Developing reasoning and argument

Some of our most frequent discussions with colleagues tend to return to questions of how well students manage to interrogate and respond to their disciplines – whether they are asking insightful questions of their topics/subjects, making connections in and between their readings of theory and experiences of practice, testing ideas or hypotheses and coming to reasoned, substantiated conclusions about these, and whether they are able to communicate all or even some of this, most frequently in writing, to a wider audience.  Much of our work is concerned with how students can and do learn to reason and make arguments in their disciplines through writing.

The terminology around reasoning varies across disciplines  – making a case, testing a hypothesis, presenting a scientific explanation, developing a position – as do the criteria for judging success; for example, what counts as a good argument in one discipline may not be accepted in another. Although they may write well it may take time for students to come to recognise what constitutes successful claims/hypothesis/evidence/support/analysis in their field, and how the ontology of particular field typically relates these. 

In this section, you can find examples of how lecturers in various disciplines have tried to help their students develop their abilities in disciplinary reasoning, from independent activities to help readers in getting to grips with a concept or field, to a series of short tasks embedded at critical points in a course, to advice on structuring a final argument text. 

·         An activity called Unpacking a question (pdffor working out what is at stake in an assignment brief and how students can go about developing a position that they can develop into an argument.

·         A number of conversations with a colleague in Drama around getting students to identify and write about critical moments in performance, building up to a research writing workshop and a long essay

Have a look at our section on provoking critical engagement. Of particular interest here might be the reading analysis grid from a first year Politics course which encourages students to identify and paraphrase a series key ideas across a number of texts; they can then use their document to start to build an argument by comparing different views about a topic.

·         a module called Mathematical writing which asks students to develop the understanding of mathematical concepts by writing about them.

Documents you can download from this page: