4 Ways That Writing a Blog Has Improved My Thinking
A strategy for limiting bias and enhancing clarity in thinking and writing.
Posted Aug 21, 2020
I’ve been writing this blog for around three years now and I find that when I write an entry, I imagine like many other writers, I generally start based on interest in a particular topic. Consistent with critical thinking practice, I never start with a conclusion — I only infer a conclusion following analysis and evaluation. In this sense, the conclusion is drawn "organically," for lack of a better description, from reasonably derived inferential relationships.
With that, the goal of my blog is (and always will be) to present ideas and concepts regarding how to improve thinking. If, in my writing, I see that the link between my interest in the topic does not readily marry itself with this goal, then I abandon it — either for good or until the link, if any, becomes apparent.
I begin my writing by defining the key terms I wish to discuss. This is a great tip for any form of (non-fiction) writing, as it ensures that you’ll never be stared in the face by a blank screen, wondering what to write. Begin with definitions so that you’ll always have achieved a starting point.
Immediately thereafter, I explain why I think these terms are important or relevant; and how they’re related to the topic I’m discussing. It is generally at this stage that their pertinence to my "blog’s goal" becomes apparent. If that’s not the case, like I said, I abandon the piece for a while — until a link presents itself in my thinking. Otherwise, I might choose to leave out the concept(s) in question, as they may not actually be important or relevant to the topic.
The process of defining and drawing links among terms and concepts may seem like a simple and obvious task to undertake; but, it’s important to ensure that this is done from the start, because, along with the other steps/tips I’ve described thus far, they provide opportunities to practice four important aspects of critical thinking: withholding of emotion, organisation, logic, and open-mindedness.
1. Withholding Emotion
Writing a blog has been rather useful for me in developing my dispositions towards "leaving emotion at the door." Again, though I write about topics that I think are interesting or important, I recognise the potential bias that comes with this practice. However, I can control how I feel about the topic by ensuring that what I present is as objective as it can be — which isn’t easy; but, with a bit of work and self-regulation, it can be done!
In some cases, though, I might want to write about a topic, even when I don’t have a reason to do so (i.e. the topic doesn’t readily marry itself with the goal of my blog). By abandoning the piece until I do have a reason to write about it – consistent with the goal of this blog (and not just some rationalisation) – I am monitoring the influence emotion has on my writing by ensuring that discussion of the topic (no matter how interesting it may be to me) aligns with a pre-set guideline, in which case it is objectively discussed, in an open-minded, organized and logical manner.
If I cannot objectively integrate the topic in question with the topic of enhancing critical thinking, there is a good chance that I’m writing about it based on some emotion-based desire to convey my own thoughts. Now that’s not to say that we shouldn’t talk about things, in the context of critical thinking, that we’re passionate about; but, when we do, we need to ensure that the reasons we have for presenting such discussion are objective and not guided solely by this passion. As a result, I have a file on my desktop full of unused blog entries — not because they’re not any good; rather, they lack a concrete relationship with the goal of this blog. Thus, in addition to further developing my disposition towards removing emotion from my writing, this strategy has also been useful for keeping me on my toes with respect to limiting biased input, which is, of course, vital for exercising critical thought.
To reiterate, immediately following my defining and describing key terms and concepts, I explain why they’re important and how they’re related to critical thinking. This step forces me to organise my ideas and tease out the relationships amongst the terms and concepts that I’m discussing. Essentially, it forces an outline of my writing, which is a great tool for organisation (or if I’m in a particularly organised humour, I might use an argument map).
Organisation is a key critical thinking disposition that refers to “an inclination to be orderly, systematic and diligent with information, resources and time when determining and maintaining focus on the task, conclusion, problem or question, while simultaneously considering the total situation and being able to present the resulting information in a fashion likewise, for purposes of achieving some desired end” (Dwyer, 2017, p. 65; Dwyer et al., 2016). Furthermore, good organisation enhances the clarity of your writing and, in doing so, might also enhance the clarity of your thinking!
3. Logical Strength
Once I’ve organised my thoughts and outlined the topics for discussion, I do my best to tie them together; that is, I discuss the inferential relationships among them — detailing how one concept leads to another, to another and so on; all the while ensuring clarity as to why these relationships are pertinent to the discussion. With respect to achieving clarity within this narrative "flow" from one concept to another, I need to also ensure that I have strong logic.
Though the notion of strength here is debatable (i.e. if it isn’t strong logic, arguably, it isn’t logic at all), the point is that logic must exist between each and every proposition delivered. This may imply the use of either formal logic (i.e. logic primarily focused on the structural validity of a statement) or informal logic (i.e. a more practical, grounded strategy that stresses the provision of justification for each claim, reason, and/or objection). Evaluation of logical strength is accomplished through monitoring the relationships among propositions, as well as the claims they infer — a process that can be completed through the critical thinking skill of inference. Notably, a useful method of ensuring detection and creation of logical strength is through practicing syllogistic reasoning (i.e. within the realm of formal logic).
I sometimes treat this blog as a diary, in the sense that I use it to voice my opinions about critical thinking, regardless of whether a million people read it or no one reads it. It acts as a platform for me to work out my own thinking and any kinks that may reside in my chain of logic.
Often I focus on topics regarding the mechanics of critical thought and other times I focus on topics that require critical thought. With respect to the latter, the topics I engage may not necessarily be those within which I have expertise; but, that doesn’t hinder me from doing some research and playing devil's advocate, looking at both (or multiple) sides of the story in an objective manner, so as to ensure I’ve covered all bases.
In order to do this, one must be open-minded — not just with respect to hearing out others’ perspectives, but being genuinely open to changing one's own mind. Since I began this blog, I’ve found myself much more willing to consider the various perspectives on a given topic and, subsequently, change my mind on occasion (in light of pre-existing bias). It’s worth noting that, in this context, just because an idea seems preposterous, doesn’t mean that it’s not useful; it may well help you bring to mind a different path of thinking that allows you to reach a reasonable conclusion that you may not have drawn without it — being open-minded is what lets you achieve this!
In conclusion, I’ve noticed that writing a blog may have improved my thinking; but I also recognise that this is a very subjective evaluation and that I only have a sample size of one. It may be the case that my thinking hasn’t improved at all (and that I've simply become more confident in my process). On the other hand, it may be the case that my thinking has improved and, though I think they have certainly helped, perhaps such improvement has resulted from a variety of things other than practicing skills and engaging dispositions associated with organisation, logic, withholding emotion and open-mindedness. Thus, I ask those readers who write frequently to suggest ways in which they believe writing may have enhanced the mechanics behind their thinking.