Writing With Substance: You Can Haz it! SRSLY!

Identifying and Formulating Claims

Identifying Claims
In class, we'll talk about the Classical roots of argumentative writing, including the Five Canons of Rhetoric and the basics of Stasis Theory, articulated here, on a site by Andrew Kline, as part of the "invention" stage. 
We'll think about the Stases not just as a means for generating arguments, but as types of claims that you will begin to recognize in everything you read. For instance, you will find articles in which writers work to establish the existence of something; define the nature of that something; evaluate whether it is good or bad; describe its causes or its impact on other things; and argue for a course of action in response or relation to any of the other sorts of claims. 

Then you will attempt to use these terms in your own assessment of written work and incorporate them into your review of literature on a chosen topic. 

Here's an example: 
You've chosen to write about the environment and want to learn about sustainability. You've noticed we have scholars who are experts in Sustainability Studies on campus and you've also noticed student groups and related coursework you could take in the future. But you've also done some research on your own using the databases and the web at large and learned some things that seem interesting. First, you've learned that there are some politicians trying to get bills passed that will ban microbeads in New York.

After doing some digging and reading on the databases, you have found specific studies, articles x, y, and z, in which scholars have identified the negative effects of specific types of micro-beads in water and sewage systems (stasis of quality/cause/evaluation). You have also found that researchers have begun to define certain kinds of cosmetics as "pollutants" in articles a and b (stasis of definition). Because those products are not yet illegal, they still are available for purchase in shops in your hometown and in campus stores (stasis of conjecture). Your draft for Assignment 9 would cover the scholarship and lay out the various writers whose work has shaped your understanding; in your conclusion for Assignment 9 would lay out the next steps for your own research. Because researchers have shown convincingly that these products are dangerous for the environment, you would like to come up with some feasible proposals (stasis of policy) for removing the products from campus stores, generating awareness amongst Hofstra students about the current calls for banning the products, and pursuing new products through chemistry that provide the same benefits but use different materials.

Formulating Claims
Once you know the kinds of claims you might make and how to talk about them in academic terms, you'll need to make the shift into developing them in your writing. Sometimes you won't know what you want to claim without writing a lot of material first. But once you have a good sense of what you want to say, you can help yourself and your reader by writing out a series of statements about that point and how you'll get to it in your paper. 
To give you a sense of what I mean, examine this list of structures that academic writers rely upon in their work.
After you've reviewed those structures, take a look at this paper (PDF) to see an example of a paper that sets up a basic "road map" of a paper, laying out claims that we can assess in terms of statis theory. It also has sections that are clearly defined by subheadings. It provides a nice example of how to frame a discussion and also exemplifies the strategic use of sub-headings. One caveat: The paper is 55 pages long. Your individually authored papers for this class are much shorter, and your collaborative papers are only 17-18 pages long. You won't have nearly so many "findings" or claims to report in your work as early-career college students, and accordingly, I wouldn't recommend using bullet points to lay them out for readers in this class. Instead, try a more discursive stragegy: "In this paper, we discuss the history of ...; additionally, we consider X and Y and discuss them in relation to Z. After considering X,Y, and Z, we turn to A and B. Finally, we examine A and B. Ultimately, we make the following claims..." or "In light of all of this research, we argue that..."
We call these sorts of statements "rhetorical signposting"; the more of such language you incorporate, the more likely your readers know where to find your papers' claims and what those claims are.

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