Vocabulary for Critical Thinking

Critical Thinking Vocabulary

The following critical thinking vocabulary is a list of key words and phrases used in critical thinking, problem solving and decision making.




Act as if: A behavior that encourages respect from others.

Algorithm: A procedure used for solving a problem.

Barriers to critical thinking: Threats to the critical thinking process.

Begging the question:When one question leads to another question or series of questions.



Broken windows theory: If windows are broken and left un-repaired then people walking by will assume no one cares and no one is in charge. Lawlessness will increase.


Blind alleys: A path of investigation that takes you in a direction that won’t lead to the information you are looking for.


Blue sky thinking: Sitting in a comfortable chair, getting a cup of warm tea, kicking back your feet and contemplating a deep subject.


Check list: A list of questions that need to be answered in order to do a project, complete an objective or solve a problem.


Cherry picking: To only do those things that most interest you.


Climb out of one’s box: Leaving one’s comfort zone.


Comfort Zone: Things that you feel comfortable with.


Comparison studies: Comparing different products and services to determine the highest quality best value product. It is also called comparison shopping.


Contagious behavior: Similar to an epidemic, the behavior of the general population is changed because of the behavior of a small percentage of people.


Convergent Thinking: Bringing together facts and data from various sources and then applying logic and knowledge to come up with a problem solution or to achieve an objective.


Data mining: The process of locating useful information when investigating.


Differential Diagnosis: A form of scientific reasoning commonly used by doctors in the medical profession to diagnose a medical condition. It is used in other field as well.


Digging deeper: Not taking things at face value and doing more investigation.


Divergent Thinking: Is thinking outwards instead of inward. It is the ability to develop original and unique ideas and then come up with a problem solution or achieve an objective.


Domino effect: Aspects are interrelated in decision making. When important components are addressed, many of the lesser components are addressed as a natural side effect.


Face value: Not questioning whether something is correct or incorrect.


Frame of reference: Experience, education, upbringing, culture and a wide array of other factors contribute to how someone views the world.


Inflection point: An event that changes how you view the world, who you are, or your life in general.


Information overload: When you feel buried in information and have difficulty knowing what to do next.


Interpreter: A person who can explain difficult subject matter by restating it for people who want to learn about it, but aren’t in that particular field.


Internal questions: Questions asked to help improve your life.


Just in time learning: By using effective data mining you are able to learn what you need to know, when you need to know it.


Laugh test: When the information is so ridiculous that you know it has to be wrong.


Learning the ropes: A term commonly used that means non-intuitive learning.


Right brain left brain crossover: Using both the right and left parts of the brain to make sound, rational and logical decisions you feel good about.


Lessons learned: Is determining what went right, what went wrong and what could have been done differently after completing a project, achieving an objective, or solving a problem.


Norm of thinking: What is reflected by radio, television, news papers, magazines and the Internet.


Pareto Principle: A rough order of magnitude on how the world operates. It governs many scenarios in life in which 80 percent of the results come from 20 percent of the inputs.


Point of Diminishing Returns: The point during investigation when your time and energy generate minimal worthwhile facts and data. It can be though of as the opposite of the 80/20 rule. It is determined by a personal decision based on knowledge, experience, reasoning, intuition and common sense.


Razor sharp: Exceptional knowledge, reasoning, training, intuition, common sense, confidence and quickness.


Real time: At that moment.


Red flag: A bad feeling.


Rocking chair test: A simple mental exercise that is done by imagining that you are in a rocking chair in the final years of your life. Ask yourself questions and use your personal history as a guide to help you decide on making any potential improvements to your future.


Root cause: The primary cause(s) of a problem.


Sanity check: Asking whether your thinking is logical and rational.


Second opinion: Asking a trusted colleague or friend about his or her interpretation of information.


Selection criteria: Deciding on what features and/or options that are important to you when doing a comparison study such as price, quality/reliability and usefulness.


Self-reflection: Taking an honest look at your strengths, weaknesses and what you want out of life.


Subconscious: A hidden resource for helping to do projects or achieving objectives.


Sweet spot: When the price of a product is low in comparison to the service life remaining.


Thinking through: Reviewing alternatives, options, risks, uncertainties and final goal helps ensure informed decisions and taking appropriate actions.


Thin slicing: The ability to focus on a small set of critical variables to make a quick decision rather than consciously considering every possible variable.


Thought experiments: Imagined scenarios to understand the way things are.


Tipping point: Is the point at which ideas, or messages, or behaviors of a population changes rapidly. It is caused by contagious behavior.


Train of Thought: A logical progression of thoughts that can lead to a rational solution when doing a project or achieving an objective. It can also be used when solving a problem or answering a question. A stream of logic is also known as a train of thought.


Transference: When a method of critical thinking can be used in another field.


Trial and error: Trying something to see if it works. If it doesn’t work, try something else.


Weighing factor: The relative importance (ranking them) of each factor used in a comparison study.


Wrapped around the axle: Looking at the same information again and again expecting it to yield something useful when it has little that you need.