In university the biggest challenge of any project, be it an essay, research paper, or a presentation is locating and using suitable evidence to support the arguments or claims you want to, or are making. The process of finding, evaluating and using evidence can be confusing and scary for many students.
What is evidence?
“Evidence refers to information that can be presented to support or reinforce an argument.” (source)
Evidence is sometimes mistakenly referred to as proof. It is undoubtedly true that authors use evidence to try to prove to the reader that what they are saying is true. However, there is a very important distinction between proof and evidence:
Proof: Undisputable facts that leave no room for doubt that something is true.
E.G: John had $100 and bought a jacket for $50 and a watch for $50, so has no money left.
Evidence: Information that suggests that something is true, but leaves some room for doubt. E.G: John had $100 and bought a jacket worth $50 and a watch worth $50, so likely has no money left.
Evidence for academic writing can be broken down in to 5 general forms, each of which have different advantages and disadvantages. Important to understand is that different levels of academic writing (level of study) have different requirements and this means that certain forms of evidence are not acceptable in higher level work.
Statistics provide solid data that can reinforce an argument or concept by quantifying it, or at least one aspect of the argument.
Can make arguments more concrete.
Are only as reliable as the source.
Theories provide a trusted framework of an idea or concept, developed by experts in the
field to clearly explain how that concept works.
Can help explain abstract ideas.
Sometimes only theoretical, not concrete. Analogies as evidence are an abstract and rarely used method of supporting and argument,
which simply make comparisons between one relationship and another using logic. Can support new (breakthrough) ideas. Require a great deal of explanation.
Acceptable in university
Examples (Anecdotal evidence) serve to provide concrete support to an argument and make
the argument relatable for the reader. Can provide direct and concrete support.
May not be accurate in every case. Quotes from famous people or experts in a specific field provides logical appeal to an
Can add authority to an argument.
May not be entirely accurate.
Sources of evidence also follow a hierarchy. Some sources of evidence are viewed as more reliable and more suitable for use in academic writing than others. The more credible or reliable the source is, the more it can contribute to your argument. Therefore it is best to try to use sources that are higher up the ranking. Except for very rare occasions (such as a paper on social media platforms, or an evaluation of song lyrics) once you leave high school it is best to avoid using any source with a lower credibility ranking than 7: Documentaries for evidence to present in your written work.
1: Authentic texts.
2: Scholarly/Academic journals (on or off-line). 3: Books.
4: Professional magazines.
5: Websites (from known institutes).
6: Media reports (on or off-line).
7: Documentaries (unbiased).
8: Other websites (Unverifiable information). 9: Movies and songs.
10: Social media platforms
U.S Declaration of Independence; Communist Manifesto.
Science Direct; Economic Review.
Campbell Biology 9th ed.
The Economist; Psychology Review; Nature Biotechnology.
Harvard University; National Bureau of Statistics of China.
BBC; CNBC; New York Times; The Daily Mail.
BBC Horizon; 9/11 and American Empire.
Wikipedia, About.com: Marxist.org.
American Sniper; Strange Fruit.
How you present your evidence, is equally as important as where you obtain it from. For instance, you may use a rank 1 source to gather incredible evidence that can support you argument with great power, but it will have a greatly reduced affect (or a negative affect) if present inappropriately. In order to effectively present your evidence, the following academic practices should (or must) be followed:
I: Reference sources. Importance:
II: Present in 3rd person. Importance:
III: Use specific examples. Importance:
All information (including ideas) that was not created by you, but was used in your work must be references with in text citations and listed in the reference list (following the chosen system).
EG: Orwell (1950) | Orwell, G. (1950) 1984. Orlando: Signet Classics.
1st person writing is used to demonstrate personal views or opinions, not arguments. A good argument should remaining objective and logical, rather than be too centred on the personal Views of the writer. 3rd person writing should be used throughout an argumentative essay. “I”, “me”, and “my” should never be used, except for when you are presenting personal experiences.
EG: “In my opinion…” = “It is fair to argue that….”
Anecdotal evidence, such as examples of personal experiences, famous people or historical figures, should always be as specific as possible, achieved by naming the event, person.