|Dr. Kristi Siegel
Mount Mary College
|Backing Up Assertions|
|What is an "assertion" or "claim"?|
|Whenever you express your view on a subject, you've made a claim or an assertion. To be credible, an assertion needs to be proved. If you assert, for example, "That mothers who 'star' in television sitcoms are able to act more realistically than mothers who do not," you have made a claim as well as a number of "embedded" claims. To make this claim credible, you would need to use specific data to back up the general statements and to define any words that could be misconstrued, e.g.:
1. Define "sitcom."
2. Define what you mean by starring in a sitcom vs. what role you feel mothers
have occupied in other family life sitcoms.
3. Define what you mean by "realistic."
4. Come up with specific television shows and specific actions that demonstrate
mothers in a dominant role who are behaving more "realistically."
5. Cite specific television shows and specific actions that demonstrate mothers
in a subordinate role who are behaving "unrealistically."
Upon analysis, a fairly simple claim (such as the one presented above) often requires a great deal of supporting information and development. After providing working definitions of key terms, particularly what you mean by "realistic," the essay might be developed by presenting specific actions of Roseanne (in Roseanne), as one example of a sitcom where the mother has the leading role, and contrast it to specific actions of Elise Keaton or Claire Huxtable, who had more subordinate roles in Family Ties and The Bill Cosby Show.
Although the use of these three situation comedies would not prove your thesis unequivocally, the "telling facts" that you provide (to use Ken Macrorie's term), would allow readers to infer the larger claim by implication. You can come up with a wonderfully creative thesis for an essay, a cultural critique, a research paper, etc., and then ruin it by failing to provide specific, credible examples to back up your assertions.
|Points to Ponder|
|1. Use qualifiers such as some, often, many, few, rather than making comments
such as "Men do not treat women with respect." Without a qualifier, the
word men implies all men.
2. Find "telling facts" such as specific anecdotes, factual information, data, and
so forth to back up your assertions.
3. If you make a claim you cannot support, fix the thesis. Don't distort
the essay; fix the thesis. Perri Klass, in the essay "She's Your Basic
L.O.L. in N.A.D." might have asserted that doctors use harsh acronyms
and are, therefore, harsh, uncaring people. Instead Klass's assertion is
more complex, and far richer. Klass demonstrates, among other things,
how medical language can corrupt thought (and one has to remain on
guard) but also how medical language helps doctors (and other medical
personnel) bear oten unbearable situations.