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Research Tutorial: Critical Thinking

Relevancy and Critical Thinking

Video Transcript


Wow! You’ve done some great work so far. Congratulations! Now we are going to dive deeper and talk about critical thinking and relevancy.  You think you may have heard about this before, but you aren’t sure what that means.

First, critical thinking and relevancy are important concepts to include in your information literacy tool box. You’ll find that, once you get the hang of it, critical thinking and relevancy will help you not only envision success, but achieve it as well. 

So what are critical thinking and relevancy? And, why are they so important? You’ll notice that I am asking WHY? And WHAT DOES THIS MEAN? OR WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT?  That’s because questions like these help you to critically analyze your topic. When writing a research paper, it important to focus on the topic. You need to find resources that support your argument.  That is, relevant sources that connect to your statement.  

Next, let’s consider the shooting of Trayvon Martin, a 17 year old African American Florida high school student who was shot by a neighborhood watch captain. There are many issues at play in the shooting of Trayvon Martin and the subsequent acquittal of George Zimmerman. 

Let’s get our critical thinking and relevancy spy glass out to investigate this topic, okay?

We need to ask questions; that is, conduct an INQUIRY, which will help you think critically and analyze your topic. Let’s look at how these question help you drill down into the topic. 

  • What are some of the factors that contributed to the shooting of Trayvon Martin?

  • Was racial profiling driving the actions taken by George Zimmerman? Why or why not?

  • What other issues contributed to this tragedy?

  • How did racial tensions, vigilantism, police practices, and gun laws influence the actions taken by the police?

  • How did issues of power and racial dynamics sway the court case?

  • What impact does the socioeconomic and political nature of information play in shaping public opinion?

  • What data, evidence, insight or observation can you include to back up your argument?

  • What conclusions, interpretations, theories, definitions, laws, principles or models influence your your thinking and writing about the topic.

  • What assumptions, sayings or ideas that are taken for granted shape the writing? 

Now that you’ve thought very deeply about the topic and its influence on society, let’s do some deep reading.

Let’s take a look at an article that I found by searching in one of the library databases. You’ll find it in the Academic OneFile database. The article’s title is “Policing the boundaries of whiteness: the tragedy of being "out of place" from Emmett Till to Trayvon Martin.” The author’s name is also noted here. If you click on her hyperlinked name, you will find other articles written by her.

You can also find information about the author at the bottom of the article. You can see that the article is published in the Iowa Law Review. It’s found in the Iowa Law Review. 102.3 (Mar. 2017): p 1,113. You can find information about the journal by clicking on the name Iowa Law Review.

Just by looking at these key components of an article, you are able to verify the credibility of the source. Additionally, you can also read the abstract or summary to consider if this article strongly relates to your research topic. 

If you look at the abstract, you’ll find “maintaining white racial separation” relates to issues of power and racial dynamics, while “facilitating cross-class, white racial solidarity” relates to racial tensions and the socioeconomic and political nature of information. Finally, the terms  "race-neutral," commonsense racism, and "colorblind racism” correspond to interpretations, theories, definitions, laws, principles.

You’ve just identified how this article is relevant to your research topic. Good work. 

By considering, assumptions, sayings or ideas that are taken for granted from the article, you read “Winfrey immediately came under fire for declaring that the murder of Emmett Till in 1955 and the killing of Trayvon Martin in 2012 were, "in [her] mind, the same thing."  That is, Winfrey ASSUMED something that wasn’t accurate in the author’s view.

Let’s look at another passage:  “As sociologist Elijah Anderson has highlighted, there is a critical difference between the social and legal context in which Till was murdered and the social and legal context in which Martin was killed. ” This claim provides evidence, insight, observation and context to the argument.

Anderson goes on to say, “Till was murdered in Mississippi within a system of severe racial segregation and subordination in 1955” and “Martin was shot and killed during our post-Civil Rights era of formal legal equality (20) on February 26, 2012”, She thereby compares two different eras in history and gives a sociological lens to the situation.

The conclusion states, “The same race based forces and the same race based tropes that undergirded the Till case in 1955 are still operating today, even as meaningful changes have occurred in the practice of racism in the country.” This helps you see how the author defends the argument and makes a strong case for her view.

Congratulations! You’ve completed critical thinking and relevancy.