Critical Thinking Problem Solving Analytical Writing And Reading Skills

How is Critical Thinking Different from Analytical or Lateral Thinking?

February 21, 2014 by Dr. Jon Warner in Critical Thinking

Critical thinking as a term is often mentioned as a key skill for employees to have at all levels of the organization but many people do not fully understand it or confuse it with the related but different terms of analytical and lateral thinking. In this brief article let’s therefore look at what these latter two terms mean and then end on why critical thinking takes us further.

So what is analytical thinking?

Analytical thinking is a thinking process or skill in which an individual has the ability to scrutinize and break down facts and thoughts into their strengths and weaknesses. It involves thinking in thoughtful, discerning ways, in order to solve problems, analyze data, and recall and use information. It involves the following main activities:

  • Focusing on facts and evidence
  • Analyzing data or information or systems
  • Dissecting data/information and the analysis of complex things into simpler constituents
  • Reasoning – thinking that is coherent and logical
  • Partitioning, breakdown – an analysis into mutually exclusive categories
  • Eliminating extraneous data or  analysis of a problem into alternative possibilities followed by the systematic rejection of unacceptable alternatives
  • Analyzing trends or the analysis of changes over time

Lateral thinking involves:

Lateral thinking involves solving problems through an indirect and creative approach, using reasoning that is not immediately obvious and involving ideas that may not be obtainable by using only traditional step-by-step logic or simple analysis. It involves the following main activities:

  • Reviewing issues and problems in terms of what might be missing or absent
  • Looking at an issue or problem from a variety of different or unusual angles
  • Reversing an issue or problem/challenge to look for a new solution
  • Finding and evaluating more than one potential solution to an issue or challenge
  • Rearranging a problem to see if new angles may be discovered
  • Delaying judgment and maintaining an open mind
  • Removing any stereotypical or cliché patterns of thought or knowledge

Critical thinking involves:

Critical Thinking consists of mental processes of discernment, analysis and evaluation, especially as it relates to what we hear by way of points that are raised or issues which are put forward for discussion. It includes the process of reflecting upon a tangible or intangible item in order to form a sound judgment that reconciles scientific evidence with common sense. Hence, Critical Thinking is most successful when it effectively blends our natural senses or feelings with our logic and intuition, all applied in a systematic manner. It involves the following main activities:

  • Deeply evaluating how far information we are given is current, up-to-date and accurate.
  • Checking for bias or unsubstantiated assumptions.
  • Evaluating how far the evidence or opinions presented genuinely proves the point(s) claimed.
  • Weighing up opinions, arguments or solutions against appropriate (usually logical) criteria.
  • Making inferences from the data/information and filling in “gaps”.
  • Taking a clear line of reasoning through to its logical conclusion.
  • Checking whether the evidence/argument really support the conclusions.

So, in summary we might say that analytical thinking mainly aims to review the data/information we are presented with (for relevance, patterns, trends etc.), Lateral thinking aims to put data/information into a new or different context (in order to generate alternative answers or solutions) and Critical thinking aims to make an overall or holistic judgment about the data/information which is as free from false premises or bias as much as possible. Although there is clearly therefore much overlap between all three activities (and they certainly complement one another), each one as a unique focus and where there is time and the needs are significant enough should be deployed in the above order.

Related Resources

Analytical Skills List and Examples

Analytical Skills and Keywords for Resumes, Cover Letters, and Interviews

What are analytical skills, and why are they important in the workplace? Analytical skills refer to the ability to collect and analyze information, problem-solve, and make decisions. These strengths can help solve a company’s problems, and increase and benefit a company’s productivity.

Here's information on why employers seek employees with these types of skills, as well as a list of analytical skills that employers are looking for in resumes, cover letters, job applications, and interviews.

Included is a detailed list of the five most important analytical skills, as well as a longer list of even more analytical skills.

Also see below for a list of keywords related to analytical skills, which you can include in your job application.

Why Employers Value Analytical Skills

Employers look for employees with the ability to investigate a problem and find a solution in a timely, efficient manner.

To solve problems, employees need strong analytical skills. Hiring managers desire a person who uses clear, logical steps and excellent judgment to understand an issue from all angles before executing an action. Solutions can be reached by clear-cut, methodical approaches or more creative and lateral angles, depending on the objective. Both of these ways of solving a problem take analytical skills.

Analytical skills might sound technical, but we use these skills in everyday life through detecting patterns, brainstorming, observation, interpreting data, integrating new information, theorizing, and making decisions based on multiple factors and options available.

These essential skills are required by employers for many different types of jobs in a variety of fields, including business analytics, data architecture, data science, marketing, project management, accounting, business development, programming, law, medicine, and science.

How to Use Skills Lists

You can use these skills lists throughout your job search process.

Firstly, you can use these skill words in your resume. In the description of your work history, you might want to use some of these key words.

Secondly, you can use these in your cover letter. In the body of your letter, you can mention one or two of these skills, and give a specific example of a time when you demonstrated those skills at work.

Finally, you can use these skill words in an interview. Make sure you have at least one example for a time you demonstrated each of the top 5 skills listed here.

Of course, each job will require different skills and experiences, so make sure you read the job description carefully, and focus on the skills listed by the employer.

Also review our other lists of skills listed by job and type of skill.

Top Five Analytical Skills

Having strong analytical skills means nothing if you cannot share your analysis with others. You need to be an effective communicator who can explain the patterns you see in the data. Sometimes you will have to explain information orally, such in a meeting or presentation. Other times, you will have to write a report. Thus, you need to have both strong written and oral communication skills.

Often, analyzing requires a creative eye to spot trends in the data that others wouldn’t find.

Creativity is also important when it comes to problem solving. Employees often must think outside of the box to come up with effective solutions to big problems.

Critical Thinking
Critical thinking is necessary for having strong analytical skills. Critical thinking refers to evaluating information and then making a decision based on your findings. Critical thinking is what helps an employee make decisions that help solve problems for the company.

Data Analysis
No matter what your career field, being good at analysis means being able to examine a large volume of data and find trends in that data. You have to go beyond just reading and understanding information, to making sense of it, and finding patterns.

Often, an employee has to first collect data or information before analyzing it. After all, you must learn more about a problem before solving it.

Therefore, an important analytical skill is being able to collect data and research a topic.

Examples of Analytical Skills

A - G

  • Analyzing
  • Auditing
  • Budgeting
  • Calculating
  • Computing
  • Checking for accuracy
  • Classifying
  • Collect information
  • Communication
  • Comparing
  • Compiling
  • Cost analysis
  • Counting
  • Creativity
  • Critical thinking
  • Data analysis
  • Data collection
  • Decision making
  • Deductive reasoning
  • Diagnosis
  • Evaluating
  • Examining
  • Financial management
  • Financial analysis
  • Financial recording

H - M

N - S

  • Organizing
  • Planning
  • Prioritization
  • Problem solving
  • Qualitative analysis
  • Quantitative analysis
  • Research
  • Reasoning
  • Recording facts
  • Research
  • Reporting
  • Resolution
  • Surveying
  • SWOT
  • Synthesizing

T - Z

  • Taking inventory
  • Troubleshooting

Analytical Keywords

Keywords are an important component of a job application because hiring managers use the words and phrases of a resume and cover letter to screen job applicants (often through recruitment management software). By including words that the employer is looking for, you are more likely to make it through to the next round of the hiring process.

Here is a list of analytical keywords for resumes, cover letters and job applications.

A - C

  • Analytical 
  • Analytics
  • Analyzing
  • Benchmarking
  • Big data
  • Bivariate
  • Business analysis
  • Business intelligence
  • Calculating
  • Case analysis
  • Causal relationships
  • Cohort analysis
  • Company analysis
  • Comparative analysis
  • Correlation
  • Cost analysis
  • Credit analysis
  • Critical analysis
  • Critical thinking

D - I

  • Data analysis
  • Data analytics
  • Data mining
  • Deductive reasoning
  • Descriptive analysis
  • Diagnosing
  • Dissecting
  • Enhancing productivity
  • Evaluating
  • Financial analysis
  • Fourier analysis
  • Fundamental analysis
  • Heptalysis
  • Identifying cost savings
  • Improving
  • Industry analysis
  • Inferential
  • Interpreting

J - P

  • Loglinear analysis
  • MOST
  • Multiway data analysis
  • Optimization
  • Pacing analysis
  • Policy analysis
  • Predictive analytics 
  • Predictive modeling
  • Prescriptive analytics
  • Price earnings ratio
  • Price earnings to growth
  • Principal component analysis
  • Prioritizing
  • Problem solving
  • Process analysis

Q - Z

  • Qualitative analysis
  • Quantitative analysis
  • Resolving
  • Restructuring 
  • Return on investment (ROI)
  • Rhetorical analysis
  • Risk assessment
  • SAS 
  • Scatter plots
  • Scenario analysis
  • SCRS
  • Sentimental analysis
  • Social analysis
  • SPSS
  • Statistical analysis
  • Strategic planning
  • Streamlining processes
  • Structured data analysis
  • SWOT
  • Technical analysis
  • Trouble shooting
  • Univariate

Read More:Business Skills List | Research Skills List | Skills Not to Put on Your Resume

Related Articles:Soft vs. Hard Skills | How to Include Keywords in Your Resume | List of Keywords for Resumes and Cover Letters | Resume Skills Lists

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