Asking the Right Questions

Free «Asking the Right Questions» Essay Sample


In assessing what the right questions to ask, one needs to apply the technique of critical thinking to be able to know what is required. Critical questions provide us with a direction for critical thinking. They move us towards an ongoing search towards better opinions, decisions, and judgments. Questions lead a person being asked a question to act in response. The essence of questions asked is to give us a better understanding of what is being said. In this case, critical questions will be helpful in evaluating and argumentatively reacting to the memo.

Critical Thinking

Critical thinking refers to the awareness of a set of interrelated critical questions, the ability to answer critical questions at appropriate times and also the interest to use critical questions (Browne & Keely, 2010). There are two types of thinking. The first one is similar to the way a sponge reacts by absorbing water. This method is commonly used and has some advantages over other techniques. First, the more the information you absorb, the more you understand about the issue at hand. The acquired knowledge provides a basis for a more complex thinking. Second, the method is easy, especially when the information or material presented is clear. This method though has its disadvantage. It does not provide what information to rely on and which one to reject. Decisions, therefore, instead of reflecting judgments, become accidents of associations.

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The other method is panning-for-gold. This is an interactive method whereby the reader has an attitude of question-asking. The reader or listener tries to determine on their own what is worth (Browne & Keely, 2010). This may be tedious or challenging, but the results are tremendous. The two methods complement each other because sponge emphasizes on acquiring knowledge while panning-for-gold stresses active interaction with the knowledge being acquired.  

There are several steps involved in critical thinking:

Step 1: Issue and Conclusion

In analyzing the author’s argument, the key thing is to first identify the author’s central point, the reasoning point. It is important to find the author’s main point because it helps in deciding whether to accept or reject it. For one to form a reasonable reaction, one must first find the issue or controversy as well as the thesis or the conclusion that the author is pushing unto them (Browne & Keely, 2010). The conclusion is the intended message to you, and it has a purpose of shaping beliefs and/or behavior of the receiver of the message.

There are two types of issues. The first one is the descriptive issue. This type of issue raises questions about the accuracy of descriptions of the past, the present, or the future. The second type is the prescriptive issue. This type raises questions or concerns about what should be done, what is right and what is not, and also about what is good and what is bad. In our case, the memo clearly highlights the authors’ issue and conclusion. The issue at hand is developing a plan to revise Penn-Marts’ health care strategy. The writer’s conclusion on the issue is that Penn-Mart institute is a wellness initiative that consists of a mandatory screening program for all employees enrolled in the company-sponsored health plans (The Memo, 2014).

Step 2: Identify the Reasons

The reasons provide answers to our curiosity about why a person makes a particular decision or holds to a specific opinion (Browne & Keely, 2010). The reasons are always responsible for claims. They give evidence, support or justify conclusions. In the case of the memo, the writer needed to identify the reasons as to why the board of directors needed to accept his conclusion or recommendations. Reasons might be either strong or weak. If the answer is uncertain, for example, ‘I think so,’ then the answer is not satisfying. Therefore, the conclusion should be discarded. The reason is meant to add weight to the argument: reasons + conclusion = argument (Browne & Keely, 2010). An argument is a conclusion including the reasons supporting it. In the memo, the author claims that Penn-Mart was incurring spiraling costs of employee health care benefits. There are several reasons for these: first, internal team research showed that employees are opposed to traditional cost-control measures such as high deductibles for health insurance (The Memo, 2014). Second, data from underwriters indicated that individuals who voluntarily neglect their health did account greatly on the impact of the firms’ growth in benefits cost. Due to these reasons, the team thus came up with the conclusion that mandatory health screening program for all employees enrolled in the program should be put in place so as to cut on costs.

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Step 3: Checking for Ambiguity

Checking for ambiguity involves examining the writer’s words. It is important to pay special attention to the use of language in order to check the meanings of words (Browne & Keely, 2010). A word or phrase is ambiguous if the meaning is so uncertain to the context of the argument. Therefore, further clarification is needed before judgments can be made. To check for ambiguity, it is recommended to use the issue stated as a clue for possible terms. Another guide is using the rule, ‘the more abstract a word or phrase’, the more the likeliness of multiple susceptible interpretations (Browne & Keeley, 2010). In the context of the memo, the writer uses an ambiguous language in stating the recommendation. The writer writes that “we recommend that Penn-Mart institute a wellness initiative consisting of a mandatory health screening program for all employees enrolled in the company-sponsored health plans” (The Memo, 2014). In this case, the ambiguous word is institute. It could either mean an organization or put into action. The writer should have been more precise about the meaning of the words he used.

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Step 4: Identifying the Value of Conflicts and Assumptions

This step involves looking at how the author is capable of bridging the gap between reasons and conclusions, and stating why he believes in the conclusions he set. Values are standards of conduct expected to be meet. Value conflicts can affect the reliability of information, and as such one ought to be careful not to mistake value judgments for facts (Browne & Keely, 2010). According to the memo, the value conflict is seen when the writer states that it is time to get everyone involved. The team recommends that everyone in the program should be screened. In regards to health, they give an option of $1,000 annual health surcharge, a decline of the health program, resignation or termination for those who do not comply (The Memo, 2014). According to the memo, the value assumption is evident. The assumption is that people prefer to receive more benefits at the expense of their health cover which, in turn, leads to the firm, high benefits costs. The writer states that benefits costs could consume up to 15% of their total profits in 2015 (The Memo, 2014). This is because only 5% have enrolled in the health program. The research also showed that wages and benefits roughly make up 40% of their annual budget (The Memo, 2014).

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Step 5: Descriptive Assumptions

These are descriptive ideas that are unstated. Such assumptions are found from the argument of the writer. Descriptive assumptions, in this case, are evidently seen. The issue being reviewing a way to cut down on cost and the conclusion being the mandatory screening then the assumption is that; the individuals who neglect their health account for the greatest impact on benefits costs. This group includes those who defer preventative care, those who do not exercise and those who smoke.

Step 6: Testing for Fallacies in Reasoning

This step involves evaluating the legitimacy of the argument. It is crucial to judge the acceptability and worth of conclusions. The author might have used a trick to make the conclusion appear more acceptable to the reader (Browne & Keely, 2010). Four kinds of fallacies appear more frequently. First, the fallacy of equivocation, it can be seen when the writer takes one word which might have several meanings to mean one specific to his claim. Second, the ad hominem fallacy takes place when the author attacks a person instead of material to prove his point. Third, the ad populum fallacy is the essence of the group think phenomena. Fourth, the false dilemma fallacy occurs when the author makes a situation appear to have two outcomes. In the memo provided, the fallacy of equivocation is experienced when the author uses the word institute to mean to put in place whereas that is not the only meaning of that term. The fallacy of false dilemma is also seen when the author writes that it is time for everyone to be involved. Therefore, he leaves the reader wondering whether it is those who so far have been enrolled in the program or those that will also be enrolled (The Memo, 2014).

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Step 7: Strength of the Evidence

In finding the strength of the evidence, the issue is to look at how dependable the research findings are. In this case, appeals, testimonials, observations made, and research studies carried out and also go deeper into the source of every argument. Although testimonials may appear to be persuasive, they may only be very shallow. The writer claims that they used internal research and from their health underwriters. In this context, the findings were based on a keen evaluation of Penn-Mart’s approach to benefits, a platform that provides a solid base of evidence (The Memo, 2014). However, the question is what weight does the finding carry, in this case, the writer failed to tell the board how the internal team and the underwriters came about their research findings. The evidence should be strongly supported by the means they were acquired.

Step 8: Rival Causes

This step involves looking for a cause other than the one given by the writer because you believe that the writer used evidence to support his claim or cause of something. A rival cause is a cause that could include any other cause than that stated. In the issue at hand, another possible cause could be that employees highly oppose cost-control measures such as high deductibles for health insurance.

Step 9: Are Statistics Deceptive?

Statistics are evidence expressed as numbers. Such evidence seems impressive because evidence appears more precise as if it represents facts. Statistics, however, often do lie (Browne & Keeley 2010). This step aims at detecting erroneous statistical reasoning. The best thing is to try to find out how the statistics were obtained. Statistics from the memo include data from health underwriters, and it indicates that participation in voluntary programs peaked at 5% of total FTE’s in 2006. Data from the internal team of researchers indicated that benefits cost could consume as much as 15% of profits in 2015, and that wages and benefits roughly made up 40% of their annual budget (The Memo, 2014). This data provides a solid reason for acceptance since it is from records kept and research.

Step 10: Look for Omitted Information

Due to some reasons that may be unknown to the reader, the writer may omit information that is very useful in making conclusion (Browne & Keely, 2010). It is, therefore, important that the report highlights all relevant information. In the memo written to the directors, the writer does not explain well how the recommended health program will cut down on costs of the firm and also how those that are claimed to contribute to the high costs being faced do so.

Step 11: Finding Possibility of Reasonable Conclusions

From reasons presented, the writer can give the possibility of an alternative solution through different insights provided by the writer. To do this, there should be an analysis of other possible assumptions that have been left out. In this case at hand, the author takes the conclusion that the findings and recommendations are perfect and believes that the Board of Directors will conquer with this assertion (The Memo, 2014). However, the assumption that presenting a mandatory blood sample cannot be termed as being intrusive to employees may not hold. Therefore, in light of the possibility of the board of directors’ different take on this assumption, an amendment on this demand cannot be assumed.


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