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Critical Thinking and Evaluating Information

It turns out life isn’t a puzzle that can be solved one time and it’s done. You wake up every day, and you solve it again Chidi Anagonye - The Good Place

Well-Structured Problems

A well-structured problem is a problem that can be solved by using the correct algorithm, tool, or method. They are defined completely and resolved with certainty. The complexity of the problem is known and the problems do not require alternative arguments (Univerity of Michigan)

Examples of these types of problems are: 

  • Math equations
  • Changing a flat tire on a car on the side of the road
  • Accessing your student email 
  • Turning on and using your coffee pot in the morning

Learn more about well-structured problems here

Ill-Structured Problems

Ill-structured problems are problems that have no defined or clear-cut solutions. The problem cannot be fixed with an algorithm, tool, or method. People have varying opinions on solutions and can disagree over which solution is best. The solutions require making judgments based on the strength of available evidence and the adequacy of an argument (University of Michigan)

Examples of these types of problems are:

  • Overpopulation
  • Climate Change
  • Economic inflation
  • Hunger

Learn more about ill-structured problems here

Use The IDEAL Method

Problems and situations that require decisions are a daily occurrence. The I.D.E.A.L method will help you assess the situation from an objective standpoint, look at different solutions, and gauge how successful your plan will be.


I - Identify the Problems and Opportunities

What exactly IS the problem? What decision needs to be made? What needs to be addressed, accomplished, fixed, improved, and/or solved?

Can you:

  • Express the problem in your own words?
  • State the facts and the unknowns of the problem?

Example: My car is old and wearing out, but I don't have money for a new car

D - Define Goals

After identifying the problem, the next step is defining the outcome or goal. Different people can have different ideas on outcomes or goals for a problem. By choosing an objective first, the problem-solving process can be expedited. 

Goals don't need to be ambitious or detailed as long as everyone agrees on the outcome.

Example: I want to set aside $2000 as a down payment on a new car

E - Explore the Choices

Now that we know what the problem is and what our resolution is, how do we go about getting to our end goal? What are our choices here?

Now is the step to:

  • Brainstorm
  • Research your options
  • Make a list of options
  • Weigh pros and cons

Example: To afford a new car, I can

                  - put some money in savings every payday

                  - spend less money on frivolous/excess purchases

                  - get more income by taking on another job

A - Take Action

After reviewing your choices, decide on the best strategy and then put the plan in action. 

Example: I am able to put more money in savings by cutting back on my spending and by signing up to work for a food delivery service in my spare time.


L - Look Back 

Did your problem-solving work? Why or why not? 

  • Did you get the outcome you wanted?
  • Are there remaining problems or conflicts?
  • How can you improve your strategy for next time?

Various sources apply different wording to define the attributes of the  I.D.E.A.L method, but the context remains similar. Check out these sources for different versions of the method: