What Is Analytical Thinking and How Can You Improve Your Analytical Thinking Skills?

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Learn why analytical thinking is important and how it differs from critical and creative thinking. Explore some good-paying jobs for analytical thinkers, and find out how you can improve your analytical thinking skills.

[Featured Image] Serious African-American professional using analytical thinking as he reads a document at his workspace.

When processing a lot of information or facing challenging problems, it often helps to take an analytical approach. Analytical thinking helps you determine the validity of information and allows you to carefully consider problems and arrive at the best solutions.

What is analytical thinking? 

Analytical thinking involves using a systemic approach to make decisions or solve problems. Analytical thinkers can better understand information and come to a sensible conclusion by breaking it into parts. 

For instance, once analytical thinkers identify a problem, they typically gather more information, develop possible solutions, test them, and analyze which works best. Solving complex problems often requires analytical reasoning, which may involve:

  • Determining causation (if and how one event causes another)

  • Examining similarities, differences, and relationships

  • Predicting the next event by following a sequence

  • Recognizing patterns or trends

  • Using conditional and converse (if-then) statements 

Why is analytical thinking important?

In daily life, analytical thinking allows you to sift through a steady barrage of information from the news, social media, and accounts from friends and family to get to the truth. Analytical thinking also offers professional value. Employers look for candidates with good analytical skills to help solve problems and make sound decisions in the workplace. 

How is analytical thinking different from creative and critical thinking?

To better understand analytical thinking, it helps to learn how it's different from other types of thinking. For instance, when solving a problem, analytical thinkers take a methodical approach, breaking up information and analyzing each part until they form a conclusion. 

Creative thinkers take a less organized approach to problem-solving. They examine a problem from many angles and welcome new information to come up with a creative solution.  

Critical thinkers are open-minded and have superior evaluative skills. To develop a logical solution to a problem, a critical thinker studies evidence, asks questions, assesses other points of view, and explores any relative assumptions or biases. 

4 good-paying careers for analytical thinkers 

If you can think analytically, it can benefit you in a variety of careers. Explore four good-paying careers for analytical thinkers. 

1. Business analyst

Median annual US salary (BLS): $95,290 [1]

Job outlook: 10 percent job growth [1]

Job requirements: A business analyst often holds a bachelor's or master's degree in business administration. Skills that benefit a business analyst include analytical skills, communication, problem-solving, and time management. 

Tasks and responsibilities: As a business analyst, you'll gather information about a company by observing business practices and procedures, examining financial data, and conducting employee interviews. Then, you'll study and evaluate the information and make recommendations to help the company run more effectively. 

Read more: What Is a Business Analyst? Career Guide

2. Cybersecurity analyst

Median annual US salary (BLS): $112,000 [2]

Job outlook: 32 percent job growth [2]

Job requirements: A cybersecurity analyst often holds a bachelor's degree in cybersecurity or computer and information technology. Skills that benefit a cybersecurity analyst include analytical skills, attention to detail, communication, computer skills, and problem-solving.

Tasks and responsibilities: A cybersecurity analyst develops and monitors methods for safeguarding computer networks and systems within an organization. Additional tasks involve creating security standards and procedures, writing security reports, and providing tech support for employees installing or learning new security software.

3. Data scientist

Median annual US salary (BLS): $103,500 [3]

Job outlook: 35 percent job growth [3]

Job requirements: A data scientist usually holds a bachelor's degree but may hold a master's or PhD in data science, computer science, mathematics, or statistics. Skills that benefit a data scientist include analytical skills, logical reasoning, communication, computer skills, and proficiency in math.  

Tasks and responsibilities: A data scientist gathers, analyzes, and interprets data. Your additional duties in this role include presenting findings of data analysis and making recommendations based on findings. Types of industries that use data scientists include business, education, government, health care, and professional sports.

4. Financial analyst 

Median annual US salary (BLS): $96,220 [4]

Job outlook: 8 percent job growth [4]

Job requirements: A financial analyst commonly holds a bachelor's degree in finance, business, or a related field like accounting, economics, or statistics. Skills that benefit a financial analyst include analytical skills, attention to detail, communication, computer skills, decision-making, and proficiency in math. 

Tasks and responsibilities: Generally, a financial analyst offers guidance to individuals or businesses regarding finances and investments. Different types of financial analysts include financial risk analysts, fund managers, portfolio managers, and ratings analysts. 

Read more: What Is a Financial Analyst? (+ How to Become One)

Tips for improving your analytical thinking skills 

The ability to think analytically offers benefits in your professional and personal life. To improve your analytical thinking skills, go through some key steps when problem-solving or decision-making:

  1. Do your research.

  2. Gather information.

  3. Think of several ideas or solutions.

  4. Analyze your ideas or solutions and choose the best one.

  5. Evaluate the success of the idea or solution. 

Consider these additional tips for becoming a more analytical thinker:

  • Take an analytics class or classes.

  • Boost analytical skills with riddles, crossword puzzles, jigsaw puzzles, or strategic board games like chess or checkers.

  • Enhance your ability to analyze a problem and break it into steps by taking a math class. Equations and world problems require careful examination, and you may have to engage in trial and error before solving them. 

  • Read books about data analytics or other types of analytics that interest you.

  • Network with analytics professionals.

Next steps on Coursera

To determine if you would enjoy a career in analytics, consider the Google Data Analytics Professional Certificate on Coursera. You'll have the opportunity to learn how to gather data, clean and organize it for analysis, and conduct analysis using various computer programs. 

When you finish this eight-course series, you may have as much knowledge as many junior-level data analysts. You'll also receive a Professional Certificate highlighting your data analytics expertise.

Article sources


US Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Occupational Outlook Handbook: Management Analysts, https://www.bls.gov/OOH/business-and-financial/management-analysts.htm?utm_source=fit/programs/8422/ms-information-technology-database-administration/classesutm_medium." Accessed February 23, 2024.

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