Understanding the complex relationship between critical thinking and science reasoning among undergraduate thesis writers

Jason E. Dowd, Robert J. Thompson, Leslie A. Schiff, Julie A. Reynolds

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Scopus citations


Developing critical-thinking and scientific reasoning skills are core learning objectives of science education, but little empirical evidence exists regarding the interrelationships between these constructs. Writing effectively fosters students’ development of these constructs, and it offers a unique window into studying how they relate. In this study of undergraduate thesis writing in biology at two universities, we examine how scientific reasoning exhibited in writing (assessed using the Biology Thesis Assessment Protocol) relates to general and specific critical-thinking skills (assessed using the California Critical Thinking Skills Test), and we consider implications for instruction. We find that scientific reasoning in writing is strongly related to inference, while other aspects of science reasoning that emerge in writing (epistemological considerations, writing conventions, etc.) are not significantly related to critical-thinking skills. Science reasoning in writing is not merely a proxy for critical thinking. In linking features of students’ writing to their critical-thinking skills, this study 1) provides a bridge to prior work suggesting that engagement in science writing enhances critical thinking and 2) serves as a foundational step for subsequently determining whether instruction focused explicitly on developing critical-thinking skills (particularly inference) can actually improve students’ scientific reasoning in their writing.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number4
JournalCBE life sciences education
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We acknowledge the contributions of Kelaine Haas and Alexander Motten to the implementation and collection of data. We also thank Mine Çetinkaya-Rundel for her insights regarding our statistical analyses. This research was funded by National Science Foundation award DUE-1525602.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 J. E. Dowd et al. and 2018 The American Society for Cell Biology.


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