4.4 Evidence

[1]Defining and Evaluating Evidence

Although reasons are critical to supporting a claim, without evidence they carry little weight. An audience is unlikely to be persuaded to accept a claim on the basis of the author’s reasons alone, particularly if that audience holds a drastically different position than you/the author(s). As discussed in earlier sections, evidence can be defined as information that supports the reasons, demonstrating why they are sound ideas (that support the claim).

We tend to think of evidence in terms of statistics (or quantitative data) since people find truth in numbers. However, evidence does not have to be numerical; instead, evidence can take the form of an anecdote (a brief account or story), excerpts from a conversation or an interview, a quotation from a published source, an image or graphic, etc.

Also keep in mind that a statistic is not necessarily accurate; just as a quotation can be taken out of context, numbers can also be manipulated.

As an audience member, you must be skeptical of the evidence someone presents to you, but, likewise, as a writer, you must be diligent in evaluating the credibility and applicability of any information you come across that you intend to present in support of your argument.

[2]Using Evidence Effectively and Ethically

Using evidence effectively means that you have considered the ethos and relevance of your sources, have stayed true to the meaning of the evidence in its original context, and are accurately applying the highest quality evidence you can to support your claims.[3]

Using evidence ethically means you do not randomly “cherry pick” your supporting details and evidence and shape them to meet your evidence need. Using evidence ethically does mean you have engaged in a robust research process and selected your sources with a filter for credibility, reliability, and relevance. Using evidence ethically means you have paraphrased, quoted, and cited your information accurately using one of the many standard citation formats, like MLA or APA.

Throughout this textbook, we have emphasized the importance of ethos, both external and internal ethos. When you apply and integrate evidence effectively and ethically, you are relying on the external ethos of your sources while, at the same time, building your reader’s confidence in your internal ethos as a responsible source of information and well-founded arguments. Remember, without ethos as the writer, no amount of solid logic will be effective as your readers will not trust you or the logic you are presenting.

Using Evidence to Supporting Your Rhetorical Purpose

Once you have researched a body of evidence on your topic or argument and are beginning to plan your essay, speech, or project, you encounter complex decision-making about when, where, and how to integrate your evidence to the greatest effect.

A question many students ask is “How do I know when  to integrate researched evidence into my paper?”

Our first suggestion is to review your thesis statement or claim and your discussion points. If a listener or reader were to doubt you on any of these key points, claims, and subclaims, what specific evidence, supporting details, and/or backing could you provide to address or even counter that doubt? Your audience wants to know not only what you think or have experienced, but whether or not your claims are based on evidence and deep research on the conversation around the topic. You want your audience to know you have done your due diligence in investigating the topic. You want your audience to know you are aware of the current research and content “out there” on your topic and that you are now empowered enough by what you know, what you have learned, and possibly by what you have experienced to add to the “conversation.” Because illogical and unfounded emotional reasoning is so prevalent in our society today, your audience wants to be convinced of your trustworthiness as a communicator and ethical user of credible and reliable information. This is why evaluating the source (Chapter 2) before you use it is such a vital step in the research process.

When to Integrate Evidence

The best places to integrate evidence is typically after you have explained/expressed your main claim or reason for that paragraph. This is because logical, organized arguments tend to be specific and void of abstract or general ideas/ponderings, and emotional expressions usually involve detailed descriptions/tangents or are saturated with personal testimony. While using emotional sections in your arguments does not always a negatively affect your argument (when used in balance with the other appeals), if you express your point and then follow it with distracting descriptions and tangents that do not logically/clearly support the point, the audience may not follow your train of thought long enough to get to the scholarly evidence you are planning to insert later.

INTEGRATING EVIDENCE APPROPRIATELY[4]

Research is a major component of many genres of writing. During the research process, writers discover academic conversations and learn how to build on those conversations with their own ideas. However, creating an effective balance between these two things can be tricky.

One of the common questions that writers have about research-based assignments is how they can integrate evidence from appropriate academic sources effectively. This component of writing can be difficult because the writer knows it is their paper, and may not understand why they need to use other people’s work or how this can be done effectively.  In the following chart from the Purdue Online Writing Lab, Stolley, Brizee, and Paiz suggest that some of the reasons writers have difficulty navigating the appropriate place of outside material in their writing is due to some seeming contradictions in assignment guidelines instructors give:

Why Assignment Guidelines for Integrating Researched Support and Evidence May Seem Counterintuitive to You
Develop a topic based on what has already been said and written BUT Write something new and original
Rely on experts’ and authorities’ opinion BUT Improve upon and/or disagree with those same opinions
Give credit to previous researchers BUT Make your own significant contribution
Improve your English to fit into a discourse community by building upon what you hear and read BUT Use your own words and your own voice

These different perspectives may make you feel like you’re trying to perform a high-wire act. 

What does it mean to be original while entering the research conversations that others have had?  When is the writer’s voice appropriate, and when will it lead to reader’s confusion?

Some of the guidelines may even seem contradictory to each other.

However, in the middle of these different directives, there is a middle ground where writers can successfully integrate evidence without it overtaking their own messages. The process of writing a research paper becomes easier if you imagine it is like building a house. While writers use the blueprint established by others who write on the same topic, they nevertheless have to construct their house on their own.  What kind of “upgrades” are you including–granite countertops or tile? Carpet or hardwood flooring? These choices make the house your own. Similarly, using source material and established conventions are important–you wouldn’t build a house without a roof and walls–but the paper still needs to be distinguishable from others.

As writers move into building their own “houses,” finding that middle ground for integrating evidence still might not be clear. Writers who are uncomfortable or unfamiliar with incorporating outside material into their own work may make some of the following common mistakes:

Plagiarism 

The Oxford English Dictionary defines “plagiarism” as “the action or practice of taking someone else’s work, idea, etc., and passing it off as one’s own; literary theft.” ” Plagiarism in writing occurs when writers use information they found in an outside source and don’t say where the information came from. In the United States intellectual system, plagiarism carries a significant stigma, and tends to be viewed as an intentional act of deceit (or dishonesty). As a result, the consequences of plagiarism in the American classroom are severe. When writers enroll in classes, they are expected to submit assignments that represent their own, honest efforts.

However, writers may still commit plagiarism for a variety of reasons, such as being unfamiliar with the conventions of citation, feeling uncomfortable writing academic discourse, and coming from a culture with a different philosophy on using other people’s words or ideas. Nevertheless, the prevalence of plagiarism detection sites, such as Turn It In or Safe Assign, make it likely that writers will be caught if they plagiarize, so it is best to avoid plagiarism and its inevitable consequences. For further information on how to avoid plagiarism, you might review your university’s handbook and your professor’s syllabus. Remember, it is always better to ask questions about plagiarism, rather than suffer the consequences.


Overuse of Quotes

Again, because some writers feel uncomfortable with constructing their own arguments, they feel compelled to overuse the writing that has already been done on the topic. This use of evidence, though, is rarely considered effective by readers. Writers should aim for the overwhelming majority–usually about 80% or more–of their paper to be in their own words. Direct quotations should only be used when the information quoted is representative. This might include when you’re citing a counterargument, for example, and it’s important to include the words as they were written to develop ethos, or when someone has coined a phrase or term.

This information sometimes confounds writers. How, they wonder, are they supposed to write RESEARCH papers without RESEARCH? What these writers have to learn is that direct quotes are only one type of evidence that can be used to support a claim. Other options for using outside material are paraphrases, summaries, data, and statistics. Remember, though, that even though these types of evidence are in your own words, you still have to give credit to the author who originally collected the data/had the thought.


Misuse of Quotes – Block Quotes

In your previous experience, you may have run into very long blocks of text from other sources that a writer has used.

The following is an example of a block quote in MLA style. The information is from a page of The Writing Center at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill’s website:

Use quotations at strategically selected moments. You have probably been told by teachers to provide as much evidence as possible in support of your thesis. But packing your paper with quotations will not necessarily strengthen your argument. The majority of your paper should still be your original ideas in your own words (after all, it’s your paper). And quotations are only one type of evidence: well-balanced papers may also make use of paraphrases, data, and statistics. The types of evidence you use will depend in part on the conventions of the discipline or audience for which you are writing. (par. 2)

There are specific conventions for integrating block quotes depending on the citation style. However, because of the nature of first-year writing courses, the use of block quotations for these classes is highly unusual. Because you are probably just learning how to use source material, realize that the use of block quotes may be a crutch. It’s better to paraphrase or shorten quotations to a length below that required for block quotes (four lines for MLA) whenever possible. This will ensure that the focus of your papers is your writing and ideas instead of the quotations you are using as support.


Misuse of Quotes – Dropped Quotes

Another issue that may arise with using quoted material is a dropped quote. A dropped quote happens when a writer places a quote in their paper without introducing it or giving any context for it. Unlike a block quote, a dropped quote is never considered effective.

An example dropped quote looks like this:

Writers may sometimes have an issue with integrating quoted material. “Because citation work is detail-oriented, requires great concentration, and is sometimes perceived as ‘drudge work,’ it often generates a high level of frustration” (Dickerson 477). This statement is true for all writers.

Because the quote in the middle has been dropped in as its own sentence, it could be interpreted differently by the reader than it was by the writer. Moreover, by pulling quotes without thinking about their context, a writer is more likely to misinterpret the meaning of the quote, therefore losing credibility.

The Quotation Hamburger
Hamburger Metaphor for “sandwiching” a quotation between a lead-in to the quote and your analytic commentary connecting the quote to the current point and/or thesis.

To avoid dropped quotes, always use the “quote sandwich”* model:

  • Begin by prefacing what is happening in the original work, information about the piece of writing, or information about or by the author.
  • Then, integrate the quote.
  • Finally, explain your interpretation of the quote and its significance, i.e., the reason you incorporated it.
  • The quote, then, is sandwiched by your own words.
Here’s what the edited example looks like after this process:
 

Writers may sometimes have an issue with integrating quoted material. Discussing her students who work at a law review journal, Stetson professor Darby Dickerson proposes that “because citation work is detail-oriented, requires great concentration, and is sometimes perceived as ‘drudge work,’ it often generates a high level of frustration” (Dickerson 477). Although she writes about her particular context, the frustration that she mentions translates to other writing situations as well.

Incorporating this material, the new example both better represents the purpose of the original article and borrows the credibility associated with the original’s author and position. While the first time the writer is introduced needs to be more thorough, each subsequent time that quotes from the same writer are introduced also needs to have an incorporation of the quote sandwich model.


Issues with Citation

Citation issues can result in accidental issues with evidence. Some writers think that only direct quotations need to be cited, whereas the writer’s own summaries or paraphrases of the same material don’t. However, this is not true. In order to incorporate evidence effectively, you must know that any information that you found in an outside source has to be cited appropriately in text, followed by a fuller bibliographic citation in the appropriate place (which depends on the citation style).

For MLA, the citation practice is to place the author’s name in parentheses for in-text citations, and the full entry on the Works Cited page. Here is an example of a summary of the chart at the beginning of this article:

  • Writers need to augment the existing conversation about a topic, but still need to provide adequate credit to existing sources (Stolley, Brizee, and Paiz, par. 3).
  • Notice that although this information has been changed significantly, it still requires citation because the ideas are the authors’, not mine.
  • Specific conventions are followed for citation depending on the style a writer uses. More information about citation can be found at Writing Commons or through the associated style manual.
  • By avoiding these three pitfalls and appropriately integrating evidence, writers can boost their credibility and improve the quality of their own claims.

Works Cited

Dickerson, Darby. “Citation Frustrations–and Solutions.” Stetson Law Review XXX (2000): 477-520. Web. 27 May 2014. “plagiarism, n.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, March 2014. 27 May 2014.

Stolley, Karl, Allen Brizee, and Joshua M. Paiz. “Overview and Contradictions.” Purdue OWL, 7 June 2013, 27 May 2014,  Web. (Can be located as archived pdf.)

The Writing Center at UNC Chapel Hill. “Quotations.” U of North Carolina Chapel Hill, 2010, 27 May 2014, writingcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/citing-sources/.

Quoting, Paraphrasing, and Attributing Your Evidence Effectively

Quoting

When you quote a source directly, you are reproducing another writer’s or speaker’s words exactly as they appear on the page or as they were spoken. You should quote a source verbatim when you are integrating a particularly authoritative, “high-ethos” author or speaker (i.e. expert testimony by a scholarly or well-known expert). The source’s expertise backs up, illustrates, or elaborates your point. This reinforces your internal ethos with your reader or listener because it demonstrates that you have carefully researched and selected your evidence—not just any evidence, but the strongest evidence.

A common misstep new college writers make when selecting evidence from sources is to skim their sources for sentences restating the same general discussion points they are making and integrating them into a paper or speech as if these sentences were actual evidence.

As a general rule, do not provide a full quotation if a source is making the same general point you are making in nearly the same words, the source is not generally well known, the source is a general journalist or writer, or if it does not add something stylistic that adds to your point.

General statements reiterating your discussion points stated at the same level of generality do not provide evidence or effective support. This strategy leads to a paper or project with a series of general quotations which add little, or no evidence rather than specific, carefully selected, concrete researched evidence. This detracts from your audience’s sense of your internal ethos and leaves them thinking that you did not research deeply enough and/or are simply lacking evidence to support your argument.

  • Quote directly if you are analyzing diction, tone, or a writer’s use of a specific word or phrase (as you would in a literary or rhetorical analysis). In this case, using quote “snippets” embedded in your point or paraphrase is more desirable than bogging down your text with many lengthy full quotations.
  • Quote directly if your source is credible and reflects ethos, and you could not express the evidence more clearly. Are the author or speaker’s words powerful, edgy, humorous, eloquent?  Do they provide a good example or illustration of a point you are making? Does the person explain scholarly research present findings so specific, clear, and well-written you could not do better?
  • Quote if you are making a claim or counterargument that relies on the readers understanding what another writer or speaker says about the topic. A good example is quoting a significant person who is associated with your counterargument because your readers would expect it and be further convinced that you understand both sides of argument.

Occasionally, if you are writing a longer paper, you may need to insert a longer verbatim quote or textual information. Inserting long quoted passages requires a different format than direct quotations. For example, unlike shorter quotations, long quotations should not contain quotation marks. They should appear in a block of text, set off from the margin by one inch. In this format, the period goes at the end of the long passage, then you type in the in-text citation with no period following it.

If you are writing using MLA format, you block quotes once you have four or more lines of text. If you are writing in APA, then you would block quoted material if the quote exceeds 40 words.

Paraphrasing[5]

Paraphrasing is another way of presenting ideas from source material in your own words, but without the condensing that happens in a summary. Instead, paraphrases stay approximately the same length as the original source material being paraphrased. So why paraphrase when you could direct quote?

Why Paraphrase?
To Demonstrate Understanding

Paraphrasing can demonstrate your understanding of a text, including its more complex details and connections between its main points, and can also help you double-check the depth of your understanding of a text.

To Provide Support

You might paraphrase a section from a source (unlike summary, it is unlikely that you will ever need to paraphrase an entire source) when an idea or point in that source is important to an assignment you are working on and you feel it needs to be included, but you can rephrase it in a way that fits your work without losing any key information.

What Makes a Sentence or Phrase a Paraphrase?

A paraphrase:

  • is written in your own words.
  • is not condensed like a summary sentence.
  • avoids personal opinion.
  • is completely rephrased from the original and written in a style consistent with the rest of your writing. (You want to maintain the integrity of your source material and protect your own ethos. That is, you are not just changing up a few words when you paraphrase.)
  • HAS TO HAVE A CITATION. Changing things into your own words does not mean they are now your thoughts, so always remember to include an in-text citation with any paraphrased material.

Attributing Your Sources

When you bring in source material to your compositions to support your main ideas, thesis statements, and discussion points, you want your reader to recognize the quality and ethos of your research. When you directly quote a person or a source and do not provide some kind of lead-in or introduction to that source, your credibility as a trustworthy researcher may be questioned by your audience.

Tagging Quotes and Using Signal Verbs

At its most basic level, a signal verb is a verb that indicates that someone is speaking and how they are speaking. In written dialog, you will often see verbs said, claimed, exclaimed, whispered, etc. to indicate a speaker or new speaker is speaking and how they are speaking. In academic writing, writers use signal verbs to indicate or “signal” that an outside voice or source is coming into the essay to provide support for the claim, thesis, and/or discussion points.

Insider Diction Tip:  When selecting a signal verb to introduce a quoted source, avoid the informal and inaccurate verb phrase “talks about.” 

There are some frequent signal verb phrases to avoid in written text. The first is the verb phrase “talks about.” For starters, it is informal in tone and grammar, and, second, your source was not literally talking. In your academic writing, you want to use signal verbs that are not highly connotative such as writes, stated, claims, and explains. For example, most of your supporting quoted material will be sourced from written texts, you would not want to use the signal verb exclaimed because without actually seeing or hearing your source speak the words, you would not know whether they exclaimed or not.

The point of using signal verbs when you lead into quoted or paraphrased information is to provide a bridge from the source’s written or spoken content to your paper. You want to create a smooth connection, not a distortion of the speaker’s intent or tone or to add meaning that was not in the original source. Also, when you “drop a quote” and do not provide the source of the quote or establish the source’s ethos, your reader will immediately wonder who or what organization stated the quote and whether or not the person or organization is a credible one.

Example: Cited evidence with Tagged Phrases
  • Full-sentence quotation set off by a tag phrase that introduces the author (and year if using APA) of the source:
    • Professor of Constitutional Law and the First Amendment, Jack M. Balkin (2020), explains that “You need lots of different institutions, and they can’t all be owned or controlled by a small number of people. They have to provide what Justice Hugo Black once called ‘diverse and antagonistic sources’ of information” (para. 36).[6]

Blending Quotes[7]

While tagging quotes is arguably the easier way to integrate quotes into your papers, there is an additional method used by academic writers. Academic writers oftentimes will blend the material they wish to quote into their own sentence without noting who the material came from UNTIL the in-text citation at the end of the sentence.[8] This is different than tagging because, as you read above, tagging includes using the author and citation information at the beginning of the quote instead of waiting to present that information at the end of the sentence.

Example: Blending Evidence

Scholars have portrayed Lady Macbeth as a woman driven by her own desires for power and the crown and ultimately the force behind Macbeth’s downfall, and this drive is what leads her to “undergo a role reversal of sorts” and “attempt to break out of the rigidly defined roles for which [she is…] unsuited” (Thompson & Ancona, 2005, p. 65).[9]

The benefit of using blended quotes is that it helps keep your tone and writing style more uniform throughout your paper; however, because you are blending the quote with your own writing, you have to make sure that the blended material makes sense and reads smoothly. Essentially, you have to make sure that the sentence would read as a grammatically correct sentence and make sense if the quotation marks were not there. This can be a hard task because blending someone else’s words that may have been written in a different tense or tone than your own sentence is not always as simple as copying and pasting the quote into the sentence and adding the citation material. More often than not, when you blend a quote with your own sentence, you need to make MINOR changes to the quote itself to get the complete sentence to read smoothly.[10]

Tools to Use When You are Blending Quotes
  • Brackets ([]): Brackets are used to note when you have added or changed a word. Typically these are used to note when a pronoun is either inserted or changed to match the other parts of the sentence, to note when the tense has been changed, or to note if the word has been altered to be singular or plural.
      • In the example above, you will see that “[she is…]” is in brackets. Here is the original text from that article:
        • “Clearly, this role reversal revolves around the question of gender, specifically, the attempt to break out of rigidly defined roles for which persons might be unsuited.”[11]
      • The author of the sentence changed “persons might be unsuited” to insert Lady Macbeth’s pronoun in order to keep the main focus of the sentence “Lady Macbeth” clearly defined; however, nothing else (the actual meat of the quote) was altered.
  • Elipses (…): Elipses are used to note when you have omitted something in the middle of the quoted material. This tool is commonly used in tagged quotes and blocked quotes as well. You do not need to use ellipses at the beginning or end of a quote to signal that there were words before and after that qutoed section. The beginning and end quotation marks carry that information. You only use ellipses when you have removed something from inside the quoted material. You use 3 periods when you omit within the sentence you have qutoed and you used 4 periods if you have omitted material that is from more than one sentence.
    • In the example above, you will see that [she is] was followed by an elipses set. When you review the original text, you will find that the author of the sentence ommitted ‘might’ and changed ‘be’ to ‘is.’ The [she is] in brackets covers the ‘persons’ and ‘be’; however, the elipses must be included as well to note that the word ‘might’ was also removed.

One of the biggest things to remember with blending quotes is the sentence still has to be grammatically correct.

Combining Approaches with a Summary

Another sophisticated approach to integrating sources smoothly is to combine approaches. For example, you might attribute the source using an appositive phrase, provide a brief summary of the author’s point as it relates to the topic or issue at hand, and integrate a quoted snippet. The example below illustrates how an appositive phrase renaming Peter Cappelli, a professor from the well-known University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, establishes the ethos of the source or opinion can be combined with a summary of the longer quote included in the original article and reinforced with a specific and compelling quotation.

Example: Mixing approaches to integrating evidence
  • [12]Peter Cappelli, a professor of University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, suggests students should carefully consider their chosen programs of study and research the typical return on investment in that program over their working lives and cites recent research indicating “that the payoff from many college programs — as much as one in four — is actually negative” (as cited in Selingo, 2015).[13]

Using evidence in your writing can be a tricky skill to develop. The next section is a collection of annoyances, written by Kyle D. Stedman, in the academic realm of quoting that you need to be aware of and actively cautious of as you begin to work with your evidence.


  1. "Defining and Evaluating Evidence" was borrowed with minor edits and additions from "Claims, Reasons, and Evidence" by Karla Lyles and Jeanine Rauch which is provided by the University of Mississippi and licensed under a CC BY-SA: Attribution-ShareAlike
  2. The rest of 4.4 (except where otherwise noted) was borrowed with minor edits and additions from "Chapter 5" of Claim Your Voice in First Year Composition, Vol. 2 by Cynthia Kiefer licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License
  3. Review Chapter 2 "Warming Up: The Ins and Outs of Sources" if you need to look at how to accomplish these steps.
  4. Written by Alexandra W. Watkins. This article uses a Creative Commons license: CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.
  5. Borrowed with minor edits and additions from "Paraphrasing" in The Word on College Reading and WritingThe Word on College Reading and Writing by Carol Burnell, Jaime Wood, Monique Babin, Susan Pesznecker, and Nicole Rosevear is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License
  6. Balkin, J. M. (2020, March 25). How to regulate (and not regulate) social media. Knight First Amendment Institute. https://knightcolumbia.org/content/how-to-regulate-and-not-regulate-social-media
  7. "Blending Quotes" was written by Brittany Seay and is licensed under the same license as the book
  8. It is important to remind you here, that this does not mean using quotations without attributing the material to the original author is okay on any level. You always have to let your readers know who you are quoting from, you just have a few options as to how and where you do that.
  9. Thompson, M. I., & Ancona, F. A. (2005). He says/she says: Shakespeare's Macbeth (A gender/personality study). Journal of Evolutionary Psychology, 27(3-4), 59-70.
  10. Once again, the stress here is on the word minor. Under no circumstances should you alter what the author's original quote was actually conveying.
  11. This is only the sentence that the quote was pulled from. The following paragraph discussed the characteristics of Lady Macbeth that made her more like a male character than a female one. It is important to make sure the quotes you pull are not used in ways that misrepresent the context in which you found them in.
  12. Cappelli is a scholarly expert who is quoted in a source he did not write, so you see a different author cited at the end of the sentence. When a person is quoted by another person or source, then you add "as cited in" to the citation to indicate that Cappelli is not the author and you are indirectly quoting him.
  13. Selingo, J. (2015, September 30). Is college worth the cost? Many recent graduates don’t think so. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/grade-point/wp/2015/09/30/is-college-worth-the-cost-many-recent-graduates-dont-think-so/

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