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Supporting Details: Facts and Statistics

Supporting Details: Facts and Statistics

Author: Linda Neuman

This lesson discusses how statistics can be used as supporting details.

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Just the facts

This audio follows the text below. You can read and listen, or just listen.

Just the facts

Just the facts?  Not always, but it’s a great place to start.

Depending on the type of paper you’re writing, examples, analogies and opinions can also be effective in supporting your thesis.  But facts and statistics can go a long way toward convincing your reader to buy into your ideas.

Reliable information.

That’s what you’re after, but how can you be sure that’s what you’ve found when you do your research?

Ask yourself these five questions every time you think you want to use a piece of information in your paper:

First, who is claiming this piece of information? 

Facts are statements from reliable sources about real things.

Example:  Your topic sentence claims that cheetahs are the fastest animals on land.

Now you have to back up that claim with some hard evidence. 

Fact:  Cheetahs have a sprinting speed of up to 71 mph.

Fact:  Loose hip and shoulder joints help the cheetah extend its reach while running, enabling short bursts of high speed.

Sources:  Encylopedia Brittanica, BBC Nature Collections

You’ve now got two statements of fact that nicely support your claim, and you got them from reliable sources.  These two sources are widely known, respected and trusted, so they are safe to use in this case.

Statistics are facts expressed in numbers, based on data from samples and populations. They might be the product of experiments or surveys, and they are meant to be a reasonable subset of a much larger group, so you can draw conclusions about the numbers.

If you can show that 75% of high school seniors cannot find Washington State on a map of North America, that’s strong evidence to back up your claim that U.S. geography is not being taught in high school. Such evidence is not only difficult to refute, it's often accepted as the final word. But that depends on who has published this statistic.  If it’s a trusted source, that’s half the battle won. 

But you will also need to know more about the sample—who was asked and how were they asked. 

Statistics can be misleading if:

 the sample size isn’t big enough,

 if it doesn’t reasonably represent the larger population, or

 if the study was conducted improperly.

 The best way to ensure your statistics are reliable is to use a trusted source.

Example:  Your topic sentence claims that the Chinese are big users of the Internet.

Statistic:  A study in 2010 counted Chinese users at over 440 million, second only to English users who number about 537 million.

Statistic:   The Chinese spend more time online than people in the U.S., almost two billion hours per week compared to less than 130 million hours spent online by U.S. users.

Sources:  Internet World Stats,

Your reader will probably be curious about where you got your statistics, so it’s often best to mention the source immediately.  If not, you must include that information in a “Works Cited” page or bibliography. 

Compare and contrast

The above example compares Chinese Internet users with users in the U.S., which makes the statement more meaningful because you can look at two populations side by side and see what they have in common, or how they differ.  Statistics that clearly compare one group to another lend more weight to your claim, and that’s the whole point of your paper.

How about graphic representations of statistics, like pie charts or bar graphs?

If it will help the reader to understand your point, graphics are a great way to include strong evidence.  You don’t want to overuse them, or include them if you don’t need to, but often the best way to compare is to put the results in a graph so that your reader can quickly see the point you are making.   Graphics should always be accompanied by explanatory text, and the source of your graph must be cited.

If you want to use information but are uncertain about the reliability of the source, let your instructor be your guide, or find a web site with tips on how to evaluate research such as

There are many sites to help you learn what to look for to ensure high quality evidence.  But you can be your own critic—if a fact or statistic seems outrageous, check to ensure the study was conducted properly and involved a reasonable sample.  Also, look around for other studies that explore your topic.  It’s always good to get corroboration for your claim from more than one reliable source.

And when you find a good source on the Internet, bookmark it!  Then organize your bookmarks for easy reference.  You’ll be glad you did when it’s time to write your next masterpiece.