2.4 Recognizing Claims

Anna Mills

In almost every college class, we are asked to read someone else’s writing, explain what that person is arguing, and point out the strengths and weaknesses of their argument. This section offers tools for figuring out the structure of an argument and describing it.

When you are trying to understand the basic ideas about something you have read, how do you go about it? An argument is a swarming cluster of words. How do you get to the heart of it?

In this section, we look at how to take notes not just on the meaning of each part of the argument but also on its relation to the other parts. Then we use these notes to draw a visual map of an argument. In the map, we see the argument’s momentum as the reason points us toward the claim. We see how each element implies, supports, limits, or contradicts other elements. Thus, we begin to imagine where the argument is vulnerable and how it might be modified.

Photo by Jazmin Quaynor on Unsplash under the Unsplash License.

Types of Claims to Look For

As we make notes on what a writer is claiming at each point, it is worth distinguishing what kind of claim they are making.

Claims of Policy

The most familiar kind of argument demands action. It is easy to see when the writer is asking readers to do something. Here are a few phrases that signal a claim of policy, a claim that is pushing readers to do something:

  • We should _____________.
  • We must _____________.
  • The solution is to _____________.
  • The next step should be _____________.
  • We should consider _____________.
  • Further research should be done to determine _____________.

Here are a few sample claims of policy:

  • Landlords should not be allowed to raise the rent more than 2% per year.
  • The federal government should require a background check before allowing anyone to buy a gun.
  • Social media accounts should not be censored in any way.

A claim of policy can also look like a direct command, such as, “If you are an American citizen, don’t let anything stop you from voting.”

Note that not all claims of policy give details or specifics about what should be done or how. Sometimes an author is only trying to build momentum and point us in a certain direction. For example, “Schools must find a way to make bathrooms more private for everyone, not just transgender people.”

Claims of policy don’t have to be about dramatic actions. Even discussion, research, and writing are kinds of action. For example, “Americans need to learn more about other wealthy nations’ health care systems in order to see how much better things could be in America.”

Claims of Fact

Arguments do not always point toward action. Sometimes writers want us to share their vision of reality on a particular subject. They may want to paint a picture of how something happened, describe a trend, or convince us that something is bad or good.

In some cases, the writer may want to share a particular vision of what something is like, what effects something has, how something is changing, or how something unfolded in the past. The argument might define a phenomenon, a trend, or a period of history.

Often these claims are simply presented as fact, and an uncritical reader may not see them as arguments at all. However, very often claims of fact are more controversial than they seem. For example, consider the claim “Caffeine boosts performance.” Does it really? How much? How do we know? Performance at what kind of task? For everyone? Doesn’t it also have downsides? A writer could spend a book convincing us that caffeine really boosts performance and explaining exactly what they mean by those three words.

Some phrases writers might use to introduce a claim of fact include the following:

  • Research suggests that _____________.
  • The data indicate that _____________.
  • _____________causes _____________
  • _____________leads to _____________.

Often a claim of fact will be the basis for other claims about what we should do that look more like what we associate with the word “argument.” However, many pieces of writing on websites and in magazines, office settings, and academic settings don’t try to move people toward action. They aim primarily at getting readers to agree with their view of what is fact. For example, it took many years of argument, research, and public messaging before most people accepted this claim: “Smoking causes cancer.”

Here are a few arguable sample claims of fact:

  • It is easier to grow up biracial in Hawaii than in any other part of the United States.
  • Raising the minimum wage will force many small businesses to lay off workers.
  • Fires in the western United States have gotten worse primarily because of climate change.
  • Antidepressants provide the most benefit when combined with talk therapy.

Claims of Value

In other cases, the writer is not just trying to convince us that something is a certain way or causes something, but is trying to say how good or bad that thing is. They are rating it, trying to get us to share her assessment of its value. Think of a movie or book review or an Amazon or Yelp review. Even a “like” on Facebook or a thumbs up on a text message is a claim of value.

Claims of value are fairly easy to identify. Some phrases that indicate a claim of value include the following:

  • _____________is terrible/disappointing/underwhelming.
  • _____________is mediocre/average/decent/acceptable.
  • We should celebrate _____________.
  • _____________is great, wonderful, fantastic, impressive, makes a substantial contribution to _____________.

A claim of value can also make a comparison. It might assert that something is better than, worse than, or equal to something else. Some phrases that signal a comparative claim of value include these:

  • _____________is the best _____________.
  • _____________is the worst _____________.
  • _____________is better than _____________.
  • _____________is worse than _____________.

The following are examples of claims of value:

  • The Bay Area is the best place to start a biotech career.
  • Forest fires are becoming the worst threat to public health in California.
  • Human rights are more important than border security.
  • Experimenting with drag is the best way I’ve found to explore my feelings about masculinity and femininity.
  • It was so rude when that lady asked you what race you are.

Note that the above arguments all include claims of fact but go beyond observing to praise or criticize what they are observing.

Practice Exercise

On a social media site like Facebook or Twitter or on your favorite news site, find an example of one of each kind of claim.

Attributions: This section contains material from How Arguments Work—a Guide to Writing and Analyzing Texts in College by Anna Mills, which is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 3.0. It was edited and re-mixed by Dr. Tracey Watts and Dr. Dorie LaRue for the LOUIS OER Dual Enrollment course development program to create “English Composition II” and has been licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.


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2.4 Recognizing Claims Copyright © 2022 by Anna Mills is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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