Evidence

Learning Objective

  • Evaluate the keys to successful analytic writing

A good analytic thesis statement (or claim) may sound smart or slick, but it requires evidence to be fully realized. Use movie trailers and the actual full-length movies as an analogy. If you see a great one-minute movie trailer online and then go see the film only to leave disappointed because all the good parts were in the trailer, you feel cheated, right? You think you were promised something that didn’t deliver in its execution. A paper with a strong thesis statement but lackluster evidence feels the same way to readers. So what does good analytic evidence look like? Think again about “how,” “why,” and “so what.” A claim introduces these interpretations, and evidence lets you show them. Keep in mind that evidence when writing analytically typically builds on itself as the piece progresses, much like a good movie builds to an interesting climax.

Key Takeaways about evidence

Be selective about evidence. Having a narrow thesis statement will help you be selective with evidence, but even then, you don’t need to include any and every piece of information related to your main claim. Consider the best points to back up your analytic thesis statement and go deeply into them. (Also, remember that you may modify your thesis statement as you think and write, so being selective about what evidence you use in an analysis may actually help you narrow down what was a broad main claim as you work.) Refer back to our movie theme in this section: You have probably seen plenty of films that would have been better with some parts cut out and more attention paid to key characters and/or ideas.

Be clear and explicit with your evidence. Don’t assume that readers know exactly what you are thinking. Make your points and explain them in detail, providing information and context for readers, where necessary. Remember that analysis is critical examination and interpretation, so you can’t just assume that others always share or intuit your interpretations. Need a movie analogy? Think back on all the times you or someone you know has said something like “I’m not sure what is going on in this movie.”

Move past obvious interpretations. Analyzing requires brainpower. Writing analytically is even more difficult. Don’t, however, try to take the easy way out by using obvious evidence (or working from an obvious claim). Many times writers have a couple of great pieces of evidence to support an interesting interpretation, but they feel the need to tack on an obvious idea—often more of an observation than analysis—somewhere in their work. This probably stems from a desire to write a five-paragraph essay, which features three points of support. Writing analytically, though, does not mean writing a five-paragraph essay (not much writing in college does). Develop your other evidence further or modify your main idea to allow room for additional strong evidence, but avoid obvious observations as support for your main claim. One last movie comparison? Go take a look at some of the debate on predictable Hollywood scripts. Have you ever watched a movie and felt like you have seen it before? You have, in one way or another. A sharp reader will be about as interested in obvious evidence as he or she will be in seeing a tired script reworked for the thousandth time.

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