchers structure their ideas.


Being critical and showcasing your own ideas and reflection, based on the evidence, is key to success in second year. As your midwifery knowledge increases and you work with increasingly more complex concepts you can use this strategy to communicate your thoughts to your reader in a logical way, combining evidence and your critical thinking.

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