Criminal Justice Writing Tips: Going Beyond the Assigned Textbook

Critical ThinkerTextbooks are assigned to a course as a foundation for a theoretical framework and the primary source of information for the course. The assigned textbook generally covers targeted topics and concepts; however, it is only one source of information. Using only one source of information to support your academic writing during a course limits the critical thinking process and does nothing to enhance your literacy information skills on knowing when information is needed, where to find credible scholarly sources, and properly applying scholarly information to your written analysis.

Promoting Critical Thinking

To create a learning atmosphere in which critical thinking is promoted requires the learner to explore additional current and relevant scholarly literature on the topic. Using current published peer-reviewed journal articles are the best sources to support your academic writing. Current peer-reviewed journal articles report on scientific research results or critically analyze prior research reports and how this new knowledge is applied to problem solving. Peer-reviewed journal articles are usually found in college and universities libraries; however, there are credible Internet academic warehouses such as Google Scholar. Ensuring that source containing the peer-reviewed journal article is credible and recognized academic literature warehouse is the first step in the scholarly article search.

One of the benefits of using current peer-reviewed journal articles is that they report the latest scientific research on a topic within the discipline. The peer-reviewed process ensures that the information within the article has been analyzed by a collective group of scholars, researchers, and practitioners. The peer-reviewed process is designed to make sure that scientific protocols were followed and that the findings reported are credible based on the authors/researchers following approved academic research protocols. Peer-reviewed is not an endorsement of the article content, only that the content within the article followed approved scientific research protocols when conducting original research, or in the case of secondary sources, reported on the possible use of new knowledge developed from current research findings.

Getting Out of Your Comfort Zone

Evaluating different scholarly articles exposes the learner to different perspectives, new ideas, and new ways of problem solving. Comparing articles and even looking for scholarly articles with opposing viewpoints promotes critical thinking and reflecting on prior beliefs and assumptions. Using credible scholarly literature in your academic writing demonstrates to the reader that you are well read on the topic and your writing demonstrates that you are informed on current trends and research on the topic explored.

Going beyond the assigned textbook also starts the budding scholar on the journey of becoming an independent self-guided learner capable of discovering answers on their own. The assigned textbook is a good source and foundation; however, it is only one source of credible information. Learning to learn, and discovering your own answer will evolve in time. The first step is developing information literacy skills, and having the self-discipline to seek out valid and credible scholarly literature that will help improve your critical thinking writing skills.


About the Author

Mark Bond

Mark Bond has worked in law enforcement and has been a firearms instructor for more than 33 years. His law enforcement experience includes the military, local, state and federal levels as a police officer and criminal investigator. Mark obtained a BS and MS in criminal justice, and M.Ed in educational leadership with Summa Cum Laude honors. As a lifelong learner, he is currently pursuing a doctoral degree in education (EdD) with a concentration in college teaching and learning. Mark is currently an assistant professor of criminal justice at a university and adjunct professor of administration of justice studies at a community college.

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