Writing Theses and Claims

Virtually all genres of academic writing rely to some degree on claims as the engine of arguments, whether as the main point of arguments (the central claim or thesis) or as supporting points (subclaims).

For this reason, writing effective claims is vital to success in academic writing. But what is a claim? How do you distinguish it from other statements. To understand claims, it can be helpful to distinguish them from facts and opinions, as follows.

What is a claim?

  • Fact – information that is held to be true by reasonable people
  • Opinion – a wholly or near-wholly subjective perspective
    • Example: Vanilla ice cream is the best flavor of ice cream. (This is an opinion because it isn’t arguable. It’s based solely in someone’s subjectivity, their preferences.)
  • Claim – a perspective that can and should be be supported with evidence
    • Example: The ubiquity of vanilla ice cream disconnects consumers from the complex and unethical agriculture practices that create it. (This is a claim because it can be argued with, and it can be supported with evidence)

Dispelling some myths about claims

Sometimes, people are given a set of rules about claims that don’t apply in all contexts. Here are some common beliefs about claims that aren’t necessarily true or are perhaps only true in some circumstances.

  • Central claims (theses) should always appear at the end of the first paragraph.
    • NOT NECESSARILY TRUE. This may have been true in high school writing contexts, but in college and beyond different audiences have different expectations for where central claims will be located. Sometimes it’s after a few paragraphs. Sometimes it’s in the middle. Sometimes it’s at the end. At the college level, it’s time to start thinking more rhetorically (meaning thinking about audience expectations and impact) about where the central claim should go.
  • There is a formula for writing central claims
    • NOT NECESSARILY TRUE. You can use a formula, but you don’t have to. And the formula’s you’ve learned previously may only be useful in the specific context you in which you learned them.
  • There is one way to write a central claim.
    • NOT TRUE AT ALL. Central claims differ depending on the genre in which you’re writing. They look different in different disciplines (history, english, psychology, biology), and they look different in genres outside of academia, as well.
  • Central Claims should be one sentence long.
    • NOT NECESSARILY TRUE. Again, they might be, but as writing becomes more sophisticated and topics more complex, it’s likely that you’ll come up with central or supporting claims that are more than one sentence long. That’s fine, potentially good even.

Two Types of claims

  • Normative – claims made about how something SHOULD BE
    • Example: The University of Virginia should change its admissions practices in an effort to admit more low-income students.
  • Descriptive – claims made about how something IS
    • Example: The University of Virginia’s admissions practices create systemic hurdles to the admission of low-income students.

Two ways of doing claims

  • Explicit – a claim that is clearly stated
  • Implicit – a claim that is implied

Good claims have 3 features

  • Focused – typically, the most specific a claim is the better
  • Arguable – someone could reasonably argue against it
  • Revelatory – reveals something new
    • BAD Example: Colleges and universities should do more to support low-income and first-generation college students.
      • This example is bad because it’s not focused enough. It’s technically a claim, but it’s too broad and not revelatory.
    • Good Example: Colleges and universities should create detailed programs with dedicated faculty and staff to support low-income and first generation students. These programs should be designed and assessed as part of the larger body of research available on support for these students.
      • This claim is better because it’s more focused and as a result more arguable and revelatory.

 

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