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Humanities Libertexts

2.3: Making Notes on the Writer’s Claims

  • Page ID
    56554
  • Audio Version: Click to stream recording of page (June 2020):

    A first step toward summarizing and responding to an argument is to first make margin notes on the claims. Let’s take the following argument as an example:

    Wouldn’t We All Cross the Border?

    All the disagreement over immigration policy I have been hearing about in the news lately reminds me that while I believe in the rule of law, I feel profoundly uncomfortable with the idea of keeping people out who are desperate to come in. Is illegal immigration actually wrong? Is it unethical to cross a border without permission?

    I don’t have a clear vision yet of what the right border policy would be, and I admit that completely open borders would put our security at risk. But surely there are ways to regulate the border without criminalizing people who are driven by need and good intentions.

    If I were raising children in an impoverished third-world community plagued by violence, and if I had a chance to get my family to the U.S., I would take it. I would try to cross a border illegally so my children would get enough to eat and would have a more stable childhood and a chance at a better education and a better career. What parent would sit on their hands and tell themself, “I want to give my child a better life, but oh well. If I don’t have the papers, I guess it would be wrong”?

    If most of us, under desperate circumstances, would cross the border without permission and feel no moral qualms about doing so, then we must recognize this crossing as an ethical, reasonable act. If it is ethical and reasonable, then how can either a wall or a detention center be on the side of justice? We must find a policy that treats migrants as we would want to be treated--with empathy, respect, and offers of help.

    We can often paraphrase the claims more readily on a second read when we are already familiar with the content. Some need the physicality of taking notes by hand in the margins of a book or a printout. Some take notes by creating comments in Word or Google Docs. Others use online annotation systems like Hypothes.is. Another way is to copy the text into a table in a word processing program and write notes in a second column, as we have done below:

    Section of the text Notes on the claims
    Wouldn’t We All Cross the Border? Implies a claim of fact: we would all cross the border (under what circumstances?)

    All the disagreement over immigration policy I have been hearing about in the news lately reminds me that while I believe in the rule of law, I feel profoundly uncomfortable with the idea of keeping people out who are desperate to come in. Is illegal immigration actually wrong? Is it unethical to cross a border without permission?

    Suggests a claim of value: It might not be wrong to cross illegally.

    But also suggests another claim of value: that “the rule of law” is right. Is this a contradiction?

    I don’t have a clear vision yet of what the right border policy would be, and I admit that completely open borders would put our security at risk. But surely there are ways to regulate the border without criminalizing people who are driven by need and good intentions.

    Claim of policy about the border--we shouldn’t criminalize people who have legitimate reasons to cross.

    Admits there are security risks in “open borders.”

    Looking for some kind of middle ground that keeps us safe but doesn’t criminalize migrants.

    If I were raising children in an impoverished third-world community plagued by violence, and if I had a chance to get my family to the U.S., I would take it. I would try to cross a border illegally so my children would get enough to eat and would have a more stable childhood and a chance at a better education and a better career. What parent would sit on their hands and tell themself, “I want to give my child a better life, but oh well. If I don’t have the papers, I guess it would be wrong”?

    Claim of fact: the author would consider it right to cross illegally to benefit their children.

    That is, if their whole family didn’t have enough money, a safe place to live, or access to a good education.

    They imply another claim of fact: that any parent would do the same and feel okay about it.

    If most of us, under desperate circumstances, would cross the border without permission and feel no moral qualms about doing so, then we must recognize this crossing as an ethical, reasonable act. If it is ethical and reasonable, then how can either a wall or a detention center be on the side of justice? We must find a policy that treats migrants as we would want to be treated--with empathy, respect, and offers of help.

    Starts with the same claim of fact as in the title and the previous paragraph: most people would cross the border illegally. Adds the idea that we wouldn’t feel it was wrong.

    The implication is that if all these people would feel it is right, then it really is “ethical and reasonable.”

    “We must recognize” implies a claim of policy--that people should talk about illegal crossings publicly in a different way than we do now.

    Claim of policy: Border walls and detention centers are not right.

    Ends with three policy recommendations for how to treat migrants: empathy, respect, and help.

    Notice that attempting to summarize each claim can actually take more space than the original text itself if we are summarizing in detail and trying to be very precise about what the text claims and implies. Of course, we won’t want to or need to do this in such detail for every paragraph of every reading we are assigned to write about. We can resort to it when the argument gets harder to follow or when it’s especially important to be precise.