Writing a rationale

This resource provides a model for a way to present a rationale in writing and the language that can be used to indicate you are rationalising or justifying.

What is a rationale?

A rationale is when you are asked to give the reasoning or justification for an action or a choice you make.

There is a focus on the ‘why’ in a rationale: why you chose to do something, study or focus on something. It is a set of statements of purpose and significance and often addresses a gap or a need.

A rationale in Australian academic writing is rarely a whole task by itself.  It is often a part of a bigger task. For example, a part of a lesson plan might be to provide a rationale for why you chose to teach particular content or use a certain resource or activity, or you may be asked to provide a rationale as to why you chose a particular theory to apply or a concept to support.

You may be called upon to provide a rationale:

  • prior to an action or decision; why you plan to do something and how, or

  • after you have acted or decided something; reflecting, looking back, why you did something and how it worked or not.

You can use language to signal you are clearly providing a rationale in your writing. You can link your rationale to learning outcomes or aims for a lesson, activity or assessment task.

A model: problem-solution-rationale

A rationale can be provided by offering longer essay-based support for why it is important to do something in a certain way – in that sense, a whole paper can be a rationale.

However, a more specific or focused way of thinking about a rationale is how we can overtly show we are justifying our choices with the language we use.

One way of doing this is to consider the problem or issue requiring attention, the solution and then the rationale or justification for the solution (the ‘why’). This sets the rationale (the reason) within a context.

A diagnostic assessment determined that the students required more attention to addition and subtraction of mixed fractions. This activity intends to address this problem by having the children engage with the task with blocks before it is done with figures. The reason I chose to do this is because students have higher comprehension levels when presented with visual or tangible representations of abstract problems (Benson, 2016). I also did this as I wanted to allow the children to ‘play’ with maths, to see that it can be a fun activity and in doing so, to breakdown some of the ‘anti-mathematics prejudices’ that Gaines (2017, p. 4) talks about.

The important thing here is the language used to signal the rationale, in this case:

The reason I chose to do this is because … and I also did this as

Another problem / solution / rationale example:

Scaffolding is the support provided by the teacher or a significant other, such as a classmate, which helps students in learning (Gibbons, 2015). Some students were having difficulty with the language at entry while others, particularly those who had completed the pre-tasks, had few problems. Therefore, in order to address this disparity in level and understanding, mixed-ability pairs were created where the more competent student helped the other. On reflection, this was an effective way to run the activity for two reasons: it allowed peer-to-peer teaching which solidified both students’ understanding; and it scaffolded the support in a way that allowed me to roam the room lending advice to pairs as needed.

The language used to signal our rationale in this example:

in order to and for two reasons

Language to signal rationale

because

in order to

as

so that

therefore

the reason this was done/chosen …

for the following reason(s) …

for two/three reasons …

Language for further justification - showing importance

This was important / significant because …

This meant that I could…

This enabled me to …

… which enabled / allowed me to…

… which pointed to / highlighted that / showed me that …

Final tip

The key thing to remember about rationale writing is to stand back from the writing, look at it in a big picture sense and ask yourself, ‘Have I explained why?’ If that is clearly articulated, you have provided a rationale.

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