One of my favorite assignments was asking my students to research a medical mystery.
Students would select a medical mystery from the list and then research the history, information, and diagnosis of random medical conditions that had affected patients.
My students loved learning about these random medical conditions, but they were only able to write about their topic through the use of textual evidence.
Whenever I would assign essays to my students, I was forcing them to become temporary experts on a topic they didn’t know much about.
Textual evidence is the ingredient that is necessary for academic writing to be believable and high quality.
My students were not doctors, nurses, or in the medical field at all. Through the use of textual evidence, they were able to write about these topics and have an expert’s on the topics to defend their research.
Textual evidence has many different functions, but primarily it is used to defend the writer’s claims.
Textual evidence can also be used in research, argumentative, and compare and contrast essays.
What’s the Point of Textual Evidence?
Textual evidence’s primary function is to defend your claim in writing.
A claim, or thesis (or your point/opinion), is the compass for the entire essay.
When you make a claim in an essay, you are telling your reader, “This is what I want you to think when you’re done reading this”.
If you were writing an essay on narwhals being the most mysterious animal on earth, you would want to find evidence that supported your claim.
This evidence could include articles from the New York Times about narwhals only being spotted by so many people in the world. It could even include information from a trusted zoological study citing the unknown information about narwhals.
Textual evidence should not include a random Facebook post about narwhals you saw. It also shouldn’t include an article about Narwhals that clearly explains everything there is to know about the creatures.
When you are using textual evidence in your writing, you want to make sure it is your ultimate wingman (meaning, it’s making you look good).
How Do You Use Textual Evidence?
There are many rules for using textual evidence in writing. The best thing that you can do is find a resource that will help you in the specific formatting you’re working with.
Did you know that there are more than five different writing styles (including MLA, APA, Chicago, and more)?
There are three different ways to use textual evidence in your writing: direct quotes, indirect quotes, and paraphrasing.
- Direct quotes are word-for-word quotes from your sources.
- Indirect quotes are references to quotes from sources without stating exactly what it says.
- Paraphrasing is a quick summary of what you read, but not directly quoting it.
Whenever you use textual evidence, you must remember to cite your work to avoid plagiarism.
It is important to remember that you don’t want your textual evidence stick out in your writing.
Whenever you include textual evidence, you must introduce where you found the information. A sentence like, “In the 2020 article, “Narwhals: Natures Unicorn”…” will let your reader know that you are using textual evidence.
You must also analyze the textual evidence for your reader. Let them know why it’s important. You may also use the time after to discuss how it supports your claim.
You must think of all textual evidence like an island in your essay. Introducing and analyzing textual evidence serves as the boats and bridges to get your reader to the evidence.
When Do You Use Textual Evidence?
Textual evidence is most commonly found in academic research papers.
It is highly unlikely that you would ever include textual evidence in a personal narrative.
Frequent applications will consist of: analyses, compare and contrasts, research, argumentative, and tradition 5-paragraph essays.
How Do You Get Better at Using Textual Evidence?
The world’s most elegant woman, Coco Chanel, once said, “Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take one thing off.” This same principle can be applied to using textual evidence.
Great essays are not created because they have 35 quotes and pages of references. Great essays are born out of writers critically analyzing the information they have and only including the most effective quotes and textual evidence.
To use textual evidence effectively, writers must become investigators of their sources, determining credibility and application to their specific writing.
It is only after practicing these skills that textual evidence is easier to understand and more effective in writing.
Become a Master Investigator
The first and most important rule to using textual evidence is to become a strict vetter of sources. This is just a really fancy way to say, “make sure your sources are legit.”
The most common problem with citing sources in writing is that the information is untrue, made up, or taken out of context.
Did you know that anyone (including you and me) can edit Wikipedia pages? That means that I could go in right now and edit key details about molecular biology without ever having taken a single course on the topic!
Of course, Wikipedia has many safeguards in place to catch these errors, but the risk is still there that you might be receiving false information. You should never consider Wikipedia as a reliable source when conducting research.
These sources include:
- Your textbook, novel, or teacher-directed sources
- Websites from universities, well-known journals (like the Harvard Business Review), .gov sites, and news outlets such as CNN, New York Times, etc.
These sources do not include:
- What your grandma said was true.
- Articles on celebrity gossip pages.
- Something you saw shared on a Facebook post.
- A story your parent’s told you.
- Any websites that are older than five years feature other unreliable information, or generally strike you as “sketchy.”
When you are researching a topic, you should consider yourself an investigator. When you read something, do you think it sounds right for the topic you’re studying? Have you read this information anywhere else? Is there somebody you can ask who can verify this information?
When we think like investigators, we can usually discern the reliability of the source.
Practice Your Craft
Once you have become more comfortable with testing the source’s reliability, you have to start working on using textual evidence to defend your writing.
When you are looking for textual evidence to include in your writing, you must make sure that the information adds value to your work. You would never include a word without knowing the definition. You also wouldn’t use the wrong word because you didn’t feel like using the right one. The same idea applies to adding textual evidence.
When you include textual evidence, you must first introduce it, present it, and finally explain it.
If the information doesn’t pack enough of a punch to make your point, it probably doesn’t have any business being in your writing.
If you want to improve your writing, you must practice.
- 30,000+ Practice Questions
- 500+ Video Lectures
- 15,000+ Video Explanations
- Printable Worksheets
Use the criticism that your teachers and peers give you. Talk with others to process complex topics. And utilize resources like ArgoPrep to refine your skills as a writer.
Did you know that ArgoPrep has a comprehensive curriculum for K-8 and beyond? ArgoPrep is committed to student success and provides award-winning support to help students reach their goals daily.
If you are struggling with the writing process, consider using ArgoPrep to hone your skills. They offer video explanations of every single problem they’ve printed. Plus, they have hours of online tutorials and even optional one-on-one tutoring.
With all of the different formatting rules from MLA and APA, sometimes textual evidence can be daunting.
The fact is, textual evidence is an aid for you to improve your writing.
Just like when you are trying to convince a parent that something is a good idea. Your parents always believe you more when you and your brother are working together to persuade them.
Textual evidence is very similar! Using the words of credible people and sources, your writing and thesis will be more understandable for your reader.
The next time you feel like you’re struggling to find the right words to defend your thesis, dive into some research.
Remember, textual evidence is a valuable resource, but always remember to cite the information to avoid plagiarism.