Monday, March 4, 2013

Evidence: Writing Well-Supported Paragraphs

This is a photo of a doe and her fawn.  A little bit of evidence would help shed some light on the subject.
One of the first rules of writing a well-supported paragraph is to support the specific claim of the topic sentence, not merely repeat the claim.  This means the writer should write with clarity,  using enough evidence in each paragraph to satisfy the curiosity of his or her audience.  In this, there are two implications.  First, the writer has to understand the needs, attitudes, and knowledge-level of that specific audience and adapt the evidence accordingly.  Additionally, the writer has to know how and when to use different types of evidence.

Using Narrative Evidence to Support a Topic Sentence

To use narrative is to tell a story, usually in chronological (time) order.  Sometimes, an entire essay can be based on one extended story.  When a writer uses a narrative for an entire essay, we call it a “narrative essay.”  However, shorter bits of narrative can also be used to support individual topic sentences.

Writers use narrative when they are conveying ideas that are not easily explained in concrete or logical terms.  For example, in order to explain “love,” a writer might use a narrative, or multiple narratives, about a time or times when he or she loved a person, place, thing, or idea.  It’s nearly impossible to define “love,” but telling a story about it can help readers understand the writer’s idea and come to a shared conclusion through the act of storytelling.

Using Description to Support Topic Sentences

A writer uses description to give visceral details about the topic.  Visceral details are statements that explain the topic using the five senses.  Sometimes writers write an entire essay in the descriptive mode.

An essay about how to bake a cake could make excellent use of description to answer potential questions the readers might have about the cake.  A reader might want to know the texture and taste of the cake before they try to bake it, or they might need to know how to tell if the cake is done baking.  Description is also useful in objective reporting, such as when police officers must carefully explain everything they saw, heard, or maybe even smelled when they approached a crime scene.

Testimony Adds Authority and Witness to Paragraphs

Testimony is something someone else has written or said.  That person might be an expert who lends authority to the writer’s position, or it might be a lay person who can act like a “witness” in support of the writer’s claim.

Writers can use testimony, as stated above, to add authority, to provide “witness,” or to borrow words from another person who has said something more eloquently than the writer has been able to say it (Osborn, Osborn, & Osborn, 2009).  For example, to add authority to this statement, I have paraphrased and cited a textbook passage.

Examples as Evidence Make Ideas Real

Examples can be either hypothetical or real.  For example, if I were to explain grocery store product placement techniques, I could write about the grocery store I most frequent and how their most expensive non-food items, flowers and gifts, are placed to the right of the entranceway for highest visibility by shoppers.  I could also, on the other hand, explain that a grocery store might, for highest visibility, place their highest priced non-food items to the right of the entranceway; perhaps wines or imported cheeses.  Instead of being specific in the second example, I have been general and hypothetical.

Whether real or hypothetical, examples help make the writer’s ideas concrete for the reader.  Examples help readers picture the writer’s ideas or place an idea in a real or realistic context.

Reason and Logic Makes your Argument Clear

To use reason to support the claim of a topic sentence is to use analogy and inference.  Additionally, a writer could use one of the two frameworks for logical reasoning, which are inductive reasoning or deductive reasoning.  

Inductive reasoning happens when a writer examines information and makes observations about the topic, and then makes a statement of probability based on that information and those observations.  Scientific papers, studies, and experiments call for writing using inductive reasoning, wherein the writer fully explains his or her reasons for coming to a particular, probable, conclusion.  This type of personal observation and conclusion structure also works in essays.  Look at this example of inductive reasoning: If a student has been late to class every Monday for eight weeks, it is reasonable for that professor to expect the student to be late on Monday in the ninth week.

Deductive reasoning relies mostly on the syllogism, a set of patterns of logic writers can use to help answer questions with certainty.   One way to use deduction in writing is to use the enthymeme instead of the thesis statement to open the discussion of the topic: That means the writer uses a thesis that creates a clear connection between the claim and the reasons.  The reasons are easy to find in sentences that use the word “because,” such as in the statement, “Teachers should not be armed in the classroom because it would have a negative psychological effect on the students.”  The reason will follow the word “because.”  This is an especially effective technique when writing in the argumentative mode or preparing a debate.  After such a statement, the writer’s main job becomes supporting that statement.

Facts and Statistics Establish Credibility

A fact is a piece of information that is verifiable, such as a dictionary definition or information given in reports or other reference sources.  As a matter of fact, it is a fact that the faces on Mount Rushmore are George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln.  Statistics are numerical figures that scientists or researchers have collected and interpreted.  The following sentence contains two statistics: According to the United States Geological Survey, “About 70 percent of the Earth's surface is water-covered, and the oceans hold about 96.5 percent of all Earth's water” (2013, para. 1).

Facts and statistics help a writer establish credibility for the idea or position stated in the topic sentence.  According to Osborn, Osborn, and Osborn (2009, pg. 170), “Facts and statistics are especially important when your topic is unfamiliar or your ideas are controversial.”  Verifiable facts and statistics provided by expert sources can help persuade a reluctant audience or help inform an audience about a new idea.

No matter the type or topic of an essay, the writer must add evidence to the paragraphs to support the topic sentences.  Having an arsenal of types of evidence at the ready will allow a writer to write wonderfully clear and engaging prose.

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  • Osborn, M., Osborn, S, & Osborn, R. (2009).  Public Speaking (8th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson Allyn & Bacon.
  • United States Geological Survey. (2013). The USGS water science school. Retrieved from

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