A reflexive approach to interview data in an investigation of argument

Sally Mitchell, Paul Prior, Rebecca Bilbro, Kelly Peake, Beng Huat See, Richard Andrews

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


As part of an exploratory study at three universities (two in the UK and one in the USA) of how first-year students in three disciplines (biology, electrical engineering and history) learn to argue, we conducted interviews (individual and group) with university faculty and students about the place of argument in their teaching and learning. Here we reflect on the complexity of researching a term that refers both to an abstract concept and process and to diverse actual practices that often appear to be in excess of, or only partially covered by, such abstraction. We found stable, definitive data about argument hard to abstract convincingly from the interviews. The analysis instead drew our attention to how faculty and students inflected the term 'argument' in diverse, nuanced ways; constructed their accounts of 'argument' and of themselves as students or teachers interactively in the interview; and introduced various related terms (e.g. 'analysis', 'interpretation', 'critique'). Reflecting on ways in which the interview can foreclose as well as open up opportunities for sense making around 'argument', we concluded that an approach that anchors talk in detailed accounts of practice is most fruitful in developing our understanding. In this way, interviewing can be a valuable research tool in developing understanding of how 'argument' is used in discourse and manifested in actual practices.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)229-241
Number of pages13
JournalInternational Journal of Research and Method in Education
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2008


  • Argument
  • Interviewing methods
  • Writing studies

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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