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Section 2 Becoming a Researcher/Scholar / Chapter 6 Critical Thinking: The Means to Inquire
Doctoral learners will be asked to engage thinking, writing, and analysis in ways that may not be familiar or comfortable because they are new.
Churchman (1971) formalized a process addressing two kinds of problems: well-structured and ill-structured problems. It is understood, without much explanation, that a car with a flat tire cannot be driven (a well-structured problem). A flat tire, at a certain point, will disintegrate and limit the ability of a car to go anywhere with any measure of speed or direction. Conversely, understanding whether burning fossil fuels does or does not affect the climate or environment demands a more in-depth understanding of chemistry, climatology, and meteorology, among others (an ill-structured problem).
The example of a well-structured problem provides a fundamental and basic truth that can be seen with the eyes and does not need to be tested—no tire, no forward motion. The example of an ill-structured problem contains information with which the viewer may have little or no familiarity. The levels of complexity involved with understanding climate change are far greater than understanding locomotion as a function of a flat tire.
That said, subjects as complex as fossil fuels and differences in global climate change do not need necessarily to be the focus of study; these examples are meant to illustrate a shift in the depth of analysis necessary to provide an informed and well-supported discussion. Doctoral learners will be asked to engage thinking, writing, and analysis in ways that may not be familiar or comfortable because they are new. Doctoral learners will be asked to employ different methods of thinking and new sources of information they may not have considered previously to provide more informed and focused analysis of subject matter. These efforts serve the end result of dissertation writing as doctoral learners work to narrow their focus in a given area to add to the established body of literature produced to date. Doctoral learners are making a shift from students fulfilling academic tasks, to scholars making substantive contributions to their chosen field.