Critical Thinking
Lesson 8
Lesson 8 Objectives
• Become a better problem solver by
o Identifying the problem
o Identifying alternatives
o Identifying advantages and disadvantages
of the alternatives
o Finding a solution
o Evaluating the solution
The Problem-Solving Method
Problem solving is one of the most powerful of
human thinking patterns, and writing is one of
the main systems we use to analyze problems
and propose solutions.
In order to propose an insightful solution to a
problem in writing, you need to do the
• Define the problem clearly.
• Analyze the problem systematically.
• Propose a well-reasoned solution.
Whether you’re addressing a problem in your
own life or in your community, the five-step
problem-solving method — outlined on the
next slide — can be a helpful tool.
The Problem-Solving Method
Step 1: What is the problem?
• What do I know about the situation?
• What results am I seeking in this situation?
• How can I define the problem?
Step 2: What are the alternatives?
• What are the boundaries of the problem situation?
• What alternatives are possible within these boundaries?
Step 3: What are the advantages and disadvantages of each alternative?
• What are the advantages?
• What are the disadvantages?
• What additional information do I need in order to evaluate this alternative?
Step 4: What is the solution?
• Which alternative(s) will I pursue?
• What steps can I take to act on this/ these alternative(s)?
Step 5: How well is the solution working?
• What is my evaluation?
• What adjustments are necessary?
Solving Social Problems
Because of the many factors that contribute to social problems,
such as poverty or drug abuse, it can be daunting to attempt
trying to solve them.
The famous newspaperman H. L. Mencken once said, “To every
complex question there is a simple answer — and it’s wrong!”
Making sense of a complex, challenging situation is not a simple
However, by working through complex problems thoughtfully
and systematically, we can achieve a deeper understanding of
their many interacting elements as well as develop and
implement strategies for solving them.
Problem-Solving Through Writing
A problem-solving approach to writing can assist you in generating
ideas and organizing information for most subjects.
You can look at a writing assignment as a problem and use a
modification of the five-step method as a way to work on it:
1. What exactly is the assignment? What is its purpose?
2. What are some alternative ways to complete it? Who is the obvious
audience, and what other possible audiences should I consider?
3. What are the advantages and disadvantages of the alternatives?
Am I prepared to change my subject or thesis if my initial approach
doesn’t work?
4. What is the best way for me to complete this assignment? How can
I use conversations and peer review to gain additional
5. After some drafting ask: How is my solution to the problem of the
assignment working out?
Writing Project: Proposing a
Solution to a Problem
In this Lesson you’ll write a paper
in which you apply the five-step
problem-solving method to a local,
national, or international problem
or to a personal problem. (See the
text for more detailed guidelines.)
Writing Project: Proposing a
Solution to a Problem
The Writing Situation
Purpose: You can use this opportunity to learn about a major
problem in order to arrive at the best possible solution — and
thus become a better-informed citizen. Also, you will be
practicing the creative and critical thinking involved in the
problem-solving model.
Audience: While working through the problem-solving model,
you will be your own audience in the sense that you will be
describing the problem and working through the alternative
solutions. Your instructor remains the audience who will judge
how well you have analyzed the problem.
Writing Project: Proposing a
Solution to a Problem
The Writing Situation, Continued
Subject: Select a problem that you care about, one that is
challenging — but compelling — to write about.
Writer: You have an opportunity here to learn more about a
problem that you care about, but perhaps do not know enough
about to propose a solution. You will use both online and print
resources to increase your knowledge of the problem. If your
instructor asks or allows you to write about a personal problem,
you might not have to do as much research, but you will have
the opportunity to work out something that is of immediate
concern. Equipped with the problem-solving model and the
direction it provides, you should work as a confident writer as
you complete this assignment.
Writing Project: Proposing a
Solution to a Problem
The Writing Process
NOTE: See pages 467-469 of the text for more detailed suggestions for
the writing process.
Generating Ideas: Your first task will be to indentify the local,
national, international or personal problem that you want to write
• If you are not writing about a personal problem, apply the
problem-solving model to the problem in question, answering each
question on the basis of your current knowledge. This will help you
determine what additional information you need before you can
start writing.
• If you choose to write about a personal problem, begin by
brainstorming a list of problems you now face. Once you’ve
identified a problem you want to write about, apply the questions
from the five-step problem-solving model to your problem.
Writing Project: Proposing a
Solution to a Problem
The Writing Process, Continued
Defining a Focus: Write a thesis statement in which you state
explicitly that you are going to explore a problem-solving
situation. Here are a few examples for you to refer to:
• After thinking about the problem carefully, I realize that I
have only two possible choices.
• Newton’s possible solutions to its budget problem include
raising more revenue, cutting the budget, or some
combination of the two.
• After carefully weighing the alternatives, raising more
revenue while continuing to cut the budget appears to be the
best choice.
Writing Project: Proposing a
Solution to a Problem
The Writing Process, Continued
Organizing Ideas The five-step method for solving problems
fits well with the essay structure:
• Your description of the problem, along with any background
information your audience will need in order to understand
the problem, will give you an introduction that can include
your thesis statement.
• Each of the alternative solutions, explained in as much detail
as possible, along with advantages and disadvantages, will
provide one section of the body (one or more paragraphs).
• Your determination of the best solution, and the rationale
behind it, will provide a conclusion.
Writing Project: Proposing a
Solution to a Problem
The Writing Process, Continued
Drafting Begin with the easiest paragraph to draft. Keep your
written answers to each part of the problem-solving model in
front of you. Remember to begin each section of the body with a
topic sentence that names the alternative solution being
Revising, Editing, and Proofreading: Use the step-by-step
method in Chapter 6 on pages 169–171 to revise your essay
and prepare a final draft.

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