In partnership with the Society of Biology, Royal Society of Chemistry, and Institute of Physics

How is argumentation different to other related concepts?

Scientific knowledge can be perceived as being a collection of irrevocable truths, where data leads uncontroversially to agreed conclusions (Driver, Newton & Osborne, 2000). In reality, however, scientific knowledge is socially constructed and explanations are developed through a process of discussion and argument.

Argument, argumentation, explanation and discussion are closely related concepts. It is useful therefore to consider how they are similar and different.

Argument: A scientific argument uses data to articulate and justify claims or conclusions.

Argumentation: Argumentation describes the overall process of engaging in argument (Sampson and Clark, 2008).

Explanation: The distinction between argument and explanation is a matter of debate within the literature.  Osborne and Patterson (2011) suggest that the terms “argument” and “explanation” have multiple, overlapping, meanings and uses in science education. The two processes can be seen as having a complementary and synergistic relationship (Berland & McNeill, 2011).

It may be useful to think of the explanation as building knowledge of how and why a phenomenon occurs, and argument as socially constructing knowledge when there is a need to justify a claim and persuade others of its validity. (Berland & McNeill, 2011)  

Discussion: Discussion (particularly within small groups) is the main vehicle by which argumentation occurs, it is the process of sharing, comparing and analysing each other’s ideas.







In many science lessons teachers do the talking and structure the arguments (Cross & Price, 1996). Argumentation, on the other hand, involves students in discussion and thinking processes which Abrahams and Millar (2008) refer to as having ‘minds on’ the science.


Page last updated on 29 April 2013