Chapter 8: Making Academic Arguments
In a strong essay, the author or writer’s own thesis and reasoning drive the argument, and then credible, valid evidence is used to support that reasoning. Arguments, in particular, are interactions between writer and audience. The author wants to persuade the audience to accept his or her claim, so he or she tries to provide sufficient compelling evidence that will sway the audience to his or her perspective.
Research questions might be easy to come up with. Claims or thesis statements can be easy to come up with. Even reasons or ideas to support the thesis or claim may be fairly easy to come up with. But for your ideas in a paper to be valid, for them to be accepted by a reader, they must be supported and developed with solid, credible, sufficient, accurate, relevant and compelling evidence.
Evidence is not simply “a bunch of quotes”. Nor is evidence a bunch of facts or statistics from an article, no matter how credible that article may be. For evidence to truly work in the sense of supporting an thesis/claim, it has to be accurate, sufficient to prove your point, directly related to the reason, ethically chosen, current, and credible. That is a lot to think about. It is certainly more than “a quote that looks good”.
Here are some things to think about avoiding when attempting to develop a strong source-based essay. Just as understanding what logical fallacies are so you can avoid them in your own writing, understand what weak evidence is can help you to avoid falling into the trap of using it in your own work.
Failures in evidence occur when a reader says, “I do not accept your evidence”. Here is why that might happen:
- The evidence that you have provided is inaccurate: You’ve misread information or misquoted; you are not interpreting the quoted material in an accurate manner
- The evidence that you have provided is insufficient: You are using just a small piece of evidence to support your reasoning. You need more. You probably have a “generalization” fallacy.
- The evidence that you have provided is unrelated to the reason: Your evidence does not clearly or directly relate to the point that you are trying to make.
- The evidence that you have provided is incomplete or too narrowly chosen: You have “cherry picked” certain examples or pieces of information to the exclusion of others, so while you do have evidence to support your point, you are also neglecting a lot of other information
- The evidence that you have provided is old: The information that you are citing is not relevant anymore. It is outdated!
- The evidence that you have provided does not come from an authoritative source: The source of your evidence is not credible; the person being cited is not an authority on the topic
One of the bigger issues with evidence is not so much with the evidence itself, but with the way that you integrate it into the paper. A reader needs to understand clearly how and why the evidence you chose relates to the point that you are making. As noted in Section 4.4. evidence must always be explained. Whenever you integrate evidence into your papers, it is important to answer the question “How does this evidence support the point that I am making?”. Never assume that the reader sees what you see in evidence. Always make it as clear as possible how the evidence supports the reason. It may be useful to you to draft your papers with Section 4.4 ready for reference so that you can avoid the pitfall of evidence with no explanation.