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Types of Evidence

Types of Evidence

Author: Martina Shabram

In this lesson, students will learn about types of evidence.

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Hello, students. My name is Dr. Martina Shabram, and I will be your instructor for today's lesson. I am genuinely excited to teach you these concepts, so let's get started.

Today's lesson is about the different types of evidence you might use in an essay to help support your assertions and convince your readers. We're going to discuss personal evidence, researched evidence, and how to find good evidence online. So let's get started.

So let's recall that evidence is facts and details that support an argument. And while evidence may be useful in any mode of writing, it's particularly important when you're making an argument because evidence is how you'll support your claims and convince your readers to agree with you. So when you're making an argument, there are a number of kinds of evidence that you might use-- personal evidence, which would be evidence that you draw from your own experience of the world, or researched evidence, which would be evidence that you have found in other sources. So let's get into how each of these types of evidence is used.

When you use personal evidence, you draw from your own experience. This means that you might tell a personal narrative. I.e., "When I was 10, a dog bit me. And after that, I was afraid of dogs."

Now, if you're using your own experience as evidence, there is one big problem. I could say my argument is true because this happened to me, and someone else could refute that by responding, "Your argument is false because that didn't happen to me." So you want to use personal narrative very carefully and use it to illustrate rather than justify. That means that you're presenting your experience not as proof but as an example of how your argument might be believable.

So instead of saying, "My argument is true because this happened to me," you want to say, "My argument is unbelievable because it can happen, just as it did for me." In this way, you're making your experience relatable to your reader. So be sure to use experience that's not too specific or unique.

When you use your personal evidence, you might also make it hypothetical. This means that you're presenting a situation that could happen as an illustration that supports your argument. For hypothetical evidence, you would be saying, "My argument is believable because it can happen just as it could in this hypothetical way." So again, make sure that you use relatable and believable experiences.

And finally, you can draw on common knowledge. If you can reasonably believe that your readers will have had an experience or know a fact, then you can call upon that. For instance, I might use an example about, say, playing poker because I can reasonably expect that most readers within my community will know what the game of poker is. So let's look at an example of personal evidence used effectively. Say you're making this argument.

I might use a personal narrative to say.

See how this experience is used as an illustration of why the argument is believable? It doesn't matter if the reader was never bitten by a dog. The experience is rational, relatable, and believable. I could also make a similar experience into a hypothetical.

OK. So what if you don't have an experience to share as an example and you can't think of a hypothetical experience that would support your argument? What do you do then for evidence? You'll want to do some research to find evidence that supports your claim.

"Research" means finding facts, data, statistics, and ideas from other writers and sources in order to support your ideas. When you research, you look in books and newspapers, on websites, and in scholarly journals and experiments in order to find information that helps you make a convincing argument. Researched information might be expert arguments.

Those would be the theories, arguments, or ideas proposed by an expert in the field. For example, say you're writing a paper about psychology. Well, you might use evidence from someone like Freud.

Research findings, data from surveys or research experiments. For example, if you're writing about school lunch programs, you might use evidence from the US Department of Education about how many students use school lunches nationwide.

First person data. This is someone else's first person experience of something. For example, if you're writing an argument for increased funding for the Veterans Administration, you might use an interview with a veteran to describe why the VA is important to so many.

Now, of course, not all research is good or convincing.

You data needs to be correct. If you've collected statistics or found theories that are out-of-date or have been disapproved, then your source won't be useful. Your data needs to be relevant.

If I want to make an argument for leash laws, data about zoos might not be particularly useful. I would need to find a source that was directly relevant to my argument. And that doesn't mean necessarily that my source needs to make the exact argument I'm making, but it does need to be related to my general topic.

Your data needs to be unbiased. If your source is clearly biased one way or another, then the evidence it contains might not be trustworthy. Think of the informative mode of writing. Recall that it presents data in an unbiased manner without taking a side on the issue. That's what you want to use in order to take a side of your own and support that side believably and ethically.

Finally, your data needs to be rational. Some sources simply aren't rational, informed, or expert. For example, I personally might have a lot of opinions about orca whales, but I should not be cited as a rational source because I don't actually have any real expertise about orca whales. And therefore, my evidence will all be based on opinion, which can be very wrong. Similarly, some sources hold purely irrational beliefs that are not supported by fact, such as conspiracy theories. So you want to avoid referencing those sources.

So now, you know what kinds of resources you might look for and how to test if they're good sources or not, but where do you find these sources? Well, there are a few places you can look. News reports are often a good place to start. They may contain good summaries of information, which you can use directly in your essay or which you can use to guide you towards other sources.

Beware, however, of bias. Though the news can seem neutral, it is often colored by political or social biases. So you want to make sure that your source is not partisan.

Libraries and library websites can be very useful for finding scholarly articles and books. And once you find a good book or article, the bibliography in that book can lead you to other resources as well.

Websites can also have a wealth of information. Blogs and commercial websites might not be unbiased, but they might provide useful first person data. In contrast, websites that end in .gov or .edu can be full of more neutral and detailed research findings. Even Wikipedia can be a good place to start your research, but it is not a valid academic source because anyone can edit any page. And so the information can't be verified.

We should ask ourselves-- who wrote this and when? Getting a sense of who this author is and what the context of the piece is will be very informative for you and tell you if it's current, unbiased, and rational.

Who published this? If you're looking at a website or a news article, check what's called the "masthead" of that publication. This is a small summary of the mission statement of that source. You might look for a link that says "About Us" or something similar if you're on a web page.

You can also search for that new source and look at its Wikipedia page, which will tell you more about the source. This is a good way to make sure that you are getting unbiased resources and that you're not accidentally citing humor or satire.

What are the methods? To answer this, look for a section called "Methodology." This is particularly important for research experiments, polls, and other data. If the methods indicate that the research has a very narrow scope but is being applied broadly, that's a warning sign that this isn't reliable information.

And finally, what kind of information does this source cite? If you look at its bibliography, do you see good trustworthy sources or do those sources appear biased? The truth is there's no sure-fire formula to determine if a source is good or not. But the more you practice and the more you research, the better you'll be at sorting the good from the bad.

So what did we learn today? We discussed personal evidence and how to use it well, researched evidence and its many forms, and then we talked about how to find evidence online and tested if it's worthwhile for an academic setting.

Well, students, I hope you have as much fun as I did. Thank you.

Terms to Know

Facts and details that support an argument.

Personal Evidence

Evidence drawn from your own experience of the world.


Finding facts, data, statistics, and ideas from other writers and sources in order to support our own ideas.

Researched Evidence

Evidence that you have found in other sources.