How to Apply Critical Thinking Using Paul-Elder Framework

The critical thinking provides an efficient method for designers, design students, and researchers for evaluating arguments and ideas through rational inductive and deductive reasoning in order to improving thinking about ideas. As a result, we eliminate biases, distractions, and similar factors that can negatively affect our decisions and judgments. In design, we can use critical thinking to escape our current mindsets in order to reach innovative outcomes.

The critical thinking process is based on three main stages; observe the problem to build rational knowledge, ask questions to analyze and evaluate data, and find answers to the questions that can be formulated into a solution for the problem. These stages are translated into six steps (6 Steps for Effective Critical Thinking):

  • Knowledge – Define the main topic that needs to be covered
  • Comprehension – Understand the topic through researching the topic
  • Application – Analyze the data and link between the collected data
  • Analysis – Reach a solution for the problem or the topic investigated
  • Synthesis – Turn the solution to an implementable action plan
  • Evaluate – test and evaluate the solution
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The 5 steps of critical thinking.

Based on the above, the essential part of the critical thinking represents building a clear coherent reasoning for the argument in hand. This will help ensure that the topic is clearly addressed in all the critical thinking process stages.

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The Paul-Eder Critical Thinking Framework

In 2001, Paul and Elder introduced the critical thinking framework that helps students to master their thinking dimensions through identifying the thinking parts and evaluate the usage of these parts. The framework aims to add improving our reasoning through identifying its different elements through three main elements; elements of reasoning, intellectual standards, and intellectual traits.

Elements of Reasoning

Whenever we have a topic or argument to discuss, we tend to use a number of thinking types in order to understand the topic in hand. These parts are known as the elements of thought or reasoning. Our minds may use these parts over the course to think about the idea:

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Elements of reasoning based on Paul-Elder Framework (Redraw from source: Foundation of Critical Thinking)

Purpose – This part of our thinking include defining a goal or objective of the topic. For examples, the goal may include solving a problem or achieve a target.
Attempt – This part includes the attempts that previously addressed the topic or attempts to solve a problem.
Assumption – Before starting to solve a problem, we don’t have much information about the topic. Therefore, we build assumptions to act as the base of our research about the topic. We usually start with inductive assumptions, then we use the research data in order to validate these assumptions. For example, we assume that all apples are red and start to research the different types of trees to know that some apples are green and some are red.
The point of View – this part includes our point of view such as the perspective that we take while thinking about the topic. For instance, we can think about the product from the consumer perspective rather than the business perspective.
Data, Information, and Evidence – Here, we cover the data and information related to the topic. Also, here we have all the evidence that supports our topic.
Concepts and Ideas – Here, we have all the principles, models, and theories related to the topic. For example, this part may include all the theories related to the application of a specific solution.
Inferences and Interpretations – The last part includes the concluded solutions based on the previous parts. The conclusion may include the suggested solution of a specific problem.

Implications and Consequences – All the reasons must lead to consequences that are a result of implementing the results of the the reasoning process.

Intellectual Standards

The above reasoning parts require good quality standard in order to achieve its goals and ensure the accuracy of results. The intellectual standards are nine factors that can be used to evaluate the equality of the parts mentioned above. These standards include clarity, accuracy, precision, relevance, depth, breadth, logic, significance, and fairness.

In order to evaluate the parts above, we can ask ourselves questions based on these standards. The below table provides examples to the questions that we can ask in order o evaluate the equality of our ideas.

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Elements of reasoning based on Paul-Elder Framework (Redraw from source: Foundation of Critical Thinking)

Intellectual Traits

As a result of the application for the above reasoning parts and validating them using intellectual standards, The below characteristics are expected to be developed, known as the intellectual traits:

Intellectual Humility
This trait develops one’s ability to perceive the known limitation and the circumstances that may cause biases and self-deceptively. it depends on recognizing that one claims what one’s actually knows.

Intellectual Courage
Courage represents developing a consciousness to address ideas fairly regardless its point of view or our negative emotions about it. Also, it helps us to develop our ability to a evaluate ideas regardless our presumptions and perceptions about it.

Intellectual Empathy
Empathy is related to develop the ability to put ourselves in the others’ shoes in order to understand them. also, it develops how we can see the parts of reasoning of the others such as the viewpoints, assumptions, and ideas.

Intellectual Integrity
This part is related to develop the ability to integrate with others intellectual reasoning and avoid the confusion that comes from our own reasoning. Unlike the empathy, integrity focuses on the ability to others’ reasoning for the topic and integrate with it.

Intellectual Perseverance
The perseverance develops the need to have the truth about the insight regardless the barriers that face against it such as difficulties, frustration, and obstacles. this helps us to build rational reasoning despite what is standing against it.

Confidence in Reason
By applying the reasoning parts and encouraging people to come with their reasons, they start to build confidence in their reason and think in a rational way.

Fair-mindedness
This trait develops the ability to start with a fair look at all the reasoning and traits all the viewpoints alike putting aside one’s feelings, raises, and interests.

The critical thinking can help us to address topics and problems in a more rational way that contribute to building a clear understanding of topics. This can be achieved through having a clear reasoning about the addressed topics. The Paul-Eder Critical Thinking Framework was introduced in 2001 in order to improve the critical thinking process through understanding the parts of the reasons and provide a method to evaluate it. You can learn more about the framework through the Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking published by the Foundation of Critical Thinking.

By understanding the parts of our thoughts and how to evaluate our reasoning related to each part, we can improve our thoughts through the time. Additionally, seven main advantages (intellectual traits) can be achieved.


Rafiq Elmansy

Rafiq Elmansy is the founder of Designorate.com, author, and design and innovation consultant. He is an affiliated faculty teaching design at the American University in Cairo. He holds a master degree in Design Management with Distinction from Staffordshire University, UK. He has more than 17 years experience in the field of UXD and interaction design, and his books are published by John Wiley, O’Reilly Media and Taylor and Francis. He is also a contributor at the Design Management Review. Rafiq is a jury board member for the A'Design Awards, Poster for Tomorrow, and Adobe Achievements Awards. His design artwork was exhibited in many locations including Croatia, South Africa, Brazil, and Spain.