Key word – claim


Claim is a difficult word. Dictionaries offer Meaning One –  claims are assertions that something is true, that something is a fact, but there is no proof or evidence. We just have to take the claim at face value and as being ‘right’, or not.

Dictionaries also offer Meaning Two. A claim is a statement or action geared to get something to happen. Examples of Meaning Two are the claims made for reimbursement of expenses – pay me don’t ask questions- or the claims that someone might make in court for a particular judgement. Meaning Two claims generally do require some form of substantiation. Receipts. Evidence. This kind of claim is not only about truth, but allows for interpretation and evaluation. Is the evidence adequate?

So there are two meanings of claim on offer, one where the claim is not backed up by anything much, and the other version which usually is. And one which suggests that the claim asserts a right or a truth, and the other that refers to a process of interpretation.

Now in research, claims have quite a specific meaning. A claim has to backed by evidence and argument, and we researchers understand that a claim is always subject to interpretation. However, in some disciplines, a claim might also be a truth claim, well certainly of the this-is-the-best-version-of-truth-we-have-now-but-it-is-always-up-for-change variety.

We researchers make claims about what our research means, what it might lead to, where it fits in the literatures and so on, on the basis of the analysed material generated by and through our research. These are our results, and because of these we can claim something – this works, this way of thinking needs changing, this policy is problematic, this approach to teaching is better, people need, kangaroos behave this way and not that… and so on.

You’ve got where this is going right? The claims we make are usually the answers to our research question(s). We claim that we have this answer to the question/problem/puzzle we posed at the start of our research.  We deal with our thesis. We claim we now know something that we didn’t know before. We are less ignorant.

But claiming doesn’t stop there. Once we have our claims sorted out, we have a basis for saying that we have made a contribution, and that things might happen as a result of our work. So the claim is an important little step between concluding what the results of the research might be and cause to happen.

But wait there’s more. Research claims generally sits on a spectrum of “strong to weak’, depending on the evidence and depending how explicit the wording of the claims is. And of course,  strength and weakness are strongly tied to questions of validity/reliability and/or trustworthiness, depending on your research tradition. So claim also connects with bigger questions about research design, process and paradigm. (I get to keyword them later.)

We also claim significance for our research. We say that our research question-answer is important and we give reasons.  And our reasoning relies on our reading of literatures, and perhaps policy and practice.

Oh, and before I forget, it is important that researchers don’t over or underclaim what they’ve done. The veracity of our claims are reliant on the evidence we’ve produced and how well we’ve argued what can be concluded from research of this type, scale, location and so on. Oh yes. It gets more complicated by the minute. Research claims are tangled up in other parts of the research process. But not so much that we can’t talk about them separately.

Well. So far so good. That was pretty straightforward after all!


There’s just a little bit more to say about claim. ‘Claiming’ comes from the act of staking a claim. Staking a claim in relation to knowledge simply means that as scholars, we are saying this is ours, we did this research, we want the credit and the citation thankyou very much. Oh. Cue all manner of subsequent worries about academic careers, who gets to claim and who doesn’t, and of course the nasty business of claiming other people’s work as your own.

And a further concern. Staking a claim is not a  neutral metaphor. The derivation of staking a claim comes from those who drove a stake into the ground. Miners do exactly this, they stake a claim to a piece of ground that they are going to dig up. Gardeners use stakes to hold up plants. Vampire hunters also have use for stakes. But countries and empires have also and still do stake claims, not only to land, but also to entire peoples over whom they claim sovereignty.

We can conclude from this that the term claim comes from an extended family with a very chequered geneaology.  And this is something to think about, as well as work on what we can claim from our research and how.