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Critical Reading and Writing for Postgraduates

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According to Fisher and Scriven (1997), critical thinking is a “skilled, active interpretation and evaluation of observations, communications, information, and argumentation” (p.20).

Cottrell (2005) underlined that the learning to think critically and to apply evaluative ways of the obtained information processing involved a high mental activity such as “attention, categorization, selection, and judgment” (p.1). The author described that critical thinking implied using such skills and attitudes as crystalizing other person’s thoughts, arguments and conclusions; making an assessment of the trustworthy of the alternative viewpoint and supporting the evidence given; evaluating some opposite arguments fairly; showing the ability to read between the lines, filtering out some false and erroneous opinions; identifying the methods and techniques used to provide mistakable positions; a structural and logical attitude to information and evidence analyzing; making a conclusion reflecting the evaluation of legacy and validity of given arguments and assumptions; convincing others in the clear and well-reasoned point of view.

Moreover, Cottrell (2005) has put an emphasis that the critical thinking and reasoning are being combined, whereas the rational thinking is being involved. The author pointed that critical thinking provided following benefits such as the attention to details and deeper observation; a more focused reading; the ability to separate the wheat from the chaff, that is to see some key issues rather than being distracted by the common information; the development of the person’s own point of view in a more logical, structuralized and convincing manner.

Regarding the scholarly argument development, it should be mentioned that the creation of a strong and well-proved argumentation is used in different areas of our lives. According to Bonnett (2008), it is the way to persuade others using the detailed veracious evidence and demonstrating the logic of thinking. The scholarly argument taken into account different sides of the problem issue is the objective detached from the emotional impact and supported by the authentic and reputable sources of evidence. It is divided into two statements – a conclusion or a main claim and the supporting reasons.

Critical reading is aimed at distinguishing the most important issues described in the scientific source by identifying the main assumptions and claims made by the author to fix the paper key points used and to analyze the level of authorization of the evidence supporting the above mentioned position (Wallace & Wray 2011).

Critical thinking

It may be said that critical thinking is the most important ability for the educational activities and future work experience. The reason for such opinion is supported in the study made by Natale and Ricci (2006) and consists of the following benefits of critical thinking described further. It helps to ask the questions that concern the core of the problem providing the ability to see beneath the surface of the existing situation; a critical thinker estimates the proposed argument or statement in the context of the “value, objectivity and focus on the issue” that assists in the decision-making process; it evaluates whether the available information is enough detailed and substantive for the deep analysis and creates a complex of the criteria for the planning activity;  it searches the trustworthy evidence to support some assumptions, opinions and beliefs and only after the careful weighting of all arguments a person can make the right decision.

To my mind, critical thinking helps to see the core and essential issues when processing the large amount of information, sometimes inconsistent and contradictory. The ability to create convincing argument that is to draw substantial conclusion supported by essential and appropriate evidence is a key to successful academic papers writing, decision-making process in professional activity.

The debate

The problem issue that was discussed during the debate was as “Are 60 years the best retirement age for a Malaysian working in the private sector”. This question is actively being discussed in the society following the Private Sector Retirement Age Bill tabling in the last Parliamentary session in June. Our group was for such change supporting the view that this is better to increase the retirement age in the private sector from 55 to 60 years.

Our team worked as a single whole, discussing the issues and searching for the arguments together as a result of the brain storming session and the in-depth study of problem. We gave everyone the opportunity to express their views supporting the most ambitious ideas. We have identified the person starting the debate, the person summarizing the key points of the given arguments on the basis of personal skills, and the willingness of each participant.

Our team tried to pay attention to each detail in the search of the necessary evidence for our affirmative part. Maybe we have lost some time on the preparation of the persuasive presentation. We all need to practice more debate techniques to improve the influencing effect that we make on others.

The first strong point that we have used in our debate argumentation is that we compare the data acceptable in Malaysia with other Asian countries. Four fundamental points have been used in our arguments: the increased level of life expectancy of any Malaysian; the late marriage and the increased cost of living; hiring experienced employees, EPF (Employees Provident Fund) provision issues.

We have thoroughly studied the proposed Private Sector Retirement Age Bill presented on the website of the Malaysian Ministry of the Human Resources. Our strongest evidence was related to the statistical data of the life expectancy in Malaysia that had increased from the average age of 50 years in the 1950s to 73 years for men and 76 for women today. We support this point with the statement that Malaysia is the only country in south eastern Asia to have the retirement age below 60 and one of the lowest retirement ages in the world. Moreover, many Malaysians today marry at a later age, at their mid and late 30s. This argument was also considered essential. We have made a mistake using some not authentic resources but strengthened our position with the clear responses to the opposite counter arguments. Our point of correlation between the lower birth date and the level of unemployment decreasing was perceived as insufficiently substantiated.

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The group that was against the increase of the age limit claimed such key arguments: avoiding the possible communal problems; arising some health issues, pointing that retirement in 60 years were not acceptable in all industries.

The other side presented the statistical information and authentic materials supporting health issues, for instance, a thesis about the death of sickness.

The biggest strength of the other side’s argument being successful was concerning addressing some acute questions related to our weak points or our lack of oratorical art - the eye contact, voice, an appropriate use of voice and gestures, and, therefore, our loss of influential effect. But the weakness of their arguments was not appropriate switching from one point to another; for instance, supporting a strong argument of health issues changed on the insurance for youngsters. Consequently, the logical structure of argumentation has been lost and our team won the debate.

The constant development of critical thinking is the basis for the arguments created as the argument is a compound of conclusion and evidence.

According to Moore and Parker (2008), critical thinking involves a mental activity on the determination and evaluation, whether the claimed assumption should be approved or got as a refusal on the basis of the authentic evidence.

It is necessary to provide the valid evidence for the supporting the argument. Only then it will be perceived as a credible position. Moreover, it should be mentioned that the debate, as a method of dispute, is different from a simple logical argumentation, which only checks a sequence of things in terms of axioms. Although the logical sequence, actual accuracy and emotional appeal to the audience are the important elements of persuasion in the debate, one side often prevails over the other one by providing a better content and a structure of the dispute issues’ review in the debate (Fedrizzi & Ellis 2011).

Each of our teams should remember that even the strongest argument loses its force and influences if the speaker does not use the effective communication oral skills. Self-confidence, the ability to explain key points in the most convincing manner, analyzing and addressing the opponent's weak points carefully and directly are the least needed skills to win the debate.

Conclusion

As a Personal Assistant, I can demonstrate a high level of motivation, self-confidence, readiness to work in the constantly changing circumstances, showing the stress resistance and the ability to work under pressure. My organizational and communication skills, diplomacy, honesty, initiative and understanding the responsibility of the top manager’s level are the skills I consider to be rather valuable for this position.

I can provide all the necessary administrative and secretary support for the Director, including the involvement into different company’s reports of assistance, assuring the high attention level to details, innovative thinking, self-development, meeting deadlines with the help of the coherent planning, and a clear vision of the given task priorities.

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