Book Reviews

Book by Stella Cottrell
Review by Brittany Siemens Chrisman

Critical thinking skills: Developing an analysis and argument outlines best practices for being a critical thinker. Academic advisors find themselves in situations when critical thinking is necessary every day, in each advising appointment. Advisors have to be able to see past the immediacy of the stressed student sitting in their office in order to critically consider the options for the student, while helping the student think critically as well, when choosing classes, career planning, and strategizing to raise GPAs. Sometimes advisors even have to provide information to students that they may not want to hear. Cottrell (2011) asserted that “giving difficult messages in a way other people can accept is an important aspect of critical evaluation” (p. 9). Advisors also need critical thinking skills when conducting research or designing presentations.

The language of this book is directly aimed at students. Originally published in the UK, the text features British spellings. The book features workbook sections with spaces for self-reflection. The end of chapter one provides an excellent chart for self- evaluating particular areas of need in respect to critical thinking, which is useful for guiding the reader to chapters relevant to their individual interests. The author employs the meaningful teaching methodology of ‘signpost, present, summarize’ throughout the text by previewing information to be covered, giving the information, providing examples, providing scenarios for the reader to test themself, providing answers with explanations, and summarizing the information. The text is broken up into small, one-to-two paragraphs sections. Some chapters include opportunities for reflection, featuring designated spaces to fill with one’s own critical responses to the questions posed.
 
Critical thinking skills provides useful information about identifying arguments relevant for advisors conducting research, designing a presentation, developing arguments in e-mail, or writing notes for students after advising appointments (p. 37). The book also offers detailed descriptions of the components of arguments, teaching the reader to recognize flaws in one’s own arguments to improve reasoning (p 105). 

Some other useful components of the book include how to: conduct a literature search (p. 128), choose trustworthy sources, be selective by considering the relevance, reliability, replication, currency, and validity of sources, recognize peer-reviewed articles, and choose carefully between primary and secondary sources. Chapter 9 lists tips for note-taking to support critical reading, offering numerous templates for taking concise, critical notes while analyzing an argument.  Chapter 10 is another useful section, offering suggestions for critical, analytical writing. This chapter would be valuable for advisors when writing an article or presentation. The text also offers a chart of words and phrases that can be used to structure a clear line of reasoning as well as an excellent checklist for evaluating essays for overall effectiveness – a great tool to use when evaluating one’s own work. The author compiled a list in the appendix of search engines and databases for on-line literature searches.

From this book, advisors can expect to learn:
• Technical terms relative to critical thinking
• Skills for critically examining information
• Skills for recognizing and creating sufficient arguments.
 
Reading this book from cover-to-cover may not be the best use of an advisor’s time. This text would be most useful as a professional or personal resource to consider when preparing a presentation or conducting research. Advisors could also recommend this book to their students. While reading the book straight through is not an easy task, there are opportunities for great practical application throughout.


Critical thinking skills: Developing effective analysis and argument (second edition). (2011). Book by Stella Cottrell. Review by Brittany Siemens Chrisman. New York: Palgrave-Macmillan, 282 pp. $25.00 (paperback), ISBN # 978-0-230-28529-3

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