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Types of Support

Types of Support

Author: Gavin McCall

This lesson explains the kinds of support you can use in an essay.

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Welcome back to English composition. I'm Gavin McCall. Thanks for joining me.

What are we going to learn today? We're going to learn about the types of support essays can make use of. We'll talk about supporting details and how they work, the ways evidence can be introduced and used, as well as the three types of rhetorical appeals-- pathos, ethos, and logos. Then we'll look at some examples of supporting statements.

The first thing we need to do is make clear what we mean by support. For the purposes of composition, support is the evidence, reasoning, and other rhetorical appeals that back up the validity of the main thesis of an essay. It's common for writers to find more support that they can use in a single essay. So it's a good idea to plan ahead and choose the kind of support you think will best suit your essays needs and to avoid supporting a statement that might seem irrelevant or extraneous.

These decision should be made with the rhetorical situation in mind. That way the kind of support chosen and the way or ways it's deployed in the text will appeal to the intended audience and honor the writer's ideas and purpose in writing.

The next thing we should do is talk about what exactly support is. Now that we've got a general sense of how it should be used in an essay, that is. The specific pieces or instances of support are generally referred to as supporting details. These include whatever ideas, evidence, reasoning, appeals, and information are used to hold up or prove the essay's thesis or main ideas.

It's almost always a good idea to choose concrete details over abstractions and generalities. By that I mean physical information, facts, description, and specific examples are more likely to stick in your reader's minds than some broad, sweeping statement about your topic. Writers who are specific and use precise, relevant, and compelling support-- supporting details, that is-- are much more likely to have their essays and writing projects be well received, no matter who their intended audience is.

A key part of supporting an academic argument's claims is evidence. This is the catch-all term for information used to build support for an essay's claims. But there are different kinds of information.

There are facts and statistics, and other data to personal research results, or citations of someone else's research, and even personal experience. It can also include examples taken from the author's personal experience or research, as well as hypothetical examples. These last are often presented as a way of introducing or illustrating evidence, but they're not generally considered to be evidence themselves since they're not based in fact.

If, for example, I was trying to make the argument that we should abolish mandatory term limits for the governorship of my state, I might first bring up the old, much-loved governor and ask why it was better for him not to be able to run again, while our senator still can. Then having used that example to illustrate the difference in my readers' minds, I could state facts about outgoing governor's approval ratings or something about how they almost always get more done during the last year or so of their terms, and plan that by extending their terms, we could extend the productivity and stop wasting valuable time training a new governor, or something to that effect.

Anyway, this is just an example. But the next time you're reading an academic argument, watch for how its evidence is presented. Chances are it'll be something like this-- a concrete detail used as an example to help readers understand the fact-based evidence that's coming up. Either one by itself wouldn't work nearly as well.

The most common forms of support in academic arguments fall into one of three categories of the Aristotelian Rhetorical appeals. These are logos, ethos, and pathos, or appeals to logic, credibility, or emotion. These are always to provide support in an essay. Let's look at each in turn so we can get a sense for how they work.

The first is logos-- appeals to logic. We'll define logic as valid reasoning, which is part of why logos is sometimes also referred to as "appeals to reason." This is a form of support, a very useful one, though it's important to remember to avoid logical fallacies, which are claims that may sound plausible, but are based on faulty reasoning.

The second form of appeal is ethos, or appeals to credibility. This entails referencing the credibility of the writer him or herself, as well as that of the author's sources of information. In academia both forms are common. More, especially among students and beginning writers, is the use of the source as credibility.

And the third form of appeal, pathos, or appeals to emotion, is when a writer uses language or evidence designed to elicit an emotional response from the reader. Appeals to emotion can be particularly effective when a writer wants the reader to take an action. This is a valid form support, though it's important to remember that it's easy to become manipulative with appeals to emotion, as they are by definition not based on logical reasoning and as such they can be used to trick or mislead readers.

Still though, pathos, as well as ethos and logos are all valid ways to support a thesis or claim. And keep in mind that all three can and often do incorporate evidence as part of their appeal. In fact, it's generally a good idea to do so as a writer and to look for it as s reader, no matter what kind of appeal is being made.

Now that we covered the many different ways writers can support their thesis statements and other claims, let's look at some examples of supporting statements. These are all fake sentences that use real appeals and made-up evidence that support a hypothetical essay. But still, let's take a look. And as we do, try to identify the type of appeal being made and what kind of evidence is being used.

The first statement reads, "I believe that there is no greater waste than a student graduating college having not drastically changed his or her life. The awarding of a degree, the granting of the ability to enter a different sort of career-- what is this one compared to the deep and personal self-knowledge that colleges where once tasked with providing, and which students were once motivated to achieve?"

So this should be fairly clearly an appeal to emotion. Though there's a claim being made, it's not being backed up with reasoning, and there's nothing to indicate an appeal to any form of authority, but the tone and the gesture towards an unstated and probably unstatable kind of self-knowledge. Who wouldn't want that? I kind of feel bad for having a degree that's actually kind of useful here. And I'm the one who made up these sentences.

So, yeah, an emotional appeal. And as far as evidence, it's not really using much yet. This is probably the part of the essay in which the writer would next introduce them, but so far, there's been no directly-stated evidence. But still, it's definitely supporting something, that or trying to.

And the second statement goes, "Judge Walter Faircloth, the most senior of the state's eight criminal judges, agrees with this assessment, stating in his closing remarks of one such case that, quote, 'the interest of society must outweigh the interest of the few', end quote, and there's no place for, quote, 'special consideration' in such cases as these. Here we've got ethos, an appeal to the credibility of a completely made-up judge. We've got evidence of two kinds-- a quick mention of the judge's experience and then a sampling of his words, words that agree with the claim this is supporting.

In here too, we don't have an appeal to reason. Though there's an argument being made that we should agree with the judge because he knows what he's talking about, the fact that it doesn't depend on logic on our understanding anything more than that we should believe him, and trust his judgment, no pun intended.

The third supporting statement looks like this. "A recent commercial for Listerine mouthwash says that is, quote, 'as effective as floss for preventing the gum disease gingivitis', end quote. But they don't tell you that the study they refer to is funded by Pfizer, the maker of Listerine, and that the American Dental Association hasn't changed its mind and continues to recommend flossing. Pfizer posted on the Listerine website that the product, quote, 'is not a replacement for floss', end quote, even though their TV ad seems to claim just that."

Here we've got a claim being supported. And even though we're not sure what exactly that claim is, we can assume it's got something to do with advertisements in general or Listerine's advertisements in particular. It's an appeal to logic. Using this commercial and the website statements to give the reasoning something to work with, here data's been analyzed and presented in order to make a claim that, we assume, has something to do with a false advertisement.

What did we learn today? We learned about the many different types of support writers can make use of. We looked at supporting details, as well as types of evidence and the three forms of rhetorical appeals. And we ended with some examples of supporting statements. I'm Gavin McCall. Thanks for joining me.

  • Evidence

    Evidence is information used to build support for an essay's claims.

  • Logic

    Valid reasoning.

  • Support

    Evidence and rhetorical appeals that back up the validity of the main thesis.