Academic Argument

Failures in Evidence: When Even “Lots of Quotes” Can’t Save an Argument

In a strong argument, the author’s own claim and reasoning drive the argument, and then credible, valid evidence is there to support that reasoning. Arguments are interactions between author and audience – the author wants to persuade the audience to accept his or her claim.

Thus, there is a question and answer that is implicit in the author-audience relationship with argument –

An author’s claim should answer the question, “What are you, the author, trying to get me, the audience, to think about the topic?

An author’s reasons should answer the question, “What reasoning supports supports your claim?”

An author’s evidence should answer the question, “How can you, author,  show me, the reader, that your reasoning is valid?”

Claims can be easy to come up with. Even reasons can be fairly easy to come up with. But for those reasons 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.

Let’s look at failures in evidence, which is essentially when a reader says, “I do not accept your evidence”. Here is why that might happen:

  • Evidence is inaccurate: You’ve misread information or misquoted; you are not interpreting the quoted material in an accurate manner
  • Evidence is insufficient: You are using just a small piece of evidence to support your reasoning. You need more. You probably have a “generalization” fallacy.
  • Evidence is unrelated to the reason: Your evidence does not clearly or directly relate to the point that you are trying to make. 
  • Evidence is incomplete or too narrowly chosen: You have “cherry picked” certain examples or pieces of information to the exclusion of others, so while yo do have evidence to support your point, you are also neglecting a lot of other information 
  • Evidence is old: The information that you are citing is not relevant anymore. It is outdated!
  • Evidence 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.

Whenever you integrate evidence into your papers, you it is important to answer the question “How does this evidence support the point that you are 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.