Claims, Reasons, and Evidence

Argument in its most basic form consists of three parts:

  1. A claim
  2. Reasons to support the claim
  3. Evidence to support the reasons

In some cases, including only these three components will be sufficient to demonstrate the merits of your ideas and persuade the reader, but in others you will need to go beyond these, incorporating counterarguments and/or warrants. For now, though, let’s focus our attention on what claims, reasons, and evidence are, as well as ways that you can evaluate the quality of each.

Defining and Evaluating Claims

What is a claim? Simply stated, a claim is a position or stance that the person communicating takes on an issue. Claims exist on a spectrum of complexity; for example, the claim that fruit-flavored candy is better than chocolate is rather minor in comparison to a claim that there is not enough affordable housing in the area, with the former’s focus resting (largely) on dietary preference and the latter’s reach instead extending across financial, political, and educational lines. As you can probably tell then, a claim reflects a position or stance that is the product of a range of influential factors (e.g., biological, psychological, economic, etc.), and as a position or stance it should articulate an idea that is debatable. However, the ability to challenge the claim is not the only criterion that must be met, and the questions below can help guide you in what to look for when evaluating another person’s claim as well as when stating your own.

To evaluate the quality of a claim, consider the following:

  1. Is the claim clearly and specifically stated? Clarity and specificity are key to ensuring that the claim’s intent and scope will be understood, so beware vague and/or broadly stated claims.
  2. Does the claim state an idea that someone not only could debate but also would want to debate? If someone would be uninterested in debating the idea, then it matters little that he/she could do so.
  3. Does the claim state an idea that can effectively be supported? If (sufficient) evidence is unavailable to support a claim, then it may be worthwhile to reconsider the claim’s phrasing and/or scope so that it can be revised to state an idea that can be supported more fully.

evaluating a claim in practice

Bias in the media has long been a topic of discussion, both popular and scholarly, and recently has even led to the creation of charts to show where news outlets fall on a spectrum from “conservative” to “liberal” ideology. Some people even claim that no media outlet can be relied on to report the truth.

Based on what you have learned in this module, is the claim, “Media cannot be trusted,” effective? Why or why not?