How to forge arguments in writing (social sciences) scientific papers

Lecturers: Benedetto Lepori & Andrea Rocci

Modality: In presence

Week 2: 21-25 August 2023


Workshop Contents and Objectives

Publishing scientific papers represents a core activity of researchers, and, increasingly, the career of young scholars is determined by their ability to publish in high-reputed outlets. The process has become more and more competitive, with acceptance rates in top-journals becoming extremely low and the publication process longer and extenuating in the extent of revisions needed. In such an environment, forging a strong argument to convince reviewers of the novelty and robustness of your findings in order to get their support has become a core dimension of scientific writing.

The goal of this workshop is to help PhD students to understand how to forge strong arguments in writing their own papers and to assess the extent to which they are likely to convince their readers and, specifically, journal editors and reviewers. Further, we will analyse how to engage in a (critical) discussion with reviewers and respond effectively to their comments,

The course will build on two main pillars. On the one hand, an understanding of science as a community of practice, where scholars discuss their ideas in front of peers and engage in discussions about their validity, whose outcome determines whether these ideas are included as part of the accepted realm of knowledge. In such a perspective, activities such as presenting at conferences, writing scientific articles, and submitting grant proposals are central to the development of science, as well as to the career of individual researchers. Scientific communication takes place largely through texts, which follow specific literary conventions but are also constructed in order to convince the reader and to refute objections using elements such as past authority (citations), logical argumentation, data, statistical analyses etc.

On the other hand, the course will build on theories of human communication, which extensively analyse how argumentation can be used effectively to bring interlocutors, such as other scientists, to your side through strategic manoeuvring. These theories lead to an understanding of scientific communication as a critical discussion, in which scientists advance and defend their ideas by respective a code of conduct that, for example, obliges them to take seriously the objection of peers and to respond through new valid arguments. In such a perspective, researchers are highly strategic in engaging in scientific debates and pursue multiple objectives, such as improving their work, getting their ideas accepted and enhancing their status in scientific communities. Conceptualising scientific communication in these terms will help students to understand better how to manage their writings and how to avoid mistakes that might lead to a refusal of their ideas or results or jeopardise their position within the community.

The workshop will be organised in face-to-face lectures and in practical exercises, in which students will analyse scientific texts for their argumentative content and simulate scientific debates playing both the proponent and opponent roles. It will focus in this respect on two major forms of scientific communication, i.e. the scientific paper and the grant proposal.


Workshop contents

1. The publishing process

  • The process and the roles.
  • Journals and their differences.
  • Social communities.

2. The literary genre of scientific papers

  • The literary genre of the scientific paper.
  • Scientific papers as argumentative documents: defending your truth.
  • Disciplinary differences and discipline-specific arguments.

3. Argumentation in science writing

  • What is a good argument?
  • Argumentation and strategic manoeuvring.
  • The role of argumentation in science writing.
  • Forms and levels of argumentation.

4. Playing the game

  • Targeting audiences.
  • Crafting convincing arguments.
  • Engaging in discussion with reviewers.
  • How to write effective papers: tips and tricks.


Recommended Reading

Bazerman, C. (1988). Shaping written knowledge: The genre and activity of the experimental article in science (Vol. 356). Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.

Latour, B. (1987). Science in action: How to follow scientists and engineers through society. Harvard university press.

Macagno, Fabrizio & Rapanta, Chrysi. (2020). The Logic of Academic Writing. Wessex Press.

van Eemeren F.H., Garssen B., Krabbe E.C.W., Snoeck Henkemans A.F., Verheij B., Wagemans J.H.M. (2014) Argumentation Theory. In: Handbook of Argumentation Theory. Springer, Dordrecht.