How to Make Clear Claims With the Toulmin Model of Argumentation
Making Clear Claims
"I think Marvel is better than DC!" Well, you might agree with me on this, and you might not. But I’m sure many readers will ask, "What do you mean by better? Are you talking about the story plots? The movie effects? The merchandise?"
Excellent questions! And it's not surprising they came up, because the statement "I think Marvel is better than DC!" is an unclear claim. And unclear claims are not a good start for a persuasive argument.
In this article we will discuss the “Claim” element of the Toulmin Model of Argumentation: what claims are, why clear claims are important, and how to make clear claims, so that your arguments are easy for judges and audience to understand.
Why is it important to make clear claims?
A claim is a short, concise sentence stating that something happened in a certain way, is happening in a certain way, or will happen in a certain way. Claims are arguable, meaning they can be either true or false. So your job is to prove that your claims are true. You do this by adding reasoning, evidence, and examples to convince the judge to believe them.
But before you add reasoning, evidence, and examples to your claim, you must make sure you are starting with a clear claim. Making clear claims, as Toulmin understood, is important in order for your audience or the judge to understand what your main points are. It might not seem like it at first, but providing a clear claim can be quite a challenge.
Use Key Terms, Not Pronouns
First, when making a claim to begin your argument, be sure that you do not use pronouns in place of the key terms of the topic. Use the specific terms in the topic when constructing your claim. For example, if the topic is “Boys and girls should attend separate schools,” you do not want to say, "My first claim is they will fight with each other." Rather, replace the "they" with the key terms of the topic. A better claim would be "Boys and girls attending the same school leads to conflicts and fighting." Using key terms instead of pronouns in your claims makes your points come across much more clearly because the judge knows exactly to whom or what you are referring to in your claims.
Use Assertive, Definite Language
Second, use assertive, definite language rather than vague, ambiguous language in your claims. Avoid words like “maybe”, “might”, “potentially”, “possibly”, and “perhaps”. For example, you would not want to say, "My first claim is that boys and girls attending the same school might lead to some conflicts between them." It is better to say, "If boys and girls attend the same schools, they will fight with each other." The second example is much more assertive and gets your point across more effectively.
Keep Your Claims Separate From Your Reasoning
Third, try not to get ahead of yourself by including your reasoning and explanations in your claim. Simply state the claim and then move on to your reasoning. Here is an example of a claim that is unclear because it also contains reasoning: "My first claim is that because boys and girls are different and have different interests and opinions, there could be a conflict between them that would distract from their studies." When the judge hears such a claim they will be confused about exactly what the claim is. By including the reasoning in your claim, you create confusion about exactly which claim you are defending and which claim your evidence supports. You should always make sure that the judge knows exactly what you are trying to prove in any given portion of your speech.
Pay Attention To Delivery
The fourth and final point is that you should pay attention to how you deliver your claim. When saying your claim, pause to take a breath before and after your claim to highlight it. This way, the judge will hear clearly that you are transitioning to another part of your argument, and will also have time to finish writing down the claim. Pausing before and after the claim allows the judge and audience to prepare for your supporting reasoning, evidence, and examples.
The Toulmin Model of Argumentation teaches us that in order to ensure that the claims you make are clear and easily understood by the judge, you need to include key terms from the topic, not pronouns, use definite and assertive language, separate your claims from your reasoning, and make sure to deliver your claims clearly by using pauses before and after each claim to highlight it.
On a side note, I claim that Marvel is better than DC because Marvel movies have a plot that all ages can enjoy. Care to disagree?