Where You Find Evidence

Exhibits<

Exhibits are examples or excerpts from the object of your study. In humanities classes (like English or religious studies), exhibits are usually primary texts. For example, on a paper on Shakespeare’s sonnets, you would quote small sections of the poems. In a paper on Buddhism, you might quote English translations of the sutras (and perhaps the Sanskrit originals).

Exhibits can also include visual reproductions. In a paper on Michelangelo, you might attach images of the paintings in the Sistine Chapel. In a paper on the Great Depression, you might use reproductions of photographs by the WPA. In a paper on the Jurassic period, you might provide photographs of dinosaur bones and excavation sites.

Exhibits allow your readers to see the part of the text or the image that supports your claim. By themselves, they are not evidence. Only when you explain how the image or text supports your reason does it become evidence.

Expert Testimony<

Expert testimony includes quotations from scholars and summaries of previous research or scholarship. Expert testimony can reinforce your argument when you believe that readers will resist your claim; however, a quotation by an expert with similar claims is rarely sufficient as evidence on its own. Readers will expect you to explain how that expert supports his or her argument and to reinforce your claim with evidence from other sources.

Before quoting an expert, you must determine whether he or she counts as an authority. Just because someone has published an academic paper or book does not mean that readers will believe that his theories are valid. In the sciences and social sciences, readers expect expert testimony to be the most current research. Quoting a paper written even ten years ago may not be convincing expert testimony. It’s a good idea to check your sources with professors or other professionals in your field if you are not sure whom the community trusts as expert scholars.

In the sciences, readers rarely expect direct quotations of secondary sources as evidence. Instead, science writers use summaries of previous research and the findings, or data, to support their own claims.

Interviews and Surveys<

Interviews and surveys are often used as evidence in the social sciences. For example, in a psychology paper you might interview teachers and parents about their children’s gender identities and then observe the their children behave when playing. Quotations and detailed descriptions of your observations count as evidence here.

Surveys are often mistaken for “facts” or used as “data.” While they look like statistics or “hard numbers,” surveys are created through interviews. Therefore, when using a survey as evidence, whether it is one you created or one quoted in an article or news source, it is important to anticipate readers’ questions about the method of the survey. Who were the participants? How were they selected? How were the questions phrased? Surveys are valid evidence in many disciplines, but they require explanation before the reader can trust the numbers.

Anecdotes<

In some assignments, stories about your personal experience may be appropriate. In many first-year writing classes, readers will accept personal anecdotes because the assignment does not require extensive research. Also, personal anecdotes may be appropriate in some sociology or psychology papers, but only if you are able to provide additional evidence. In some humanities classes, personal anecdotes are acceptable as a stylistic choice in the conclusion or introduction, but not as evidence in the body paragraphs.

Readers will not be persuaded by personal anecdotes if you rely on them to support all of your claims or if you use them to prove a controversial claim. Readers are likely to ask whether your personal experience represents a common occurrence, or one that just happened to you. Therefore, personal anecdotes are used sparingly in only a few disciplines.

If you are in doubt as to whether a personal anecdote or the first person voice (“I”) will be appropriate for an assignment or discipline, ask your instructor.