How to write a Research Essay on Critical Thinking - Research Essay Writing Assessment Answers

August 16, 2017
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Question: Research Essay Writing Assgnment

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This assessment is designed to apply the knowledge and skills developed by the students in evaluating the role of systems thinking in global and local sustainability challenges.  The topic for your paper is:

Systems thinking is critical in developing solutions to sustainability challenges.’

To what extent do you agree with this statement, and why?  Draw on one of the following wicked problems to illustrate your answer:

  • Ice (Crystal meth) use in Australia
  • Pollution in oceans
  • Placing a price on carbon

 How to write a Research Essay

 1. Finding, reading and selecting your sources

At a minimum, this essay will reference sources identified by the student, in addition to the subject readings (10-15 references in total).  Your references should primarily include academic journals and books.  The University library has developed a useful resource on how to evaluate your sources, and can be found in the subject LMS page.

2.  Writing the Introduction

In the introduction you will need to do the following things:

  • Present relevant background to the topic and its significance
  • Introduce your ‘wicked problem’
  • Define terms or concepts when necessary
  • Explain the aim/purpose of the essay
  • Reveal your plan of organization for the essay

3. Writing the Body

  • Build your essay around points you want to make (i.e., don't let your sources organize your paper)
  • Integrate your sources into your discussion
  • Be critical, and where relevant present two sides of an argument
  • Give examples where relevant
  • Summarize, analyse, explain, and evaluate published work rather than merely reporting it
  • Make sure you have answered the topic question – to what extent do you agree with the statement?

4. Writing the Conclusion

  • If the argument or point of your paper is complex, you may need to summarize the argument for your reader.
  • If prior to your conclusion you have not yet explained the significance of your findings or if you are proceeding inductively, use the end of your paper to add your points up, to explain their significance.
  • Move from a detailed to a general level of consideration that returns the topic to the context provided by the introduction.

5. Revising the Final Draft

  • Check overall organization: logical flow of introduction, coherence and depth of discussion in body, effectiveness of conclusion.
  • Paragraph level concerns: topic sentences, sequence of ideas within paragraphs, use of details to support generalizations, summary sentences where necessary, use of transitions within and between paragraphs.
  • Sentence level concerns: sentence structure, word choices, punctuation, spelling.

Source: Adapted from The writing centre at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

Reference List and sources:

Students are required to reference at least 3 types of resources in the essay:

  1. Minimum of 6 journal articles (students are required to use scholarly and peer-reviewed articles) and textbooks.
  2. Newspaper/Magazine articles
  3. Company/NGO Websites

A total of 10-15 references are expected for the essay.

Students are required to use the LTU referencing style and to list resources in alphabetical order using the LTU Harvard Referencing Style.

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Solution: Systems thinking is critical in developing solutions to sustainability challenges


The critical state of the economic, social, and environmental system is further enhanced by increase the uncertainty, velocity, and complexity. However, in spite of the trendiness and popularity of sustainability, the society has hardly made the progress necessary for global sustainable development.  Therefore, how does the global community capture these interconnected complex sustainability challenges in a solution-based and practical approach? System’s thinking is considered as one of the ways to develop practical solutions to sustainability challenges. Systems thinking are described as a trans-disciplinary concept for viewing interconnected relationships; rather than, items in itself, for recognising the patterns of behaviour and change; rather than, the static snapshots. Thus, systems are thinking entail framing an issue, in regards to, its patterns of behaviour over a given period, instead of emphasizing on certain events.  Hence, other than viewing aspects in regards to its microscopic nature, it entails striving to view things in its macroscopic, seeing beyond the particulars of the contextual relationships in which they are embedded. In the current environment, systems thinking are used by practitioners and academics to address the sustainability challenges. In this regard, the following article examines the extent to which systems thinking are essential in the development of solutions to sustainability challenges.

The suitability of the systems approach is based on its approach to diagnosing a problem before finding how to fix it, and executing solutions that have recognised outcomes. In this regard, systems’ thinking is suitable for solving the challenges facing sustainability (Huffling and Schenk, 2014). The systems are thinking permit for the discovery of the underlying causes of current sustainability issues, which are present in a visually intuitive manner, and recognise the possible leverage points for the implementation of policy. Such tools a multi-stakeholder approach, and the convergence and integration of knowledge to support a broadly shared decision.  The systems thinking approach offer a principled approach through which the practitioners learn, and intervene in the real world, about the real world issues to bring about real change in the world (Faezipour and Ferreira, 2011). The systems thinking approach permits the seeing of the real world problems through the interaction of various components, which are constantly interacting with each other, and this enhances the capability of adopting sustainability projects by enhancing the understanding of the core causalities in the world. Thus, it results in the understanding of how things function in a holistic approach; rather than, focusing on a single thing and ignoring other things in the world (Faezipour and Ferreira, 2011). Hence, it essentially results in better planning of the responses and thus, enhances the ability to solve the sustainability issues. The suitability of the system thinking views the complexity of the global issues in a holistic manner, by examining all of its parts. Thus, it emphasizes on the integrative device of developing solutions and stays away from the reductionists’ methodology, which often results in unexpected and unintended effects on the other parts of the problem.

The current approach in the global sustainability agenda focuses on the reductionist method to issues, and thus, the solutions are unsustainable, concerning, the consequences of the urban life. With the introduction of the system thinking approach sustainable ways to live in the society can be found, and lead attention of the global academic phenomena to the relationships and processes in the complex globe (Moldavska and Welo, 2015). The economic, social, and environmental phenomena have properties that emerge through the interaction of the parts of the system and stretches beyond the properties of the individual components. The features of the system are that all parts of the system must be present, and necessitates a certain arrangement and purpose (Faezipour and Ferreira, 2011).

However, in spite of its importance, systems approach, as a problem-solving method has its criticisms. Systems’ thinking approach is considered as too fundamentalist that is, it epitomizes the essential technocratic perspective of business issues. Its dependency on the lack of solutions and models threaten its legitimacy in management education and corporate boardrooms (Nguyen et al., 2011). The demand for optimization and quantification of in the system thinking methodologies limits the utilization of the systems thinking in the sustainability approach. The system is thinking approach analyses the interaction of relationships in a highly complex system, and hence, the creation of a highly quantitative system is involved (Schaffer and Vollmer, 2010).

The complexity of the quantitative approach necessitates a highly selective process, and thus, reflects on the restrictions of biases and visions. Furthermore, the demand that the assumptions of creating a model of ensuring sustainability to be made explicit, the system thinking seems to be agreed in the obscuring of assumptions, and treat the concept readily, as tantamount with the reality. Thus, the model is easily manipulated, and thus, its results are either wrong answers or out-of-date solutions, are suitable to the current atmosphere (Wang and Pei, 2014). Another restriction of the extent of the applicability of the system thinking, in demand for optimization and quantification, if the tendency to ignore those factors in the problem situations, which are not agreeable to the quantification, or perhaps,  to distort those factors in the quest for quantification. Therefore, the matters of the subject or the diverse aspirations ground down or are forgotten in the attempt to seek an optimal solution. It is this, simultaneously with the manipulation of the concepts that has resulted in the limitation of the applicability of the system theory (Nguyen et al., 2011).

The composition of the system thinking offers feedback, which makes the society utilise the system approaches and relationships to comprehend the complexity and the emergent properties of the system, and this ensures that the academic and practitioners do not isolate parts from each other when examining the different components. Thus, the main focus of the system thinking is the analytic and problem solving of world complex systems. It offers a means of understanding why event occur in the real world (Davidson and Venning, 2011). However, in spite of the fact that it seeks to ensure generalizability of understanding of the relationships of the processes, its application is limited. The system thinking in ascertaining the relationships of the processes require that the problems should be clearly defined at the start of the methodological processes. This is true in engineering-type issues when the conclusions are easy to justify, and the focus of the process is on the means. However, in managerial-type problems, the clear description of the objectives constitutes a key part of the problem (Huffling and Schenk, 2014).

The practitioners or academics are more likely to view the problems in a different manner, and to describe objectives according to their world views, interests, and values. Hence, this would offer different accounts of the phenomena under investigation, and some of the objectives may also conflict. In ‘softer’ phenomena’s under study, it does not clearly describe how the methodologies can get stated, since they lack suitable methods for bringing about an accommodation between different alternatives of the definition of what constitutes as an objective (Moldavska and Welo, 2015). Sadly, the common approach about practitioners faced with this problem is to distort the nature of the objectives to fit the preferred methodology.  One or more of the objectives would be overlooked in preference of the ‘expert’ understanding of the situation. Thus, it is more conceivable to accept that the applicability of the system thinking theory outside of the engineering-type problems is unusable. The applicability of the system thinking is only applicable where the global perspectives converge and unanimity is attained about the necessity to maximise the performance of some of the relatively easy, simple, and separable subsystem (Davidson and Venning, 2011).

The system thinking helps to understand how events occur in the real world, and the events usually viewed as problems those illicit interests on how to change and control occurrences, and by emphasizing on the short-term solutions for the event. The short-term solutions fail to fulfil the long-term interests of the firm, and thus, results in undesired results for the sustainability of the environment (Nguyen et al., 2011). The short-term focus of some of the approaches in system thinking restricts the applicability of the system thinking to long-term sustainability. The system thinking permits for the understanding the events are results of relationships and patterns, which are changes in events over a given time.

When taking a closer look as the occurrence of these patterns and their relationships, patterns emerge as a closer consequence of the structure of the system, which is the entire system on which the parts are connected (Schaffer and Vollmer, 2010). Being able to establish the structure offers an opportunity of leveraging answers in which the nature and context of the urban development imply that better planning can be created, which enables the world to move towards a more sustainable future. Leverage is the smaller results that can generate massive results. However, the applicability of leverage in system thinking is limited (Nguyen et al., 2011). For example, in the case of pollution in the oceans, where would the society intervene to gain to most effectively leverage change?  The leverage point helps to understand the limitations of the system thinking. One of the ways to avoid pollutions levels in the oceans is by charging addition tax; however, this is not feasible in an ocean, as no single country has jurisdiction. Also, even if the UN agrees to limit the pollution of the ocean, the scale of the ocean makes it difficult to monitor. Thus, the system thinking cannot be applicable in a complicated and a big problem (Robert and Romm, 2013).

The extent to which the system thinking provides support to the status quo and to the powerful people in the society is highly noted. As noted earlier, in ‘softer’ problem situations, the system thinking may necessitate privileging an objective, or set of objectives over others. However, it must be noted that the best approach to make sure that the consultancy of a project continues, and the execution of the objectives is to privilege the objectives to suit the most powerful stakeholders (Robert and Romm, 2013). Thus, having to be forced to make such difficult choice, system thinking has been forced to depoliticize and scienticize the entire process. The complexity of the model discourages ordinary people from thinking that they can make a meaningful contribution to the sustainability of the projects. Thus, the differences in views and opinion can be minimised by the incorporating the perspectives of the experts. The applicability of the system thinking model is restricted to various factors, and thus, in spite of its significance, control measures must be incorporated to ensure a wide application of its usage (Schaffer and Vollmer, 2010).


System thinking is considered one of the practical ways to develop practical solution. It permits for the finding of solutions by examining the underlying issues that plague a problem. It examine a problem in its entirety, and not just, it constituent parts. Thus, it perceives the global problem through the interaction of various components, and thus, it focuses on the integrative device of solving existing problems. However, the applicability of the system theory is curtailed by various components. The complexity of the factors in the global operating environment necessitates the formation of a complicated quantitative approach. It results in a highly selective process, which results in the restrictions of system thinking.  The system thinking approach necessitates that the problem must be objectified and clearly defined. However, this is only true for engineer-type phenomenon, in a management-type, the objectives are not clearly stated, or are altered to suit the type of methodology. Also, the system thinking considers humans in a mechanical, and thus, fails to solicit support for its projects. The applicability of the system thinking concept is limited by the factors mentioned above.


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