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Integrating Evidence

Why is it wise to avoid unreliable sources?

Information from unreliable sources is not always true, up-to-date, or accurate. Using unreliable sources in an academic paper can weaken the credibility of the writer, dilute the writer’s argument, and detract from the overall strength of the paper.

What kind of sources should be avoided?

While the Internet provides a plethora of information on almost any topic imaginable, not all of its content can be trusted.

Synthesis is something you already do in your everyday life.  For example, if you are shopping for a new car, the research question you are trying to answer is, "Which car should I buy"?  You explore available models, prices, options, and consumer reviews, and you make comparisons.  For example:  Car X costs more than car Y but gets better mileage.  Or:  Reviewers A, B, and C all prefer Car X, but their praise is based primarily on design features that aren’t important to you.  It is this analysis across sources that moves you towards an answer to your question.

Early in an academic research project you are likely to find yourself making initial comparisons—for example, you may notice that Source A arrives at a conclusion very different from that of Source B—but the task of synthesis will become central to your work when you begin drafting your research paper or presentation. 

Summary: Learn how to introduce and correctly summarize, paraphrase, and cite sources. Clarify the research methods employed by your sources.

Your instructors do not want to read miscellaneous quotations that are thrown together one after another. The problem with essays that use extensive direct quotations is that they tend to lack voice, continuity, or authority. If you offer quotations every few lines, your ideas become subordinate to other people's ideas and voices, which often contradicts your instructor's reasons for assigning research papers—that is, to learn what you think about a subject.

Can the reader distinguish between your ideas and those of your sources?

You don’t want to take credit for the ideas of others (that would be plagiarism), and you certainly don’t want to give outside sources the credit for your own ideas (that would be a waste of your time and effort). So, as a writer, you should distinguish between your ideas and those of your sources before quoting, paraphrasing, or summarizing.

When you think of the term “evidence,” what comes to mind? CSILaw and OrderNCIS? Certainly, detectives and law enforcement officers use evidence to prove that a criminal is guilty. What’s more, they use different types of evidence to find and convict the offending person(s), such as eyewitness accounts, DNA, fingerprints, and material evidence.

Just as detectives use various types of evidence, writers incorporate evidence to prove their points—and they also use different types of evidence, depending upon which form is most useful and relevant to their points. These different types of evidence include—but are not limited to—quotes, paraphrases, summaries, anecdotes, and hypothetical examples.

Synthesis notes are a strategy for taking and using reading notes that bring together—synthesize—what we read with our thoughts about our topic in a way that lets us integrate our notes seamlessly into the process of writing a first draft. Six steps will take us from reading sources to a first draft.   

When we read, it is easy to take notes that don’t help us build our own arguments when we move from note-taking to writing. In high school, most of us learned to take notes that summarize readings. Summarizing works well when the purpose of our notes is to help us memorize information quickly for a test.

How is this source relevant to your thesis and purpose?

Many emerging writers struggle with connecting sourced material to their claims and to their thesis. Oftentimes, this is because they’re too close to their work and think that the connection between claim and evidence is completely apparent to the reader. Even if the connection is readily visible, authors should still follow up a piece of sourced material with an explanation of its relevance to the author’s point, purpose, and/or thesis. Such connections (“analysis”) should be made directly following the sourced material.

One of the three sides of the rhetorical triangle is ethos. Ethos refers to the writer’s credibility and authority as perceived by readers. (For more information about this rhetorical appeal, please see "Ethos.") Using sources to support the claims you make strengthens your authority as a writer.  Sources also show your readers that you’ve “done your homework,” that is, that you are able to make arguments about your topic because you have read other credible and significant writers who have contributed to the ongoing conversation about your topic. To be a scholarly writer is to respond to other writers who have already discussed certain aspects of the topic you are investigating. 

Why is it important to avoid the use of unsupported opinions as evidence?*

  • Unsupported opinions can weaken the credibility of the writer because the reader may lose their trust in the writer.
  • Strong opinions may offend the reader, who may feel differently about the issue or have a personal connection to the opposing view.
  • Opinions without supporting evidence can compromise the strength and perceived validity of the paper’s argument because such opinions may overshadow other trustworthy evidence.

How are supporting details used?

When a writer makes a claim, the position should be backed with supporting details and examples. These details supply evidence that defends the validity of the claim, and they should be relevant, credible, and verifiable.

Why is it important to relate supporting details directly to the thesis or topic sentence?

In an academic paper, the claim and main ideas stated in the thesis and topic sentences require further explanation and support. The major components of a paper—the thesis, the topic sentences, and the supporting details—should work together to create a strong and stable essay.

Why is it important to provide reliable support for a point?

When a writer makes a point or claim, his or her position should be supported by evidence from one or more reliable sources. Evidence from reliable sources can make an argument more convincing and build the credibility of the writer. In contrast, unsupported points or points supported by unreliable sources can compromise the integrity of the paper and the writer.

What kind of additional support can be added?

Many emerging writers struggle with connecting sourced material to their claims and to their thesis. Oftentimes, this is because they’re too close to their work and think that the connection between claim and evidence is completely apparent to the reader.

Even if the connection is readily visible, authors should still follow up a piece of sourced material with an explanation of its relevance to the author’s point, purpose, and/or thesis. Such connections (“analysis”) should be made directly following the sourced material.

Writers use sources to support their claims and to strengthen their arguments. Effective writing implements the three sides of the rhetorical triangle. One of the three sides of the rhetorical triangle is ethos. Ethos refers to the writer’s credibility and authority as perceived by readers. (For more information about this rhetorical appeal, please see "Ethos.")

Using sources to support the claims you make strengthens your authority as a writer.  Sources also show your readers that you’ve “done your homework,” that is, that you are able to make arguments about your topic because you have read other credible and significant writers who have contributed to the ongoing conversation about your topic.