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Ekstrom Library

Critical Thinking and Academic Research: Purpose

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

Think about Purpose

Research always involves thinking, but that thinking is put to use for different purposes. Your goal might be to understand a social problem and propose a solution to it. Or your goal might be to learn about a historical event and make an argument about why it happened. Or your goal might be to advocate a particular marketing strategy for a struggling company, based on an analysis of current economic conditions.

A critical researcher regularly considers the purpose of the research: what is supposed to be achieved and why. Without a sense of what you plan to accomplish, you're unlikely to have much success with your research.

It's also important to think about purpose when determining which sources to use for a research project. To figure out whether a potential source is appropriate, consider why it was written and for what audience. Is the source sophisticated enough for your purpose? Does it include relevant arguments or information? Was it written primarily for experts or a wider audience?

Critical Questions

Critical Questions for Purpose:

  • What is the purpose of my research?

  • What am I trying to achieve or accomplish through research?

  • What am I hoping to learn or understand?

  • What is the purpose of this research assignment? Do I understand it?

  • Am I supposed to solve a problem? Test a hypothesis? Develop a new idea?

  • What might the end product of my research look like?

Critical Questions for a Source's Purpose:

  • What is the purpose of this source?

  • What is its argument or main idea?

  • Why was it written or created?

  • Who was it written or created for?

  • What purpose might the source serve in my research project?