Non-traditional Types of Evidence

Though you may be the most familiar with the genre of research papers, not all your writing in ENC 1101 and 1102 will require research. So, you may be tempted to think that you won’t need evidence for such writings. This is an incorrect assumption, because all formal writing (and even the majority of informal writing) requires evidence of some sort, because evidence does not just refer to source material (quotes, paraphrases, and summaries); more broadly, evidence refers to the support used to back up your claims, which may take other forms depending on the genre in which you’re writing. Such alternate forms of evidence may include, but are not limited to, anecdotal evidence and hypothetical examples.

Consider what would happen if a blogger just made one claim after another—say, about his or her experience with cancer—and then never included details to support his or her claims. You might be tempted to think that the author never experienced this disease, or you might become frustrated because you have no way of understanding the author’s claims, as the author jumps from one point to the next without expanding upon original ideas. Thus, with any genre of writing, it’s important to determine what type of evidence best suits your claims. And for genres like memoir, narrative, persuasive and expository writing, anecdotes and hypothetical examples may, depending on your purpose, serve as effective means of support.

The Anecdote

An anecdote is a short narrative explaining an event or experience of some sort. It is a particularly useful form of support when writing in the memoir and narrative genres. Let’s take a look at an example of a claim made for a literacy narrative that lacks an ensuing anecdote:

When I first began to write academically in high school, I never fully integrated my evidence. This is because I did not view research as entering into a conversation. Now I know that research is more than just dropping in quotations.

Do you feel that this claim about a change in the author’s practice of writing can stand on its own, or is it lacking something? Consider, also, what would then follow these few lines—another point? Not sufficiently developing a point or idea through support can lead to paragraphs that jump from point to point and end up sounding list-like. Rather than just making a claim in a personal essay, try incorporating anecdotal evidence:

When I first began to write academically in high school, I never fully integrated my evidence. This is because I did not view research as entering int a conversation. For example, I remember one time writing a paper the night before it was due. I had printed out a list of quotations I thought might work for my paper topic; and because I didn’t really understand the purpose of evidence and because I was pressed for time, I simply “dropped in” my quotes. As a result they did not support my claims, which were left to fend for themselves.

Do you see the difference? Now you, as a reader, have a greater understanding of what this author means by his change in understanding of the purpose of research, because you have a concrete example of his or her experiences. Thus, anecdotal evidence can be very key when approaching a genre other than the traditional research paper. The trick is to come up with an anecdote that is concise (determine how much of the story is necessary to support your point and then cut it down into a coherent anecdote, which is short by nature) and that directly relates to your claim.

The Hypothetical Example

A hypothetical example is a “for instance” for your reader—a potential instance or example that might illustrate your claim in action. Such an example will often follow one of the following phrases or abbreviations: “for instance,” “for example,” “i.e.,” or “e.g.,” though the latter two, realize, will only follow a comma and will not start a new sentence as could “for instance” or “for example.” Be careful with hypothetical examples: they must be realistic and must directly connect with your claim. For instance (see?), consider the following claim and ensuing hypothetical example:

I view abortion as wrong because of the effects it has on women. Consider, for instance, what would happen to a young mother who had an abortion: she would likely be forever plagued with guilt because of the heinous nature of her action.

While there is more going on with this piece than just an abused hypothetical example (e.g., value-laden language), let’s focus on what’s not working in terms of the method of support. The first sentence in this example is the author’s claim; the second sentence is a hypothetical example. Though the reader might understand the author having strong views regarding abortion, he or she might question the author’s logic: Will a woman who’s had an abortion necessarily experience guilt? Alternatively, is this just a hypothetical example that’s been crafted to suit the author’s purpose (in a manipulative way)? A hypothetical example has to be fair to the situation, claim, and reader. Consider the following revised hypothetical example:

I view abortion as wrong because of the effects it has on women. Consider, for instance, what might happen to a young mother after going through an abortion: after the loss of a child, many mothers experience a combination of guilt and remorse; after an abortion, a mother may experience this same set of feelings, which could lead to depression or chronic anxiety.

Because of the sensitivity of many people to this issue, it’s important to craft a hypothetical example that is both logical and sensitive to those who might disagree with you, if you were this writer. You may choose to be more assertive with your hypothetical example, but just make sure it’s appropriate to do so given the material or topic with which you’re working. Ultimately, though, the example should serve a specific purpose and should be directly related to the claim preceding it.

As you can see, the term “evidence” encapsulates much more than just source material—it can include more creative types of support like anecdotes and hypothetical examples. Though these forms of support may spark your creative juices, it’s important to remember that the focus should still be on your claims, not on your support. Be careful not to tangent! You don’t want to lead your reader astray. So if I started to tell a story now about that time finger got caught in a door and it hurt and was awful and I just went on and on about it, what would be the thing you, as a reader, most remember?


Craft either an anecdote or a hypothetical example, depending on which you determine would be most effective, for the following claims (be creative—even if you haven’t directly experienced one of these things, experiment a little):

Many high school students spend their summers working so that they can save up enough money to buy a coveted item.

As a writer, it’s important to consider the specificities of the prompt provided by one’s teacher.

Every region in the country experiences a fad, and my state is no different.

The voting age should be reduced to sixteen because sixteen-year-olds are capable of making important decisions.

By Jennifer Yirinec