Uses of Critical Thinking Pt 2

Recognizing Propaganda Techniques
and Errors of Faulty Logic

Propaganda Techniques

What are Propaganda Techniques? They are the methods and approaches used to spread ideas that further a cause – a political, commercial, religious, or civil cause.

Why are they used? To manipulate the readers’ or viewers’ reason and emotions; to persuade you to believe in something or someone, buy an item, or vote a certain way.

What are the most commonly used propaganda techniques? See which of the ten most common types of propaganda techniques you already know.


Name calling: This techniques consists of attaching a negative label to a person or a thing. People engage in this type of behavior when they are trying to avoid supporting their own opinion with facts. Rather than explain what they believe in, they prefer to try to tear their opponent down.

Glittering Generalities: This technique uses important-sounding “glad words” that have little or no real meaning. These words are used in general statements that cannot be proved or disproved. Words like “good,” “honest,” “fair,” and “best” are examples of “glad” words.

Transfer: In this technique, an attempt is made to transfer the prestige of a positive symbol to a person or an idea. For example, using the American flag as a backdrop for a political event makes the implication that the event is patriotic in the best interest of the U.S.

False Analogy: In this technique, two things that may or may not really be similar are portrayed as being similar. When examining the comparison, you must ask yourself how similar the items are. In most false analogies, there is simply not enough evidence available to support the comparison.

Testimonial: This technique is easy to understand. It is when “big name” personalities are used to endorse a product. Whenever you see someone famous endorsing a product, ask yourself how much that person knows about the product, and what he or she stands to gain by promoting it.

Plain Folks: This technique uses a folksy approach to convince us to support someone or something. These ads depict people with ordinary looks doing ordinary activities.

Card Stacking: This term comes from stacking a deck of cards in your favor. Card stacking is used to slant a message. Key words or unfavorable statistics may be omitted in an ad or commercial, leading to a series of half-truths. Keep in mind that an advertiser is under no obligation “to give the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.”

Bandwagon: The “bandwagon” approach encourages you to think that because everyone else is doing something, you should do it too, or you’ll be left out. The technique embodies a “keeping up with the Joneses” philosophy.

Either/or fallacy: This technique is also called “black-and-white thinking” because only two choices are given. You are either for something or against it; there is no middle ground or shades of gray. It is used to polarize issues, and negates all attempts to find a common ground.

Faulty Cause and Effect: This technique suggests that because B follows A, A must cause B. Remember, just because two events or two sets of data are related does not necessarily mean that one caused the other to happen. It is important to evaluate data carefully before jumping to a wrong conclusion.

Errors of Faulty Logic


Information is presented that is in direct opposition to other information within the same argument.

Example: If someone stated that schools were overstaffed, then later argued for the necessity of more counselors, that person would be guilty of contradiction.


Someone fails to recognize (or conceals the fact) that an argument is based on an exception to the rule.

Example: By using selected scholar-athletes as the norm, one could argue that larger sports programs in schools were vital to improving academic performance of all students.

False Cause:

A temporal order of events is confused with causality; or, someone oversimplifies a complex causal network.

Example: Stating that poor performance in schools is caused by poverty; poverty certainly contributes to poor academic performance but it is not the only factor.

Begging the Question: A person makes a claim then argues for it by advancing grounds whose meaning is simply equivalent to that of the original claim. This is also called “circular reasoning.”

Example: Someone argues that schools should continue to have textbooks read from cover to cover because, otherwise, students would not be well-educated. When asked to define what “well-educated” means, the person says, “knowing what is in the textbooks.”

Evading the Issue: Someone sidesteps and issue by changing the topic.

Example: When asked to say whether or not the presence of homosexuals in the army could be a disruptive force, a speaker presents examples of homosexuals winning combat medals for bravery.

Arguing from Ignorance: Someone argues that a claim is justified simply because its opposite cannot be proven.

Example: A person argues that voucher programs will not harm schools, since no one has ever proven that vouchers have harmed schools.

Composition and Division: Composition involves an assertion about a whole that is true of its parts. Division is the opposite: an assertion about all of the parts that is true about the whole.

Example: When a school system holds up its above-average scores and claims that its students are superior, it is committing the fallacy of division. Overall scores may be higher but that does not prove all students are performing at that level. Likewise, when the military points to the promiscuous behavior of some homosexuals, it is committing the fallacy of composition: the behavior of some cannot serve as proof of-the behavior of all homosexuals.

Errors of Attack

Poisoning the Well: A person is so committed to a position that he/she explains away absolutely everything others offer in opposition.

Example: Almost every proponent and opponent on the ban on gays in the military commits this error.

Ad Hominem:

A person rejects a claim on the basis of derogatory facts (real or alleged) about the person making the claim.

Example: Someone rejects President Clinton’s reasons for lifting the ban on gays in the military because of Mr. Clinton’s draft record.

Appealing to Force:

Someone uses threats to establish the validity of the claim.

Example: Opponents of year-round school threaten to keep their children out of school during the summer months.

Errors of Weak Reference

Appeal to Authority: Authority is evoked as the last word on an issue.

Example: Someone uses the Bible as the basis for his arguments against specific school reform issues.

Appeal to the People: Someone attempts to justify a claim on the basis of popularity.

Example: Opponents of year-round school claim that students would hate it.

Appeal to Emotion: An emotion-laden “sob” story is used as proof for a claim.

Example: A politician uses a sad story of a child being killed in a drive-by shooting to gain support for a year-round school measure.

Developing the Ability to Analyze Historical and Contemporary Information

  • Apply understanding & knowledge of past events to new situations
  • Identify cause and effect relationships
  • Practice problem solving through the use of analogies

Synthesizing Information

Synthesis is creating something new from a number of different sources. Synthesizing information is a process of examining and inferring relationships among sources and then making those relationships explicit. Synthesis is also a process of combining information and ideas to create or develop a new idea, focus, or perspective. An effective way to integrate and synthesize information is to recognize and use four particular thought patterns. These include:

  • Cause-effect – expresses a relationship between two or more actions, events, or occurrences that are connected in time.
  • Comparison-contrast – the comparison pattern is used to emphasize or discuss similarities between or among ideas, theories, concepts, or events, while the contrast pattern emphasizes differences.
  • Problem-solution – defines a problem and conducts research to test possible solutions.
  • Classification – organize information into broad types or categories.

Using Analogies

The use of analogies to understand and interpret situations is another method for analyzing information. Using analogies requires one to identify similar problems or situations and compare them with the problem at hand. The use of analogies enables one to learn from the experiences of others. Some guidelines to follow are:

  1. How are the situations alike?
  2. How are they different?
  3. How well does the analogy apply to your situation?
  4. What does it suggest that you do?

Recognize & Value Various Viewpoints

  • Identify an individual’s values and biases (including your own)
  • Explore issues from multiple perspectives & understand multiple perspectives
  • Examine your existing beliefs, attitudes, and opinions. Why do you think so? What evidence do you have to support that opinion?

Evaluating differing viewpoints is an essential critical thinking skill because it enables you to pull together divergent ideas and integrate differing, even contradictory, sources. The skill is valuable as you research papers, examine social and political issues, and resolve controversy.


  • Deliberately put aside or suspend temporarily what you already believe about a particular issue.
  • Discover what similarities and differences exist among the various viewpoints.
  • Identify the assumptions on which each view is based.
  • Look for and evaluate evidence that suggests the viewpoint is well thought out.
  • To overcome the natural tendency to pay more attention to points of view with which you agree and treat opposing viewpoints superficially, deliberately spend more time reading, thinking about, and examining ideas that differ from your own.
  • To analyze particularly complex, difficult, or very similar viewpoints, write a summary of each. Through the process of writing, you will be forced to discover the essence of each view.

Appreciate the Complexities Involved
in Decision-Making & Problem Solving

  • Develop evidence to support views
  • Analyze situations carefully
  • Discuss subjects in an organized way
  • Predict the consequences of actions
  • Weigh alternatives
  • Generate and organize ideas
  • Form and apply concepts
  • Design systematic plans of action

A 5 Step Problem Solving Strategy

  1. Specify the problem – a first step to
    solving a problem is to identify it as specifically as possible. It involves evaluating the present state and determining how it differs from the goal state.
  2. Analyze the problem – analyzing the problem involves learning as much as you can about it. It may be necessary to look beyond the obvious, surface situation, to stretch your imagination and reach for more creative options.
    • seek other perspectives
    • be flexible in your analysis
    • consider various strands of impact
    • brainstorm about all possibilities and implications
    • research problems for which you lack complete information. Get help.
  3. Formulate possible solutions – identify a wide range of possible solutions.
    • try to think of all possible solutions
    • be creative
    • consider similar problems and how you have solved them
  4. Evaluate possible solutions – weigh the advantages and disadvantages of each solution. Think through each solution and consider how, when, and where you could accomplish each. Consider both immediate and long-term results. Mapping your solutions can be helpful at this stage.
  5. Choose a solution – consider 3 factors:
    • compatibility with your priorities • amount of risk
    • practicality

Keys to Problem Solving

  • Think aloud – problem solving is a cognitive, mental process. Thinking aloud or talking yourself through the steps of problem solving is useful. Hearing yourself think can facilitate the process.
  • Allow time for ideas to “gel” or consolidate. If time permits, give yourself time for solutions to develop. Distance from a problem can allow you to clear your mind and get a new perspective.
  • Talk about the problem – describing the problem to someone else and talking about it can often make a problem become more clear and defined so that a new solution will surface.

Decision Making Strategies

Decision making is a process of identifying and evaluating choices. We make numerous decisions every day and our decisions may range from routine, every-day types of decisions to those decisions which will have far reaching impacts. The types of decisions we make are routine, impulsive, and reasoned. Deciding what to eat for breakfast is a routine decision; deciding to do or buy something at the last minute is considered an impulsive decision; and choosing your college major is, hopefully, a reasoned decision. College coursework often requires you to make the latter, or reasoned decisions.

Decision making has much in common with problem solving. In problem solving you identify and evaluate solution paths; in decision making you make a similar discovery and evaluation of alternatives. The crux of decision making, then, is the careful identification and evaluation of alternatives. As you weigh alternatives, use the following suggestions:

  • Consider the outcome each is likely to produce, in both the short term and the long term.
  • Compare alternatives based on how easily you can accomplish each.
  • Evaluate possible negative side effects each may produce.
  • Consider the risk involved in each.
  • Be creative, original; don’t eliminate alternatives because you have not heard or used them before.

An important part of decision making is to predict both short-term and long-term outcomes for each alternative. You may find that while an alternative seems most desirable at the present, it may pose problems or complications over a longer time period.

Being a Responsible Critical Thinker
and Collaborating with Others

  • Construct and evaluate arguments
  • Furnish support for one’s beliefs
  • Assume responsibility for one’s actions
  • Collaborate with the members of a group
  • Share obligations
  • Listen and communicate with others

In the settings of college, the workplace, and the community the ability to work with other people in group projects is an increasingly important skill to develop. As adults, we are often required to be able to critically read and evaluate written and oral communication, as well as to communicate our own ideas in a respectful and effective manner. However, collaborating with other people can be a difficult task, especially if one is unaware of effective communication skills. Following are some suggestions for developing those skills needed to be an effective critical thinker and collaborator.

  • When evaluating information and arguments, be wary of biased and slanted language but keep an open mind to the ideas and opinions of others. Too often we close our minds when faced with opinions or information with which we don’t agree. Practice being a critical but open-minded listener. Use patience and respect while listening to others’ ideas.
  • As a critical thinker you should critically evaluate the arguments of others, but this also means you have the responsibility of constructing your own arguments so they are unbiased and supported with credible evidence. It is good to have beliefs, but remember to support your opinions.
  • Another responsibility one has as a critical thinker is to take responsibility for one’s actions. Everyone makes mistakes and it is a responsible person who acknowledges his/her error and learns from it. A person who accepts responsibility for her/his arguments and actions builds integrity in the eyes of others, and a person with integrity is often respected and listened to.
  • Finally, group collaboration requires a commitment to shared obligations. For group work to be effective all members must contribute equally to the problem task. Successful teamwork entails full participation by all members and not just a dedicated few.

The qualities of a critical thinker are truth-seeking, open-minded, analytical, systematic, self-confident, inquisitive, and mature.


McWhorter, K.T. (1992). Study and Thinking Skills in College (Second Ed.). Harper Collins Publishers.

CNN Debate Series (Gays in the Military and Education Reform)

Mather, P., & McCarthy, R. (1999). Reading and All That Jazz. Tuning MR your Reading, Thinking. and Study Skills. McGraw Hill Publishers.


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