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2.4: Deciding Which Is the Main Claim

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    Now that we have this list of claims in the margin of the text, we know some of the things that the author wants us to believe. How do we sort them and put them in relation to each other? In this case, we found claims of policy, fact, and value, some of which were repeated in different parts of the argument. Which claim is the main point? How do other claims support this one?


    A One Way Sign perched on top of another One Way sign, each pointing in a different direction.
    Which direction is the author taking the argument?
    Photo by Brendan Church on Unsplash under the Unsplash License.

    We can try asking ourselves the following questions to see if we already have a sense of what the argument's goal is.

    • What does the writer want us to believe?
    • What does the writer most want to convince us of?
    • Where is the writer going with this?
    • If the writer had to make their point in just one sentence, what would they say?

    A good first place to look for the focus, of course, is the title. Often the title will declare the main claim outright. Here, the title question "Wouldn't We All Cross the Border?" implies the answer “Yes.” We can look for the same idea in the text and check whether it seems to be the main one. The third paragraph describes why the author would cross the border and then generalizes to claim that others would do the same. At the start of the last paragraph, the writer declares that “ ...most of us, under desperate circumstances, would cross the border without permission and feel no moral qualms about doing so.” Note that this is a claim of fact about what people would do and how they would feel about it.

    But is this the main claim? When we review the other sections, we find several other claims of policy. Introductions set expectations, and here, the first paragraph alludes to public debates on immigration policy. It suggests that it may not be right to stop people from coming into America, and it may not be wrong to cross the border, even illegally. These early references to what is right suggest that the argument aims to do more than describe how people might feel under different circumstances. The argument is going to weigh in on what border policy should be. The second paragraph confirms this sense as it builds up to the still vague sentence, “ Surely there are ways to regulate the border without criminalizing people who are driven by need and good intentions.”

    In the last paragraph, we learn what these ways might involve. Three different claims of policy emerge:

    1. “... We must recognize this crossing as an ethical, reasonable act.”
    2. "How can either a wall or a detention center be on the side of justice?" (The implication, of course, is that they cannot be.)
    3. We must find a policy that treats migrants as we would want to be treated--with empathy, respect, and offers of help.”

    Which of these final claims is the overall focus? Arguments sometimes emphasize their main point in the very last sentence, in part to make it memorable. However, the end of the argument can also be a place for the author to go a little beyond their main point and suggest issues for further thought. The phrase "empathy, respect, and offers of help" sounds important, but we should note that the rest of the argument isn’t about how to help migrants. However, the idea that we should respond more positively to migrants has recurred throughout. The idea that migrants are not in the wrong--that they are not criminals--is clearly key, and so is the idea that we should change border policy accordingly.

    Here is one way, then, to combine those last two ideas into a summary of the overall claim of the argument:

    Claim: Border policy should not criminalize undocumented immigrants.

    Practice Exercise \(\PageIndex{1}\)

    Choose an argument you are reading for class or one of our suggested readings, read it closely, and then try to summarize the main claim in your own words. If you are unsure, return to making notes on the writer's claims and then reflect on the questions above.

    This page titled 2.4: Deciding Which Is the Main Claim is shared under a CC BY-NC license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Anna Mills (ASCCC Open Educational Resources Initiative) .