At this point in the school year, you’ve probably heard your English teacher or professor use the word “evidence” at least 100 times.
Maybe you’ve seen it scrawled across your essays in red pen: “Where’s your evidence?” or, “This point needs stronger evidence.” Whether you’re writing an argumentative essay, a research paper, or a literary analysis, you must have evidence to support your claims. But what exactly is strong supporting evidence, and why is it so important?
Why does supporting evidence matter?
Evidence lends credibility to your argument or claim. Without evidence, you appear uninformed, and your argument is weak. Like a building without a strong foundation, an argument without evidence will crumble.
Have you ever had a debate with a friend that only a quick Google search could resolve? Or have you responded, “Prove it,” when someone makes a claim? That’s because you want evidence. Unless you know for sure that a statement is true, you don’t want to just take someone’s word for it.
And neither does the reader(s) of your essay or research paper. If you want your writing to be convincing and credible, strong evidence is a must.
What is strong evidence?
Strong evidence must meet several criteria. It should be:
- Relevant to the topic of your paper.
- In support of the argument you’re advancing.
- From a credible source.
- Verified by multiple sources.
- Current (in most cases).
- Specific, not general.
Keep in mind that you’ll need to explain each piece of evidence you include in your paper. What does this information imply? How is it connected to your claim or thesis? Why does this evidence matter? If you can’t clearly answer these questions, your argument won’t be as strong, so it’s best to find a different piece of evidence.
Types of strong evidence
Strong evidence may include:
- Quotes (from subject matter experts, from articles or reports by credible sources)
You can find this evidence in books or academic journals, in news reports verified by multiple sources, and on reliable Internet sites. Your school library is a great place to start looking for strong evidence.
Finding evidence from credible sources
We mentioned above that strong evidence must be “from a credible source.” But many students (and adults) don’t know how to determine if a source is credible. After all, inaccurate information from unreliable sources goes viral on social media all the time.
You can use academic databases and search engines to filter out many untrustworthy sources. It’s also a good idea to see if other sources are reporting the same statistics and information.
When in doubt, try using the acronym RADCAB to evaluate a source. RADCAB stands for:
Here’s a closer look at each criterion:
Is the information relevant to the topic or question you’re exploring? Use specific search terms to find facts with maximum relevance. Make sure that you understand exactly what the piece of evidence means. Otherwise, you risk accidentally including off-topic or irrelevant evidence.
It’s also important to find the appropriate type of sources for your paper. For instance, a quote from a fictional novel would be perfect for a literary analysis of the novel in question. However, it wouldn’t be appropriate evidence for a research paper.
An anecdote about fishing trips with your grandfather would fit well in a personal narrative but certainly wouldn’t make strong evidence in an argumentative essay about preserving aquatic habitats.
Before you begin researching, ask yourself what type(s) of sources you should find. Peer-reviewed scientific journals? Primary source historical documents? Interviews with subject matter experts?
A good source will offer adequate depth of coverage on the topic you’re researching. Online, browse the sitemap, in-text citations, Works Cited, titles, subheadings, and graphics of a website to see if it provides in-depth, detailed information on your topic. Specific details are much stronger than general information.
Check the date your source was published or last updated. In some cases, such as historical research papers, older sources are appropriate. But most of the time, you want the most current, up-to-date evidence for your paper.
If you were writing an essay on a current medical topic, for instance, you certainly wouldn’t want to cite a medical study from 1993.
Is this author, organization, website, or company qualified to educate others about this topic? Why? What are their credentials?
Make sure you don’t only evaluate information, but also the person or organization behind the information.
In your own paper, you’ll want to appear balanced and unbiased. This won’t be possible if you pull evidence from biased sources. Biased sources report information with some sort of agenda, spin, or angle. Does the information exist because someone wants to inform, persuade, entertain, or sell something?
Ask yourself if the source in question has any hidden motives. Pay attention to the tone, website name, author, and mission statement. See if other sources are reporting the same information. Is there anything that your source, in particular, has added or omitted? Is there any reason why?
Using strong evidence
You’ll want to use both paraphrases and quotations when mentioning strong evidence in the context of your paper. Don’t forget to include in-text citations and a full reference or Works Cited list. By including citations, you demonstrate that you are a responsible researcher and can support your points with actual evidence.
When you make a claim or advance an argument, strong supporting evidence is vital. Without evidence, your argument is essentially this: “Because I said so.” You need quotes, statistics, and facts to make your paper persuasive and credible.
Look for specific, current information from trustworthy sources, and be sure the information is relevant and supportive of your claims.
Be sure to include citations that links back to your sources and to demonstrate that you are an ethical researcher.
Not all evidence is created equal. Take the time to find strong evidence, and your persuasion skills will soar.