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Ekstrom Library

Critical Thinking and Academic Research: Assumptions

This guide explains the fundamental role of critical thinking in the academic research process.

Question Assumptions

An assumption is an unexamined belief: what we think without realizing we think it. Our inferences (also called conclusions) are often based on assumptions that we haven't thought about critically. A critical thinker, however, is attentive to these assumptions because they are sometimes incorrect or misguided. Just because we assume something is true doesn't mean it is.

Think carefully about your assumptions when finding and analyzing information but also think carefully about the assumptions of others. Whether you're looking at a website or a scholarly article, you should always consider the author's assumptions. Are the author's conclusions based on assumptions that she or he hasn't thought about logically?

Critical Questions

  • What am I taking for granted?

  • Am I assuming something I shouldn't?

  • How can I determine whether this assumption is accurate?

  • What is this author assuming?

  • How can I determine if this author's assumptions are accurate?


Consider the following situations, then respond to these questions:

  1. Do you agree or disagree with the inference/conclusion? Why or why not?
  2. What assumption(s) may have led to the inference/conclusion?
  3. What are some alternative ways of thinking about this situation?

Situation #1

Bill needs six scholarly articles for his paper on the psychological effects of domestic violence. He searches Google for "psychological effects of domestic violence," looks through the first few hits, and finds six sources, including some articles on the websites of legitimate organizations. A few of these articles include bibliographies.

  • Bill's Inference/Conclusion: I'm going to stop researching because I have my six sources.

Situation #2

Christie is researching representations of gender in popular music. She decides to search Google and, within a few minutes, locates more sources that she could possibly incorporate into her final paper.

  • Christie's Inference/Conclusion: I can just use Google for my research.

Situation #3

Jennifer has decided to write her literary analysis paper on drug use in David Foster Wallace's novel, Infinite Jest (1996). She tries a few Google searches for Infinite Jest, drugs, and drug use, but she has trouble finding scholarly sources. She gives up on Google and moves on to EBSCO Academic Search Premier, one of the databases she heard about in a library instruction class. She runs a search for Infinite Jest and drug use, but she still can't find much.

  • Jennifer's Inference/Conclusion: I need to change my topic.