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Types of Support: Factual Evidence

Types of Support: Factual Evidence

Author: Gavin McCall
Description:

This lesson explains how to use factual evidence (empirical evidence, statistics, and other facts) and how to use them in an argumentative essay.

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Welcome to English Composition. I'm Gavin McCall, thanks for joining me. What are we going to learn today? We're going to learn about factual evidence, one of the primary forms of support writers use for their argumentative essays. We'll cover the different types of factual evidence, then look more closely at empirical evidence and statistics.

And finally, we'll talk about and then look at using factual evidence in an essay. Secondary sources, by which we mean sources of information one step removed from the primary subject of an essay, provide different types of data, including factual data based on scientific testing.

This type of data can be valuable, though it's not going to be needed in every essay. Factual evidence tends to be very convincing, since it's hard to argue with, so long as it comes from a credible source. This may seem simple, but keep in mind that even credible sources can have mistakes in logic, analysis, or research methodology, or present data that remains controversial or otherwise debatable.

I'm not trying to scare you away from using factual evidence, but rather to encourage you, and all writers, to remain skeptical even of data that is presented as factual and to think critically about your sources and their credibility.

The two types of factual evidence we'll focus on today are empirical evidence and statistics. Empirical evidence is data that has been observed and tested. This might include experiential data, but traditionally, the term refers to scientific research and testing, which is most credible if the test has been recreated by different scientists who achieved the same results and conclusions about those results.

Statistics, meanwhile, refers to science that gathers, sorts, analyzes, interprets, and presents data based on a population to be studied. Here, population can mean a group of people or any other kind of group whose behavior or characteristics are of importance.

Statistical information is the presentation of statistical analysis. The sources of both of these kinds of factual evidence are not infallible, because humans can and do make mistakes, and can be biased in ways that aren't always obvious to researchers.

Because of this, it's imperative that when assessing these kinds of sources for use in an argumentative essay, we retain a critical perspective, and two sources from reliable publications to lower the odds of bias or inaccuracy. Non credible or unethical sources may misrepresent or skew data, or even invent data to suit their purposes. And this is one reason why only credible sources should be used. Whenever it's possible, try to choose factual evidence from sources where the results have been duplicated, or similarly interpreted by different researchers, as this will also lower the chances of bias or inaccuracies in the data.

Factual evidence can be a powerful form of support for many arguments. However, just like any other kind of support, it can be overused. It's important not to the presentation of facts take over the purpose of your essay. Rather, if you keep your thesis and purpose for writing in mind, you'll be better able to effectively select only the factual data that best suits your essay's needs.

Also, essays tend to be most effective when they make use of a variety of evidence types, and so factual data, while important, even critical for many arguments, is usually best used as only one of the available tools.

Now let's look at some examples of factual evidence use. Let's say I'm writing an essay arguing for the federal government to require employers to offer paid maternity leave. This would be a prime topic for using factual data, statistics, and empirical information as support for the thesis. Take this paragraph, for example.

The United States remains the only first-world nation not to offer paid maternity leave. Indeed, our leave policies are so draconian that we rank among the worst in the entire world, on par with Swaziland, Lesotho, and Papua New Guinea. This, combined with what some call the neither-nor divide, a phenomenon in which women refuse to take or ask for maternity leave for fear of being replaced by a man, while simultaneously being paid less on average than their male counterparts, makes the US home to one of the least woman-friendly work environments.

Because we are the world's richest nation with a commitment to gender equality in all aspects of life, the US government should mandate paid maternity leave.

As you can see, by using both the statistical information about maternity leave around the world and combining that with a more interpretive secondary source, this paragraph manages to put together a fairly effective network of support for the claim that the US government should make paid maternity leave a requirement.

However, not all uses of factual evidence are going to be effective, even if the data is sound. Consider this paragraph, for example.

The UK currently provides the most leave at a whopping 280 days with 90% pay. That equals close to nine months of leave for new mothers. Expanding leave just makes sense for businesses in terms of retention, too, as Google discovered when they began to offer five months of paid leave for new mothers, and even some for fathers-- seven weeks.

Let's assume that the second source I used, Miller, is credible and that the data is accurate. That doesn't mean it's still effective for my argument, though. After all, what exactly does employer retention have to do with my argument about mandating maternity leave? It's related, sure, but without some kind of explanation as to how exactly I see it supporting my thesis, this evidence isn't going to help me, or my essay, very much.

And besides using factual evidence with other kinds of support, as the first example paragraph did, we can also combine one type of factual evidence with another, like in this paragraph.

Even for women with access to some form of maternity leave, many find themselves unable to take it. Currently, women can take unpaid maternity leave for up to three months under the Family and Medical Leave Act, or FMLA, but this leave comes without pay, which is devastating to many workers, and it only covers about 60% of the population, as businesses with less than 50 employees are exempt from the FMLA requirement.

For many, taking the time off simply isn't an option. Speaking personally, when my wife was pregnant with our first son, her employer, a small insurance company, offered unpaid maternity leave. But even with my income unchanged, we were only able to save enough vacation time and money to give her a month home with our son before she had to return to work.

It all worked out in the end for us, but I know that both my wife's physical health and our son's care would've been better if she or I would have been able to afford a longer leave.

As you can see, I've used not only statistics here, but the personal evidence about my family's experience with a lack of paid maternity leave.

What did we learn today? We learned about the types of factual evidence that writers can use in their argumentative essays, including empirical evidence and statistics. Then we talked about how to actually use this kind of evidence and looked at some examples of its use. I'm Gavin McCall. Thanks for joining me.

TERMS TO KNOW
  • Empirical Evidence

    Data that has been observed and tested; empirical evidence might include experiential data but traditionally means scientific research and testing, which is most credible if the test has been re-created by different scientists who achieve the same results and conclusions about those results.