Applying Evidence

Learning Objectives

  • Describe strategies for synthesizing research with personal ideas

Depending upon the purpose of the assignment, research can be used to accomplish many things. Whether you are writing to inform, persuade, or critique, research should be used in conjunction with your own ideas to support your thesis and your purpose. Do not let the research speak for itself. You, the writer of the document, are the most important voice. You are using outside sources to support your thesis. Therefore, let your comments, connections, objections, etc. play the strongest role in your paper.

In practical terms, some ways to develop and back up your assertions include:

  • Blend sources with your assertions. Organize your sources before and as you write so that they blend, even within paragraphs. Your paper—both as a whole and at the paragraph level—should reveal relationships among your sources, and should also reveal the relationships between your own ideas and those of your sources.
  • Write an original introduction and conclusion. As much as is practical, make the paper’s introduction and conclusion your own ideas or your own understanding of the ideas from your research. Use sources minimally in your introduction and conclusion.
  • Open and close paragraphs with originality. In general, use the openings and closing of your paragraphs to reveal your work—“enclose” your sources among your assertions. At a minimum, create your own topic sentences and wrap-up sentences for paragraphs.
  • Use transparent rhetorical strategies. When appropriate, outwardly practice such rhetorical strategies as analysis, synthesis, comparison, contrast, summary, description, definition, evaluation, classification, and even narration. Prove to your reader that you are thinking as you write.

MEAL PAragraphs

Your paragraphs in a research paper will focus on presenting the information you found in your source material and commenting on or analyzing that information. It’s not enough to simply present the information in your body paragraphs and move on. You want to give that information a purpose and connect it to your main idea or thesis statement.

Your body paragraphs in a research paper will include summarizing, paraphrasing, and quoting your source material, but you may be wondering if there is an effective way to organize this information.

Duke University coined a term called the “MEAL Plan” that provides an effective structure for paragraphs in an academic research paper: Main Idea, Evidence, Analysis, and Lead out, or Link. Select the pluses to learn more about what each letter stands for.

Anytime you include evidence in your paper, you must clarify where your own ideas end and the cited information begins. Part of your job is to help your reader draw the line between these two things, often by the way you create context for the cited information. A phrase such as “A 1979 study revealed that…” is an obvious announcement of citation to come.

When you quote or paraphrase an outside source, provide appropriate in-text citations. Following the citation, you must comment on this information: its significance, relevance, or even failure of the information as it relates to the thesis of your essay. Avoid stacking together quote after quote without showing your audience the purpose of the information. Always bring the paper back to your thoughts.

It is essential to use outside sources that are going to back up your argument. In many cases, researching will reveal evidence that might relate to the topic but does not support your position or “side” of the argument. Many assignments will ask you to acknowledge the other sides of the argument, so be sure to research your topic thoroughly and from many angles. Don’t just find sources that agree with your view. Remember that most issues are complex and have multiple “sides” or perspectives; a simple pro-con may not help you address the nuances or complexities of issues. Listen to and understand the variety of perspectives offered.

Within the pages of your research essay, it is important to properly reference and cite your sources to avoid plagiarism and to give credit for original ideas.

Incorporating Sources

There are three main ways to put a source to use in your essay: you can quote it, you can summarize it, and you can paraphrase it.


Quotation marks.Direct quotations are words and phrases that are taken directly from another source, and then used word-for-word in your paper. If you incorporate a direct quotation from another author’s text, you must put that quotation or phrase in quotation marks to indicate that it is not your language.

When writing direct quotations, you can use the source author’s name in the same sentence as the quotation to introduce the quoted text and to indicate the source in which you found the text. You should then include the page number or other relevant information in parentheses at the end of the phrase (the exact format will depend on the formatting style of your essay).

Pile of unorganized bricks.

Figure 1. Sources that are not properly integrated into your paper are like “bricks without mortar: you have the essential substance, but there’s nothing to hold it together, rendering the whole thing formless” (Smith)


Summarizing involves condensing the main idea of a source into a much shorter overview. A summary outlines a source’s most important points and general position. When summarizing a source, it is still necessary to use a citation to give credit to the original author. You must reference the author or source in the appropriate citation method at the end of the summary.


When paraphrasing, you may put any part of a source (such as a phrase, sentence, paragraph, or chapter) into your own words. You may find that the original source uses language that is more clear, concise, or specific than your own language, in which case you should use a direct quotation, putting quotation marks around those unique words or phrases you don’t change.

It is common to use a mixture of paraphrased text and quoted words or phrases, as long as the direct quotations are inside of quotation marks.[1]

Try It


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  1. Smith, Matt. "Putting It All Together: Thesis Synthesis." Web log post. Walden University Writing Center, 12 Apr. 2013. Web. 04 Apr. 2016.