Understanding the Alignment Between Scope, Claims, and Evidence

Understanding the Alignment Between Scope, Claims, and Evidence

Because first-time book authors have no experience with structuring a book-sized project (and dealing with the hierarchization it requires), some have a hard time realistically assessing their book’s scope.

The types of claims you can make and your corpus are interdependent: to make broad claims you need a broad and diverse corpus; a narrow corpus can support only limited claims. Neither broad claims nor narrow claims are inherently “good” or “bad.”

Rather, reviewers and editors will likely judge a book as problematic if the author’s evidence base is not proportional to the types of claims she presents her book as able to make. In other words, what’s most important is whether or not your claims and scope are aligned.

In this step, I will guide you to think like an editor or peer reviewer who will first understand your book through its claims and scope/corpus. To quickly assess your book, this reader will ask:

Are the claims the author makes appropriate given the book’s actual scope/corpus?

To answer this question, the reader will ask whether the way you’ve framed the book matches what your book can do given your evidence.

Let’s review a few examples given in Step 1 and “listen” to what an editor or reviewer’s reactions might be.

Now, let’s put on our editor/reviewer ears. The author asserts that her book’s main purpose is to make broad claims about non-state actors’ roles in international diplomacy. But she uses one Christian NGO as her main example. How do you think an editor will answer the following question?

Even if the author does compare the Christian NGO to others in each chapter, the editor will notice that she bases her claims on a single case study: of one Christian NGO. The editor will certainly wonder: Are any conclusions one might draw from studying this one religiously affiliated NGO actually generalizable to many other non-state actors

Here’s an example in literary/cultural studies that illustrates a different flavor of problem:

Notice that this author’s evidence does not seem appropriate for the types of claims she thinks she’s making. She would definitely be able to make claims about the opposite directionality—that is, how sociopolitical debates play out in troubadour poetry—but without much more robust historical evidence, she is unlikely to be able to support claims about how troubadour poetry impacted sociopolitical debates.