Writing Help

Academic Essays

What Counts As Evidence?

Readers of academic essays want you to support your ideas with evidence. What counts as good evidence depends on the subject area and the level of writing that you are trying to achieve. Sometimes information in a textbook is good enough, but sometimes you are expected to do original research to ground your claims.

One standard that applies across disciplines lies in the difference between telling and showing. The fact that you believe something very sincerely, since you are the one who carefully thought about your topic, may be important to you. But readers don't want you simply to tell them what you believe or what you learned; they want you to show them so they can learn it too.

When you present evidence, you should analyze it in terms of the point of the paragraph. That is, try to use some of the same words as the words you use in the sentence that has the point, as well as the thesis sentence. In fact, computer graders look for the integration of your key terms throughout the essay, in order to score it for consistency and unity. Human readers think in a similar way.

Let's try out the paragraph about what is at stake for the wedding party. For the first draft, let's keep to a conversational style. Note that the point comes at the end, that there can be several layers of evidence, and that you can look for key quotations in a later step:

"Katherine's family thought she was never going to get married because of her bad temper. In their society, this would mean that they would be stuck with her forever. Now that she is engaged to Petruchio, they have the chance for some peace; her own sister even says hopefully, 'xxx.' Even though they only had a week to plan, they clearly want the wedding to be perfect: the women wear beautiful dresses, the musicians are playing, and there are flowers everywhere. For once the family is united, and it seems like the future of the whole family depends on the ceremony going according to plan."