When you think of the term “evidence,” what comes to mind? CSI? Law and Order? NCIS? Certainly, detectives and law enforcement officers use evidence to prove that a criminal is guilty. What’s more, they use different types of evidence to find and convict the offending person(s), such as eyewitness accounts, DNA, fingerprints, and material evidence.
Just as detectives use various types of evidence, writers incorporate evidence to prove their points—and they also use different types of evidence, depending upon which form is most useful and relevant to their points. These different types of evidence include—but are not limited to—quotes, paraphrases, summaries, anecdotes, and hypothetical examples.
Regardless of the type used, all evidence serves the same general function: it bolsters a writer’s argument. The trick is to determine, during the composition process, what type of evidence will most help your point. This section is designed to help you choose the best type of support to use in your writing; in addition, it will provide you with the tools necessary to successfully integrate evidence into your papers. By acquiring these skills, you will become a more convincing writer, as you will be able to back up your claims in a way that makes sense to your readers.
Students often confuse evidence with research; the two do not mean the same thing. Whereas “evidence” refers to a something that supports a claim, “research” is something much more: it’s a conversation. Take a look at Kenneth Burke’s famous “Unending Conversation” metaphor:
Imagine that you enter a parlor. You come late. When you arrive, others have long preceded you, and they are engaged in a heated discussion, a discussion too heated for them to pause and tell you exactly what it is about. In fact, the discussion had already begun long before any of them got there, so that no one present is qualified to retrace for you all the steps that had gone before. You listen for a while, until you decide that you have caught the tenor of the argument; then you put in your oar. Someone answers; you answer him; another comes to your defense; another aligns himself against you, to either the embarrassment or gratification of your opponent, depending upon the quality of your ally's assistance. However, the discussion is interminable. The hour grows late, you must depart. And you do depart, with the discussion still vigorously in progress. 
Research begets evidence, but performing research should not just point you, as a writer, to useful quotes that you can use as support for claims in your writing; research should tell you about a conversation, one that began before you decided upon your project topic. When you incorporate research into a paper, you are integrating and responding to previous claims about your topic made by other writers. As such, it's important to try to understand the main argument each source in a particular conversation is making, and these main arguments (and ensuing subclaims) can then be used as evidence—as support for your claims—in your paper.
Let’s say for a bibliographic essay you decide to write about the Indian Mutiny. Well, as the Indian Mutiny began around 1857, people have been writing about the Mutiny since that time. Thus, it’s important to realize that by writing about the Indian Mutiny now, you’re contributing to an ongoing conversation. By doing research, you can see what’s already been said about this topic, decide what specific approach to the topic might be original and insightful, and determine what ideas from other writers provide an opening for you to assert your own claims.
The pieces in this section will focus on incorporating various types of evidence into your paper, but the main idea to keep in the back of your head is that research is much larger than your paper. Your writing is a part of a larger conversation. Do other authors justice: critically read their pieces so you understand their major claims and do not misrepresent them, choose ideas that work with yours—or that contrast with yours, so you have a jumping-off point for your argument. Doing so is critical to constructing arguments and to realizing your agency as a writer.
Often times, your writing assignments will require you to make an argument. You’ll be asked to take a stand on a particular topic and support your position with evidence.
If you have been given the task of writing an evidence based essay, you’ll need to know the best ways to incorporate that evidence. Here is a guide to help you with the process.
Types of Evidence
There are several different styles of evidence (or proof). For a well-rounded paper, include a variety of types.
- Einstein Proof – You come across information that reveals a note-worthy person or scholar agrees with the point you are trying to make.
- Case Proof – A case in which your opinion is validated and/or the opposing view isn’t.
- Fact Proof – Includes statistics and objective information.
- For Example Proof – Includes examples that support your primary claim.
Integrating Evidence into the Essay
There are several ways to incorporate evidence into your essay. You might choose to portray data in a graph, chart or table. Sometimes, visuals – like photographs or illustrations with captions – are best. Often times, it is most persuasive to share a scholar’s own words; an interview excerpt works well in this situation.
Most often, though, your evidence will be included as text in the body of your paper as a quotation, paraphrase, or summary.
A quotation is an exact preproduction of another person’s words. Use quotes when:
- You couldn’t possibly say it better. Often times, the original speaker uses words that are witty, edgy, or distinctive.
- You need the author’s expertise to solidify your claim.
- The author uses a specific word or phrase.
As is the case with any other type of evidence, you need to include a citation. You can use our citation generator.
If you take a section of text and put it in your own words, you are paraphrasing. This tactic usually centers on a single phrase, sentence or paragraph rather than a summary of the entire work.
Writers usually paraphrase when they want to reference the author’s ideas, but the actual words aren’t distinctive enough to quote. You can also paraphrase when you want to reference an example the other writer used.
Summaries are the perfect way to reference a large piece of text. Summaries are especially useful when writing shorter papers; you can reference a lot of reputable sources with a minimal amount of text.
Creating a Correlation between your Claim and the Evidence
Evidence can make or break the success of your essay. If you don’t have enough, your readers won’t feel you have a valid argument. Alternately, if you overload your essay with tons of rambling bits of evidence, readers won’t be able to unearth your claims.
For each piece of evidence, tell your readers how or why it supports your overall argument. If you don’t, you have simply created a document full of facts and pieces of information. Establishing a connection to your overall claim is what turns facts into evidence.
Also, the only person inside your head is you. Readers won’t understand the point you are trying to make if you don’t tell them. Make sure there is an obvious connection between what was going on inside your mind when you chose that particular piece of evidence and how it relates to the essay. Don’t assume readers will understand the implication of your evidence.
This is especially relevant when using quotations. Writers often feel the urge to simply drop a quotation into a paragraph and assume it makes sense. Instead, surround the quotation with some sort of discussion or include an introduction and conclusion.
Choose your evidence wisely, cite it properly, tie it to your argument, and you’ll have a very persuasive essay!
Now you know how to incorporate evidence and make your paper sound convincing. If you have your own tips or questions, share in comments!