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3.2: Introducing the Argument and the Main Claim

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    Introducing the Argument

    Almost immediately, the reader of any summary will need some basic information about the argument summarized. We can name title and author in an introductory phrase. If the publication date and the publication name seem important, we can work those in too. For example, a summary could introduce the basic data on the sample border argument with the phrase "In her 2019 article “Wouldn’t We All Cross the Border?”, Anna Mills..." and follow it with a description of the topic, purpose, or main claim. Some options for introductory phrases include the following:

    • In an article for _____________, writer _____________...
    • The account of _____________ in the piece _____________ by _____________...
    • Writing in the journal _____________, the scholar _____________ ...

    Next, probably right after the introductory phrase, the reader will want to know the main point of that argument. To introduce the main claim, we’ll need a well-chosen verb to describe the author’s intention, her purpose in writing. The most general possible verb to describe a main claim would be “says,” as in “In her 2019 article “Wouldn’t We All Cross the Border?”, Anna Mills says… ” But that would tell us so little about what Anna Mills is trying to do. Readers will be bored and will learn nothing from “says.” If we choose a more dramatic and precise verb like “calls for,” “criticizes,” “describes,” “argues,” or “questions,” then readers will feel the dynamism and momentum of both the argument and the summary. We can convey a lot about the structure of the argument, its degree of conviction or moderation, its tone and attitude by the word or phrase we choose to introduce each claim. As we choose those phrases, we will also be pushing ourselves to get an even clearer picture of the argument than we did by mapping it.

    A hand outstretched toward a distant lake from a high vantage point as if presenting that lake.

    Just as a person might gesture toward a central feature of a landscape, a summary points readers toward the main claim of a text. 
    Photo by Drew Saurus on Unsplash under the Unsplash License.

    Describing Claims of Fact

    If the argument’s main purpose is to describe reality in some way, we will want to let readers know if it is controversial or not. Is the writer defending their idea against obvious objections or counterarguments, or are they aiming to inform us about something we may not be aware of?

    Phrases to introduce controversial claims of fact

    • They argue that _____________.
    • She maintains that _____________.
    • He contends that _____________.
    • They assert that _____________.
    • She holds that _____________.
    • He insists that _____________.
    • She thinks_____________.
    • They believe that_____________.

    Phrases to introduce widely accepted claims of fact

    • He informs us of _____________.
    • She describes_____________.
    • They note that _____________.
    • He observes that _____________.
    • She explains that _____________.
    • The writer points out the way in which_____________.

    Describing Claims of Value

    If the argument’s main purpose is to convince us that something is bad or good or of mixed value, we can signal that evaluation to the reader right off the bat. How dramatic is the claim about its praise or critique? We can ask ourselves how many stars the argument is giving the thing it evaluates. A five-star rating “celebrates” or “applauds” its subject while a four-star rating might be said to “endorse it with some reservations.”

    Phrases to describe a positive claim of value

    • They praise_____________.
    • He celebrates_____________.
    • She applauds the notion that_____________.
    • They endorse_____________.
    • He admires_____________.
    • She finds value in_____________.
    • They rave about_____________.

    Phrases to describe a negative claim of value

    • The author criticizes_____________.
    • She deplores____________.
    • He finds fault in_____________.
    • They regret that_____________.
    • They complain that_____________.
    • The authors are disappointed in_____________.

    Phrases to describe a mixed claim of value

    • The author gives a mixed review of_____________.
    • She sees strengths and weaknesses in_____________.
    • They endorse_____________ with some reservations.
    • He praises_____________ while finding some fault in _____________
    • The authors have mixed feelings about_____________. On the one hand, they are impressed by_____________, but on the other hand, they find much to be desired in_____________.

    Describing Claims of Policy

    If, as in the case of our sample argument, the author wants to push for some kind of action, then we can signal to the reader how sure the writer seems of the recommendation and how much urgency they feel. Since the border argument uses words like “must” and “justice” in its final paragraph, we will want to convey that sense of moral conviction if we can, with a verb like “urges.” Here is one possible first sentence of a summary of that argument:

    In her 2019 article “Wouldn’t We All Cross the Border?”, Anna Mills urges us to seek a new border policy that helps desperate migrants rather than criminalizing them.

    If we think there should be even more sense of urgency, we might choose the verb “demands.” “Demands” would make Mills seem more insistent, possibly pushy. Is she that insistent? We will want to glance back at the original, probably many times, to double-check that our word choice fits.

    If the border argument ended with a more restrained tone, as if to convey politeness and humility or even uncertainty, we might summarize it with a sentence like the following:

    In her 2019 article 'Wouldn’t We All Cross the Border?', Anna Mills asks us to consider how we can change border policy to help desperate undocumented migrants rather than criminalizing them.

    Phrases to describe a strongly felt claim of policy

    • They advocate for_____________.
    • She recommends_____________.
    • They encourage_____________to _____________.
    • The writers urge_____________.
    • The author is promoting_____________.
    • He calls for_____________.
    • She demands_____________.

    Phrases to describe a more tentative claim of policy

    • He suggests_____________.
    • The researchers explore the possibility of_____________.
    • They hope that_____________can take action to_____________.
    • She shows why we should give more thought to developing a plan to_____________.
    • The writer asks us to consider_____________.

    Elaborating on the Main Claim

    Depending on the length of the summary we are writing, we may add in additional sentences to further clarify the argument’s main claim. In the border argument example, the summary we have thus far focuses on the idea of helping migrants, but the argument itself has another, related dimension which focuses on the attitudes we should take toward migrants. If we are asked to write only a very short summary, we might leave the explanation of the main claim as it is. If we have a little more leeway, we might add to it to reflect this nuance thus:

    In her 2019 article “Wouldn’t We All Cross the Border?”, Anna Mills urges us to seek a new border policy that helps desperate undocumented migrants rather than criminalizing them. She calls for a shift away from blame toward respect and empathy, questioning the very idea that crossing illegally is wrong.

    Of course, the border argument is short, and we have given an even briefer summary of it. College courses will also ask us to summarize longer, multi-part arguments or even a whole book. In that case, we will need to summarize each sub-section of the argument as its own claim.


    Practice Exercise \(\PageIndex{1}\)

    For each claim below, decide whether it is a claim of fact, value, or policy.  Write a paraphrase of each claim and introduce it with a phrase that helps us see the writer’s purpose. 

    • Students should embrace coffee to help them study.

    • Coffee is the most powerful, safe substance available to jumpstart the mind.

    • Coffee’s effect is universal.

    • For those of us who believe in the life of the mind, enhancing our brains’ abilities is ultimately worth the occasional discomfort associated with coffee.

    This page titled 3.2: Introducing the Argument and the Main Claim is shared under a CC BY-NC 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Anna Mills (ASCCC Open Educational Resources Initiative) .