What Does It Mean to Make a Claim During an Argument?

claim - baby at podium
"How do we decide that a claim is reasonable, rational, and relevant? We do so by critical examination through questions and answers" (M.A. Munizzo and L. Virruso Musial, General Report Writing and Case Studies, 2009).

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Claims backed by reasons that are supported by evidence are called arguments. To win an argument, you first have to make a claim that is more than just an assertion. You use critical thinking skills and argue your case using claims, reason, and evidence. In rhetoric and argumentation, a claim is an arguable statement—an idea that a rhetor (a speaker or writer) asks an audience to accept.

Persuasive Claims

Generally speaking, there are three primary types of claims in an argument, also called persuasive claims:

  • Claims of fact assert that something is true or not true.
  • Claims of value assert that something is good or bad, or more or less desirable.
  • Claims of policy assert that one course of action is superior to another.

A persuasive claim in an opinion, idea, or assertion. In rational arguments, all three types of claims must be supported by evidence. Jason Del Gandio, in the book, "Rhetoric for Radicals," gives these examples of persuasive claims in an argument:

  • I think we should have universal health care.
  • I believe the government is corrupt.
  • We need a revolution.

Gandio explains that these claims make sense, but they need to be backed up with evidence and reasoning.

Identifying Claims

The University of Washington says a claim "persuades, argues, convinces, proves, or provocatively suggests something to a reader who may or may not initially agree with you." A claim is more than an opinion but it is less than a universally agreed upon truth, such as "The sky is blue" or "Birds fly in the sky."

An academic claim—a claim you make in an argument—is considered debatable or up for inquiry. James Jasinski explains in "Argument: Sourcebook on Rhetoric" that a claim "expresses a specific position on some doubtful or controversial issue that the arguer wants the audience to accept."

A claim is not, then, an opinion, such as "I think Twinkies are delicious." But if you took that same sentence and recrafted it into an arguable statement, you could create a claim, such as "Twinkies and other sugary, processed foods can make you fat." Not everyone might agree with your claim, but you would be able to use scientific and medical evidence (such as studies showing that sugary processed foods lead to weight gain and other health problems) to support your claim.

Types of Claims

You can further break claims in an argument into four basic types, says Mesa Community College:

Claims of fact or definition: Particularly in this day and age, people disagree on hitherto commonly accepted facts. A claim of fact or definition might be that grades do not accurately measure student progress or lie detector tests are inaccurate. Traditionally, grades have been the common measure of student success, but you could argue that they do not really represent a student's true abilities. And lie detector tests were at one point thought to provide clear and accurate evidence, but you could use facts to argue that they can be unreliable.

Claims About Cause and Effect: This type of claim argues that given causes lead to specific effects, such as watching too much television when young leads to obesity or poor school performance. To make this claim, you would have to show evidence (scientific studies, for example) that show television leads to these outcomes. Another debatable cause-and-effect claim would be that video games that depict violence lead to real violence.

Claims About Solutions or Policies: This kind of claim might argue that because the healthcare system does not adequately assist Americans (you would argue that this is a fact), it should be reformed (you argue for the solution/policy), says Mesa Community College.

Claims About Value: This type of claim might be the trickiest to argue because you are trying to prove that one thing is better or superior to another. For example, you might claim that people who are blind or deaf have a unique culture of blindness or deafness. You could support either argument by researching and presenting facts that these two areas of disability do indeed have unique cultures and communities.