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Humanities Libertexts

2.8: Supporting Claims

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    5272
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    Skills to Develop

    • Identify various forms of support that can be used in a text to validate a thesis
    • Identify use of personal forms of support (narrative, anecdote)
    • Identify use of research-based forms of support (facts, statistics, outside authority)
    • Identify relationship between the rhetorical context of a text, and the effectiveness of the types of support used

    It’s very easy to make a bold claim and walk away.  But how many people will be convinced by such a claim, all on its own?

    The heavy lifting of most writing comes in the form of supporting details.  Support allows a claim to be verified, proven, and convincing to an audience.

    Consider a recent example of an unsupported claim from early in the 2016 US Presidential campaign:

     Carly_Fiorina_by_Gage_Skidmore_3-208x300.jpg

    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\) - Carly Fiorina

    Carly Fiorina on several occasions has said 307,000 veterans have died while waiting for care from the Veterans Health Administration. In one instance, she said all of those veterans “died in the last year,” citing a recent inspector general’s report. But that’s not what the report says.

    The VA Office of the Inspector General report said 307,173 of nearly 867,000 pending VA applications belonged to individuals who died. But poor record-keeping made it impossible to say how many of them died while waiting for care or how many of them even applied for care.

    The report also said 84 percent of those who died, or 258,367 individuals, died more than four years ago — not last year.[1]

    It may be coincidence that Fiorina was one of the first candidates to withdraw from the race…but then again, maybe not!

    Main Ideas and Supporting Details

    Main Ideas

    This video draws a helpful distinction between main ideas and supporting details, to show the connection between the topic sentence of a paragraph and other contents in the same paragraph.

    Supporting Details

    To dive in more deeply to the concept of supporting details, view the following video.  It describes the techniques of outlining and mapping a paragraph for greater understanding.

    Support and Elaboration

    Support and elaboration consist of the specific details and information writers use to develop their topics. The key to developing support and elaboration is getting specific. Good writers use concrete, specific details, and relevant information to construct mental images for their readers. Without this attention to detail, readers struggle to picture what the writer is talking about, and will often give up altogether.

    Two important concepts in support and elaboration are sufficiency and relatedness.

    Sufficiency refers to the amount of detail — is there enough detail to support the topic? Good writers supply their readers with sufficient details to comprehend what they have written. In narrative writing, this means providing enough descriptive details for the readers to construct a picture of the story in their minds. In essay writing, this means the author finds enough information to support a thesis, and also finding information that is credible and accurate.

    Sufficiency, however, is not enough. The power of information is determined less by the quantity of details than by their quality.

    Relatedness refers to the quality of the details and their relevance to the topic. Good writers select only the details that will support their focus, deleting irrelevant information. In narrative writing, details should be concrete: they contribute to, rather than detract from, the picture provided by the narrative. In essay writing, information should be relevant to the writer’s goal and strengthen the writer’s ability to meet that goal.

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    Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\)

    Show, don’t tell: support and elaboration in narrative writing

    Many writers work under the advice to “Show, don’t tell.” Good writers help their readers imagine the story by describing the action, providing sensory descriptions, and explaining characters’ thoughts and feelings. Poets are especially adept at using precise details to focus on specific, concrete, observable things or experiences.

    Some ways that writers “show, don’t tell” include the following:

    • Description of action. Just as slow-motion replay helps television viewers understand the action in a sporting event, good writers can slow down a moment, breaking down an event into a moment-by-moment replay of the action.
    • Description of physical states. Good writers use sensory details to show readers what things in their story look like, sound like, smell like, taste like, and feel like. Similes and metaphors can also help readers construct a picture by comparing the object being described to something they know well.
    • Descriptions of internal states. Books have an advantage over movies because they let the reader inside the characters’ thoughts and feelings. Good writers also use dialogue to reveal a character’s personality, internal thoughts, and feelings and to provide background information about the story.

    Finding the right information: support and elaboration in expository writing

    Information is the key to developing support and elaboration in the expository (essay) genres — informational, critical, and argumentative writing. While writers of narratives can often rely solely on their own observations and inner resources to develop their writing, writers of expository genres have to look outside themselves for the information they need to develop their writing. As a result, in expository writing, authors need the ability to find and use relevant information: facts, statistics, examples, and anecdotes. Research, evaluation, and notetaking skills are vital for expository writers.

    Relationship Between Purpose and Supporting Details

    As you might imagine, some types of supporting details work more appropriately than others, given the purpose of the writing overall.

    These two videos show the connections between the purpose of a piece of writing and the supporting evidence that appears inside the paragraphs. They also address the ways in which supporting ideas are “stacked” together inside a paragraph, with transitions to help a reader make sense of their internal relationships.

    Self-Check

    References

    1. Gore, D'Angelo. Fiorina's Unsupported Claim about VA Deaths. FactCheck.org. 23 Sept. 2015. Web. 3 May 2016. 
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