Connecting Evidence to Your Claims highlights ways to link evidence to claims in a reader-based way.
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.
Remember that your essay is your opportunity to showcase your ideas and arguments. Avoid using an excessive amount of source material; doing so can take your readers’ focus away from your original arguments. Going back to the notion that writing is engaging in conversation, think of engaging with your source material as if you are having a conversation with the writers themselves. You can use source material to lend support, to complicate, or even to argue against previous ideas.
Let’s say that we’re writing a research paper that suggests offshore drilling should be banned, and our thesis is as follows:
Though some may argue that offshore drilling provides economic advantages and would lessen our dependence on foreign oil, the environmental and economic consequences of an oil spill are so drastic that they far outweigh the advantages.
Following this thesis come body paragraphs relating our main points: (1) the known economic impact of past oil spills; (2) the known environmental impact of past oil spills; (3) the potential impact of oil spills on marine and human life; (4) a comparison between advantages and disadvantages of offshore drilling; and (5) a response to potential counterarguments. Our conclusion would then include a proposal to ban offshore drilling.
So, for instance, in our fifth body paragraph we include the following claim (in our topic sentence) and also provide the following support:
Others argue that the US needs to end its dependence on foreign oil from unstable regions, which necessitates domestic oil production. During an April 2010 speech to the Southern Republican conference, Sarah Palin responded to the ongoing debate about offshore drilling and insisted that “relying on foreign regimes to meet our energy needs makes us less secure and makes us more beholden to these countries” (Malcom).
We can’t, as writers, just stop there, because our reader would not necessarily know the connection between our point and the quote. As such, we must make the connection for our reader. Here are a few ways to make such a connection:
- Break down ideas: Palin’s assertion implies that the majority of our oil comes from unstable regimes in antidemocratic regions. Although we understand her concerns about providing such regimes with a measure of economic power over the United States, we believe that offshore drilling poses a greater threat to the stability of our economy.
- Connect back to the thesis: Though Palin’s argument is representative of a group that views offshore drilling as a necessity, it fails to acknowledge that America’s largest petroleum trading partners are not countries with unstable regimes.
- Connect back to the paragraph’s main point: Palin’s argument is representative of a cohort that believes in the importance of domestic oil production.
- Point to the author’s purpose: Despite Palin’s (and Republicans’) protests, we argue that offshore drilling presents a more real threat to American security than do foreign regimes.
Thus, depending on where you want to go in the paragraph, you have many options for ways to make connections for your reader. Remember, your reader is not in your brain; and as smart as he or she may be, you still need to make connections that explain the relevance or purpose of included sourced material.
Simply agreeing or disagreeing does not continue the conversation, nor does it highlight the importance of your findings. Another way of thinking about source engagement is a three-step process: explain, engage, and discuss.
• Explain what the author in the source is talking about and why it is important. Do not take it for granted that readers will know why the source material you use is important or significant.
• Engage and talk back to the source. Demonstrate an understanding of the source material, and use this to propel your argument.
• Discuss the implications of your response.
Here is an example of the three-step process:
An important question for both composition instructors and students to address is why new ways of writing ought to be explored. Compositions theorists Flower and Hayes say that “According to many writers, including our subjects, writing often seems a serendipitous experience, as act of discovery. People start out writing without knowing exactly where they will end up: yet they agree that writing is a purposeful act” (286). In other words, not all writers know from the beginning what their final writing product will look like. If writing is indeed a road to discovery, then trying different ways of writing is also a kind of discovery that contributes to the purposeful act of writing.
Connecting your claims to source material is an important facet of structuring a strong argument. Scholarly and up to date sources give your ideas credibility and authority; just be sure to prioritize your own thoughts over those of your sources.