Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies. – Groucho Marx

Many of the failures of our society are reflected in this quote by Groucho. Groucho Marx was a very popular comedian in his day. Many of his comments could be taken two ways, as a joke or as a true reflection of our society. What do you think he meant with the above comment?

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The next step in the critical thinking process is applying information. Have you ever been sitting in a class or meeting and found yourself thinking, “When will I use this information in real life?” That’s the same as asking, “How does this information apply to me?” When information applies to you, you can relate it to something that has happened to you. The information is relevant to a past or present situation in your life. Being able to apply information effectively, even when you can’t relate to it on a personal level, is what applying information is all about.

Being able to apply information means taking an idea and relating it to real life. Applying information leads to a better understanding of the information, because it takes you from simply knowing the information, to being able to actually use the information. Here are five tips for applying information when thinking critically:

1. State the facts
2. Know the rules or principles
3. Ask questions
4. Make judgments
5. Give examples

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State the facts. Facts are pieces of information that are known to be true. Facts are free of judgment, which means that facts are the same no matter what and no matter who knows them. Before you can apply information, you need to know the important facts about the information. When stating the facts, focus on the facts that will help you to understand the information better and the facts that relate to your specific problem or situation.

Know the rules and principles. Rules and principles are guidelines that help us to better understand information. Going back to our science example, science has rules and guidelines that explain how to study science and solve problems scientifically. In science, these principles are called the Scientific Method. For just about every topic you can think of, there is a set of rules or principles that go along with it. Rules and principles ensure that everyone has the same understanding of a topic and they prevent people from making up their own rules.

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Ask questions. Just because you know the facts, rules and principles doesn’t mean that you know everything about the information you have. You need to ask questions about the information to help get a better understanding of the information and to apply it.

Here are a few questions that you can ask in order to help you apply the information:

1. How is this related to ______?
2. Why is this significant?
3. Could this have happened if_______?
4. Do you know of another situation when this happened?

The questions you ask should help you to take the information out of its raw, or most basic setting and put it into a real life setting or situation.

Make judgments. In the first step of applying information, State the Facts, we talked about the importance of keeping the facts free of judgment or opinions. Now that we know the facts and have asked questions to help us make the connection to real life, we can make judgments, or look for differences and similarities between situations. This means taking a new piece of information and comparing it to what you already know. Try to figure out how this new piece of information relates to what you already know.

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Give examples. Once you have answered some key questions about your topic you should be able to start making connections to real life situations. You will start to see examples of your topic in the things happening around you every day. Identifying these real life examples is how you apply information.

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