Hypothetical Evidence*

Hypothetical Evidence is a “for instance” for your reader—a potential instance or example that might illustrate your claim in action.

Key Concepts: Exemplification; Organization; Organizational Schema & Logical Reasoning


A Hypothetical 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?

Exercise

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.