Analytical reasoning is a term that is thrown about quite a bit. Standardized examinations say they test analytical reasoning capabilities, and schools boast that they teach their students analytical reasoning. It may lead the observer to ask, "What exactly is analytical reasoning and why is it so important?" In short, analytical reasoning is the ability to recognize and determine the meaning of patterns in a variety of information.
Analytical reasoning refers to the ability to look at information, be it qualitative or quantitative in nature, and discern patterns within the information. What exact pattern the individual is trying to discern depends on the item in which he is interested. The pattern could be the structure the author of the information uses to structure an argument, or trends in a large data set. By learning methods of recognizing these patterns, individuals can pull more information out of a text or data set than someone who is not using analytical reasoning to identify deeper patterns.
Formal schooling uses both qualitative and quantitative approaches to develop analytical reasoning abilities in students. When students are learning mathematics, they learn the nature of numbers and the rules that dictate their behavior. They learn the resulting values of positive and negative numbers that work together in a variety of operations, as well as ways of rearranging numbers to solve for an unknown quantity in the equation. Students will eventually use this knowledge to not only recognize numerical patterns by sight, but to know when to apply complex equations to data sets to tease out underlying patterns.
Analytical reasoning can be applied to qualitative information, such as an argumentative essay. Such an essay is similar to an equation. It is using rhetoric to say one plus two equals three, only the author is defining what "one," "two" and "three" are. In school, language arts and rhetoric teachers instruct students on the different written structures authors can use to construct a valid and coherent argument. By both studying examples of these structures in the work of other authors, and using these structures themselves to write essays, students will learn to view a paragraph as not a mass of words, but as a rhetorical structure into which the author is inserting words.
By breaking down the underlying pattern in a written argument, someone can find weak points in the argument or discover if the entire argument is meaningless because it does not use a valid logical progression. A quantitative analyst can break down data into patterns to discern information, such as if a decrease in sales is part of a seasonal pattern of ups and downs or part of a greater downward trend that a business should be worried about. By learning to recognize these patterns in both numbers and written arguments, an individual gains insights into the information that someone who simply takes the information at face value will miss.