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Joe Moxley, Founder, WritingCommons.org

Joe Moxley


Dear Colleagues and Students,

At Writing Commons, we are happy with the overall success of our project. Since 2011, when we launched at WritingCommons.org, we have hosted 6,315,882 users who have reviewed over 11 million pages. We are thrilled that students and faculty find our site to be helpful. Our ongoing mission is to be the best writing textbook possible. We also happen to be free. While we cannot perhaps claim yet that we are the best possible textbook for technical writing or creative writing courses, we are working on that.

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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.

Regardless of the type used, all evidence serves the same general function: it bolsters a writer’s argument. The trick is to determine, during the composition process, what type of evidence will most help your point. This section is designed to help you choose the best type of support to use in your writing; in addition, it will provide you with the tools necessary to successfully integrate evidence into your papers. By acquiring these skills, you will become a more convincing writer, as you will be able to back up your claims in a way that makes sense to your readers.

Students often confuse evidence with research; the two do not mean the same thing. Whereas “evidence” refers to a something that supports a claim, “research” is something much more: it’s a conversation. Take a look at Kenneth Burke’s famous “Unending Conversation” metaphor:

Imagine that you enter a parlor. You come late. When you arrive, others have long preceded you, and they are engaged in a heated discussion, a discussion too heated for them to pause and tell you exactly what it is about. In fact, the discussion had already begun long before any of them got there, so that no one present is qualified to retrace for you all the steps that had gone before. You listen for a while, until you decide that you have caught the tenor of the argument; then you put in your oar. Someone answers; you answer him; another comes to your defense; another aligns himself against you, to either the embarrassment or gratification of your opponent, depending upon the quality of your ally's assistance. However, the discussion is interminable. The hour grows late, you must depart. And you do depart, with the discussion still vigorously in progress. [1]

Research begets evidence, but performing research should not just point you, as a writer, to useful quotes that you can use as support for claims in your writing; research should tell you about a conversation, one that began before you decided upon your project topic. When you incorporate research into a paper, you are integrating and responding to previous claims about your topic made by other writers. As such, it's important to try to understand the main argument each source in a particular conversation is making, and these main arguments (and ensuing subclaims) can then be used as evidence—as support for your claims—in your paper.

Let’s say for a bibliographic essay you decide to write about the Indian Mutiny. Well, as the Indian Mutiny began around 1857, people have been writing about the Mutiny since that time. Thus, it’s important to realize that by writing about the Indian Mutiny now, you’re contributing to an ongoing conversation. By doing research, you can see what’s already been said about this topic, decide what specific approach to the topic might be original and insightful, and determine what ideas from other writers provide an opening for you to assert your own claims.

The pieces in this section will focus on incorporating various types of evidence into your paper, but the main idea to keep in the back of your head is that research is much larger than your paper. Your writing is a part of a larger conversation. Do other authors justice: critically read their pieces so you understand their major claims and do not misrepresent them, choose ideas that work with yours—or that contrast with yours, so you have a jumping-off point for your argument. Doing so is critical to constructing arguments and to realizing your agency as a writer.

[1] Burke, Kenneth. “Burke’s ‘Unending Conversation’ Metaphor.” Texas Tech University. Texas Tech U, 18 May 2011. Web. 27 May 2011. See < https://english.ttu.edu/kairos/2.1/features/brent/burke.htm;.


Cassandra Branham, Editor-in-Chief WritingCommons.org

Cassandra Branham


Dear Colleagues and Students,

Welcome to Writing Commons, an open-education resource for instructors and students of writing across the disciplines. Our mission is to provide a high-quality, cost free resource to support students in the development of writing, research, and critical thinking practices.

This summer, we have been working on a site redesign in an effort to increase the usability of our site for both instructors and students. Our most significant change has been the inclusion of additional categories and subcategories to create a more intuitive hierarchy within the site.

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