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The Difference between Facts and Claims

What is the difference between these two declarative sentences?

  1. Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in April of 1865 by John Wilkes Booth.
  2. Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in April of 1865 to keep African-American slaves from gaining U.S. citizenship.

Answer: The assassination is a fact attested by eyewitnesses and medical experts. The reason for the assassination is a claim made by John Wilkes Booth that Lincoln must be killed to prevent granting U.S. citizenship to former slaves.

Knowing the difference between fact and claim is critically important to effective argumentation in both speaking and in writing.

Let’s work at developing a precise definition of these terms: fact and claim.

The word fact is from Latin factum something done, from factus made, from facere to make]

Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged, 12th Edition 2014 © Harper Collins Publishers 1991, 1994, 1998, 2000, 2003, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2014

The word claim is from Old French claimer< Latin clāmāre to cry out; (noun)

American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition. Copyright © 2011 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

Here’s our first definition.

Fact: Something actually done or something said in a meaningful way.

What is fact?

  • Fact is something that could be verifiable in time and space. Example: The wall was painted blue in 2016. The fact would certainly be verifiable if the school office files contained a similar shade of blue paint chip, attached to a dated 2016 receipt for blue paint and a painting contractor’s 2016 dated invoice marked “Paid in Full.”
  • Fact is an objective reflection of reality. A fact exists independent of our sensory experience. Example: “If a classroom’s walls are blue, then someone must have painted them that color.”

What isn’t fact?

  • Fact is not definition. Examples: “It’s a fact that blue is a mix of green and yellow” or “2 +2 = 4 and If A = B and B = C, then A = C.” Definitions simply state that one thing synonymously shares the same essence or characteristics of another thing. Much of math deals with meaningful definitions, called tautologies, not facts, per se.
  • Fact is not opinion. Example: It’s a fact that the wall color is an ugly shade of blue. Explanation: Again, a fact does not state what something is (a definition). A fact does not state a belief. In contrast, an opinion is a belief or inference (interpretation, judgment, conclusion, or generalization). Check out the related article on Teaching Fact and Opinion by the same author.
  • Fact is not a scientific theory. Example: The universe began fifteen billion years ago with the “Big Bang.” Explanation: “Facts and theories are different things, not rungs in a hierarchy of increasing certainty. Facts are the world’s data. Theories are structures of ideas that explain and interpret facts. Facts do not go away when scientists debate rival theories to explain them.” Stephen Jay Gould
  • Fact cannot be wrong.  Example: He got his facts about the blue wall all wrong. Explanation: We really mean that he did not state facts or that he misapplied the use of those facts.
  • Fact is not the same as truth.  Example: It’s a fact that the classroom walls are blue. Explanation: This is known as a category error. We can state the fact that the walls were painted blue or the fact that someone said that they are blue, but this is not the same as truth. There is no process of falsification with facts, as there is with truth. For example, we could not say “It’s not a fact that the classroom walls are black.” Similarly, in a criminal court case, if a defendant pleads not-guilty to the charge that he or she murdered someone, the prosecution must falsify this plea and prove the truth of the guilty charge via evidence, such as facts, in order to convict the defendant.
  • Fact is not a phenomenological representation of reality. Example: The walls appear blue during the day, but have no color at night. Explanation: Just because the blue color appears to disappear at night due to the absence of light, does not mean that this describes reality. To say that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west describes how things appear from our perspective, not what factually occurs.

Here’s our second definition.

Claim: An assertion of belief about what is true or what should be.

What is a claim?

  • A claim can be a judgment. Example: Undocumented immigrants who maintain clean criminal records should be not be deported from our country. Explanation: A claim can weigh evidence and reach a conclusion based upon that evidence.
  • A claim can be an inference. Example: The recent missile tests indicate that the country has developed the means to attack neighboring countries. Explanation: The test results regarding missile capabilities can be logically applied to hypothetical situations.
  • A claim can be an interpretation of evidence. Example: The fact the DNA tested on the murder weapon matches the blood type of the defendant means that the defendant could have fired the weapon that killed his wife. Explanation: The interpretation that the physical evidence links to the defendant is a claim. The fact supports the claim.
  • A claim can express a point of view. Example: The election of that candidate would be horrible for the country. Explanation: A point of view expresses an arguable position and frequently considers contrasting points of views by stating counterarguments and refutations.
  • A claim can be supported by research, expert sources, evidence, reasoning, testimony, and academic reasoning. Example: The new research on cancer cures is promising. Explanation: Specific research and quotations from medical authorities may offer convincing evidence.

What isn’t a claim?

  • A claim is not an opinion. Examples: Mr. Sanchez is the best teacher in the school (opinion). Mr. Sanchez’ students perform above the school average on standardized tests (claim). Explanation: The former opinion cannot be proven to be true. The latter claim could be proven to be true with test evidence and data comparisons.
  • A claim is not evidence. Example: In the book, Walk Two Moons, Phoebe was self-centered when she demanded the best bed at the sleepover. Explanation: In an argumentative essay claims can be stated in the thesis and/or topic sentences. For the balance of the essay, the writer uses reason or evidence (which may include facts) and analysis to support the claim(s).
  • A claim is not description. Example: The sunset’s shades of yellow, red, and orange were quite remarkable. Explanation: Description does not assert a truth as a claim does.

Applications to Speaking and Writing

  • Use facts to support your claims and not vice versa.
  • Using more than one fact to support a specific claim can be effective if the facts are directly related. Avoid using a shotgun approach of loosely related facts.
  • Facts usually do not stand on their own as effective evidence. Facts require careful analysis to relate to the claim(s).
  • Don’t rely upon facts as your sole evidence. Other types of evidence can be convincing. A variety of evidence addresses the needs of a variety of readers and provides balance to how you prove your argument. Check out this article on types of evidence by the same author.
  • A claim is not your argument. A claim is not the same thing as the thesis statement or the topic sentences in an argumentative essay. The claim is your overall belief about what is true. How you prove your claim is your argument and your essay structure provides the means to that end.
  • Keep your claim specific. General claims usually are not provable and resort to mere description.
  • Effective claims usually do not consist of absolute statements about what is right and wrong. They explore ideas, theories, points of view, and concepts. In other words, claims rarely involve simple assertions; they are usually multi-faceted and complex.
  • Always acknowledge possible counterclaims and provide counterarguments when relevant.

    Pennington Publishing's Teaching Essay Strategies

    Teaching Essay Strategies

Check out this complete writing process essay to see a sample of the resources provided in Teaching Essay StrategiesThe download includes writing prompt, paired reading resource, brainstorm activity, prewriting graphic organizer, rough draft directions, response-editing activity, and analytical rubric.

Get the Writing Process Essay FREE Resource:

Find essay strategy worksheets, on-demand writing fluencies, sentence revision and rhetorical stance “openers,” remedial writing lessons, posters, and editing resources to differentiate essay writing instruction in the comprehensive writing curriculum, Teaching Essay Strategies
Find 8 complete writing process essays (4 argumentative and 4 informational-explanatory) with accompanying readings, 42 sequenced writing strategy worksheets, 64 sentence revision lessons, additional remedial worksheets including subject-predicate, unity, coherence, and parallelismwriting fluency and skill lessons, posters, and editing resources in the author’s Teaching Essay Strategies. Also get the e-comments download of 438 writing comments to improve written response and student revisions.

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The Parts of an Essay

To be able to teach our students how to write effective essays, we first have to identify the underlying problem.

I think we are the problem. We confuse students. We don’t mean to do so, but we do. The problem is compounded by the fact that students are exposed to many different teachers, each with a different knowledge base, a different set of teaching experiences, and a different language of instruction.

This article will pose questions and only hint at a possible solution. If all your questions about essay terminology have been answered, read no further.

The Parts of an Essay

……

Let’s begin with the thesis statement. We all have different expectations as to what is and what is not a thesis statement. The Common Core writers compound the problem by using confusing terminology and reducing all exposition to Writing Standards 1 and 2.

To pose a few questions: Is a thesis the same as a claim? or include a claim? Does a thesis apply to both argumentative and informational writing? Is a thesis the main idea/purpose of the writing? Does a thesis always state a point of view? Is a literary thesis different than one in science, or one in the humanities, or one in social science/history? Can a thesis pose a question to be explored? Does the thesis always have to be arguable?  Does a thesis statement have to be placed in an introductory paragraph? Does a thesis statement have to be placed last in the introduction? Does a thesis statement have to include the topics/claims/main points of each of the body paragraphs? Is a split (divided) thesis permissible? How general or how specific should a thesis statement be? Should a thesis statement use as many of the words from the writing prompt as possible? Is it realistic/possible to apply a generic definition for a thesis statement to all genre/domains of exposition? For example, a pro-con, cause-effect, compare-contrast, personal essay?

Then to muddy the water a bit: What is the purpose of the introductory paragraph(s) with respect to the thesis statement? Do non-narrative essays have “hooks?” Must introductions be ordered from general to specific (a.k.a. funnel paragraphs)? Are rhetorical questions permissible? Is background/context/a brief summary required? Are there different introduction strategies for different genre/domains of writing?

Then… to muddy the water even more: What about the purpose and terminology of body paragraphs? Is it a topic/ or topic sentence, claim, or reason? Does evidence always precede analysis? Is a concluding statement ever/always included? Are counterclaims and refutations best included as separate body paragraphs or as embedded within body paragraphs. Is a variety of evidence preferred? Are direct quotes preferred over indirect quotes when textual evidence is cited? When is textual evidence needed and when is it not?

Of course this leads to conclusions. The Common Core writers seem to discount conclusions. Are concluding paragraphs necessary? Is a thesis restatement necessary in a brief five paragraph essay? Does a conclusion always include a summary? Does a conclusion always include a “call to action?” What is the purpose of a conclusion? What does “give a finished feel to the essay” mean?

We all know that “cookie-cutter” approaches to complex tasks, e.g. writing, are rarely effective; however, I’m still interested in them. Some are clearly more useful than others.

The most useful set of terminologies I’ve found to be effective with students is a numerical hierarchy. An argumentative or informational explanatory essay might look like the following:

Introduction

(1) (1) (2)  

Body Paragraphs

(3) (4) (5) (5) (4) (5) (5) – (4) (5) (5) (4) (5) (5) (3) – (4) (5) (3) (4) (5) (5) (5)

Conclusion

(2) (6) (6)

Teaching Essay Strategies

Teaching Essay Strategies

The numbers take away (or at least limit the damage of) years of confusing languages of writing instruction. Placing prior learning in context makes instructional sense. To be able to say, “You know how Ms. Johnson called ‘this’ a thesis statement last year; how Mr. Poindexter refers to ‘this’ as a claim in history; while Dr. Sterling labels ‘this’ as an hypothesis in science? These are all good terms, but we’ll just call ‘this’ a (2) this year. So simple.”

Check out this complete writing process essay to see a sample of the resources provided in Teaching Essay StrategiesThe download includes writing prompt, paired reading resource, brainstorm activity, prewriting graphic organizer, rough draft directions, response-editing activity, and analytical rubric.

Get the Writing Process Essay FREE Resource:

Find essay strategy worksheets, on-demand writing fluencies, sentence revision and rhetorical stance “openers,” remedial writing lessons, posters, and editing resources to differentiate essay writing instruction in the comprehensive writing curriculum, Teaching Essay Strategies

The author’s Teaching Essay Strategies uses this numerical hierarchy to teach the parts of and structure of the essay. This full-year curriculum includes 42 essay strategy worksheets,  8 writing process essays (4 argumentative and 4 informative/explanatory) with complementary reading resources, 128 writing openers, 64 rhetorical stance “openers,” remedial writing lessons, writing posters, and editing resources to differentiate essay writing instruction in this comprehensive writing curriculum.

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Common Core Essay Writing Terms

“What we’ve got here is… failure to communicate (Cool Hand Luke, 1967).” A great line from one of Paul Newman’s best movies… but also relevant to, arguably, one of the more controversial strands of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS): writing. Controversial because of three reasons:

  1. As with the reading strand, much of the writing focus is now on the argumentative and informational/explanatory domains, rather than on the narrative.
  2. The new history/social science, science, and technology literacy standards include each of the ten components from the writing strand.
  3. It looks like secondary content area teachers are going to have to start talking to one another. Some tips on beginning this conversation are in a related article, but the purpose of the present discussion to make the case for using a common language of instruction.

Much can be said in favor of a common language of instruction in writing. Using the same writing terms permits clear communication among teachers as well as with students. Terminology used by teachers in the subject disciplines can be quite “in-house” and can lead to misunderstanding/misuse out of context. Getting on the same page in terms of what we mean when we say “thesis statement,” for example, will facilitate more productive cross-curricular discussions, expectations, and instructional planning. Besides teachers, students have to scale the academic language barrier for each new teacher and course of study. Some of this may be necessary, but there is little doubt that students who hear and use the same academic vocabulary from grade to grade and course to course are more likely to apply prior content and process knowledge to new academic situations and tasks. Yes, students need to be flexible learners, but teachers also need to be “user-friendly” to their clients.

Common Core Essay Writing Terms

…..

I propose using the CCSS language of instruction for the key writing terms across all subject disciplines in elementary, middle school, and high school. Some of us will have to come down out of our castles and give up pet writing terms that we’ve used for years, and ones that, indeed, may be more accurate than those of the CCSS. But for the sake of collaboration and service to our students, this pedagogical sacrifice is a must. Following are the first two (of ten) components of the writing strand with their respective purposes and forms, according to language of the CCSS document. The 6-12 Writing Strand uses the same writing terms and a.-e. components, but scaffolds more complex expectations grade to grade. Following is the 6th grade Writing Strand with relevant comments regarding additional scaffolded Grades 7-12 components.

CCSS W1 Argumentative Essays

Purpose

1. Write arguments to support claims with clear reasons and relevant evidence.

Comments: Some teachers would distinguish between argument (focus on the writer) and persuasion (focus on the reader), but the CCSS makes no such distinction. Many teachers would prefer using thesis statement, instead of claim, but even the California revisions make no such reference.

Form

a. Introduce claim(s) and organize the reasons and evidence clearly.

Comments: Essentially the introduction here with some reference to the organizational plan of the essay. Grades 7-12 scaffold alternate or opposing claim(s): “address” in the California revision (7th), “distinguish” (8th), make “clear” (9th -10th), and make “precise” (11th – 12th). The focus is on defining the claim(s) in context of competing claims.

b. Support claim(s) with clear reasoning and relevant evidence, using credible sources and demonstrating an understanding of the topic or text.

Comments: The writing terms for the body paragraphs are reasons and evidence. The usual structure of the body paragraph would identify the reason as the topic sentence and evidence as support/development. However, more mature writers could also select complementary claims as topic sentences (See 1a. “claim(s)) with reasons and evidence as support/development. Grades 7-12 replace “clear evidence” with “logical evidence” and add “accurate” to “credible sources. The California revision inserts “counterarguments” at 7th grade only. Grades 9-12 add the criteria of fairness and sense of audience to the argument.

c. Use words, phrases, and clauses to clarify the relationships among claim(s) and reasons.

Comments: Grades 7-12 scaffold in “counterclaims” and “evidence.”

d. Establish and maintain a formal style.

e. Provide a concluding statement or section that follows from and supports the argument

Comments: In other words, the conclusion.

CCSS W2 Informational/Explanatory Essays/Texts

Purpose

2. Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas, concepts, and information through the selection, organization, and analysis of relevant content.

Comments: The language of these standards suggests a variety of writing genre that would come under the umbrella of informative/explanatory, including, but not limited to the traditional essay.

a. Introduce a topic; organize ideas, concepts, and information, using strategies such as definition, classification, comparison/contrast, and cause/effect; include formatting (e.g., headings), graphics (e.g., charts, tables), and multimedia when useful to aiding comprehension.

Comments: Essentially the introduction here with reference to the organizational plan. The California revision includes “or thesis statement” following “Introduce a topic” in Grades 6-12. Specific strategies to be used throughout the body paragraphs to examine the topic are detailed. Additional strategies are scaffolded across the grade levels: “previewing” (7th), “broader categories” with “definition, classification, comparison/contrast, and cause/effect” omitted (8th), “to make important connections and distinctions” (9th -10th), and “each new element build upon that which precedes it to create a unified whole” (11th – 12th).

Form

b. Develop the topic with relevant facts, definitions, concrete details, quotations, or other information and examples.

Comments: Essentially the same types of evidence in Grades 7-12 that would develop the body paragraphs of the essay/text.

c. Use appropriate transitions to clarify the relationships among ideas and concepts. Grades 11-12 add “syntax” to transitions.

d. Use precise language and domain-specific vocabulary to inform about or explain the topic. Grades 11-12 add “techniques such as metaphor, simile, and analogy to manage the complexity of the topic.”

e. Establish and maintain a formal style. Grades 9-12 add “objective tone while attending to the norms and conventions of the discipline in which they are writing.”

f. Provide a concluding statement or section that follows from the information or explanation presented.

Comments: In other words, the conclusion. Grades 9-12 add two examples of conclusion strategies: “articulating implications or the significance of the topic.”

The author’s Teaching Essay Strategies, includes 42 essay strategy worksheets corresponding to teach the Common Core State Writing Standards, an e-comment bank of 438 prescriptive writing responses with an link to insert into Microsoft Word® for easy e-grading, 8 on-demand writing fluencies, 8 writing process essays (4 argumentative and 4 informative/explanatory), 64  sentence revision and 64 rhetorical stance “openers,” remedial writing lessons, writing posters, and editing resources to differentiate essay writing instruction in this comprehensive writing curriculum.

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