How to Think Like a Detective: 10 Things Students Should Know
To think like a detective is to become a top-notch critical thinker. Critical thinking skills are some of the most valuable skills that students can acquire. And it’s never too late to start!
In the following article, we’ll be taking an in-depth look at how the modern-day Sherlock Holmeses of the world are able to use their skills to put criminals where they belong. As you read through each of these, ask yourself: how can I apply these techniques to my major?
Ready? Get those thinking caps on. Fill up your pipe with some good smoking tobacco (okay, not really, that’s gross). Now, let’s figure out how we can start better testing those powers of deduction!
Detectives Do Not Assume
Most people make assumptions before they take action. Students are not exceptions. You proofread your paper and assume that you used words correctly or spelled common words correctly that you’ve known how to spell for years.
Then, it’s not until a friend proofreads your paper (or a teacher, yikes!), that you discover you spelled “the” t-e-h. Detectives are trained to think differently.
They go over every piece of evidence with a fine-toothed comb. The good ones do not allow circumstantial evidence to paint their cases for them. If they can’t prove the suspect did it, then the suspect doesn’t go to jail.
They Do Not Believe What They Hear
Detectives realize that everyone they speak to, day-in and day-out, has an agenda. They know that people tell their versions of events to cast themselves in the best possible light.
If there are any doubts to what they hear, they chalk it up to hearsay or lies. They simply cannot afford to build their foundations on the word of one or two people.
Similarly, students should use multiple sources. They should grade those sources in terms of reliability as well.
They Check Every Lead
A murder investigation can result in hundreds, even thousands of leads. These leads can be tips regarding automobiles, suspects, specific witness accounts.
In each and every case, detectives must vet those leads thoroughly. That’s because they know the truth can be hiding in the smallest kernel of information.
Students should take all the things they know or think they know and test it. Test it against new theories, seeming impossibilities, and any other information that they come into contact with along the way.
Detectives Ask Questions
Detectives simply would not be able to solve crimes without asking questions. They ask questions of anyone involved with a crime. That ranges everywhere from bystanders unrelated to the involved parties to the suspects and victims themselves.
They realize that they only way to get at the truth is to approach it from multiple angles. And that means going directly to the sources with the most information.
Detectives Try to Prove Themselves Wrong
Another key detective skill that students should adopt is the drive to prove themselves wrong. That’s because it strengthens your actual thesis or understanding of a subject.
With detectives, they have to present their findings to a prosecutor. The prosecutor does not like to lose. They’re usually elected or appointed by a political figure. Losing a case makes one look incompetent at their jobs.
Therefore, they set a high bar for the cases they choose to prosecute. That wholly depends on the competence of the detectives investigating the case. Detectives know this so they try to embrace being wrong because it leads them closer to cases with strong foundations.
Detectives Talk to People
You can spend all day looking at physical evidence if you’re a detective. But until you get a chance to speak to the subjects involved and get a handle for who’s lying and who’s not, you’re not going to get very far.
Similarly, students can spend all day in a textbook. But it’s not until they get out into the real-world that it really matters.
Talk to people who are already applying that knowledge. Seek to do so yourself and you will be well on your way to becoming an expert.
Detectives Seek Second Opinions
Part of the process of solving a case involves bouncing ideas off one another. Few detectives will ever look you in the eye and say with a straight face that they single-handedly solved a crime.
They needed the work of the Patrol Officers, the written statements, the interviews, and the expertise of their fellow detectives to reach the appropriate conclusions.
It’s not impossible to solve something on your own, but it’s a heck of a lot easier (and more probable that you’ll be right) to seek second, third, and fourth opinions, etc.
Detectives Are Systematic
All detectives have a specific way that they like to work and structure the information they come across. Some prefer to record conversations and transcribe them later. Others simply write summations of those conversations using the recorder as a backup.
Some detectives start with surveillance footage and audio before moving into interviews. Others prefer to first get a sense of the people involved before moving to that stage.
Many detectives use the technique of never asking questions they don’t already know the answers to. This technique helps to root out falsehoods, after all. The point is, they have a way to work that gets them from the beginning of the case to the end.
As a student, you can learn from this when writing a term paper, creating a project, or studying for a test. What will your system look like?
Detectives Are Resourceful
Detectives look everywhere for clues and evidence. They might have a database handy of surveillance cameras throughout their city.
They might keep lists of suspects and their known accomplices. They turn to their fellow Officers and Detectives, to city leaders, business owners, and criminal informants to solve their cases.
As a student, you should do something similar. For each subject, make a list of all the specific resources that can help you solve a problem or learn a new piece of information.
Detectives Have Support Units to Lean On
If you really want to think like a detective, then take great care to surround yourself with the right people. They have people who support them in a professional sense (Sergeants and Lieutenants), an emotional sense (husbands, wives, and children), and a mental health sense (other detectives, chaplains, counselors).
Students should think a lot about the people in their lives as well. Who are the best people for the different areas? It could be a professor, a guidance counselor, people who share your major, close friends. Know where to go to find the help that you need!
Learning to Think Like a Detective Will Make You a Better Student and Professional
Try to think like a detective by putting these tips and mindsets to good use. Let them reshape how you approach assignments, problems, and productivity. As you do, make note of the changes that you’ve made from your current status quo. Then, let us know how it’s working for you in the comments section below!
[Featured Image by Flickr Creative Commons]