The College Writing Series: How to Pick Great Evidence For Your Essays

A few weeks ago, I started the first true series of Teach Them Right, called The College Writing Series. My first post for the series gave a very brief overview of the format I will be using (CEA – Claim, Evidence, Analysis), and what to expect in future posts.

Now on my second post of this series, I would like to touch on the first step of writing a college-level essay in CEA format, picking evidence for your paragraph. By picking your evidence before doing anything else, you are able to form your argument based off of the evidence instead of picking evidence that fits your argument.

To give you a solid definition, evidence can be described as a fact, statistic, observation, or quotation. For college, I almost want to take out the observation part of the definition, but I left it there because there are some classes that want your observations as evidence. It really depends on the type of class and the context of the essay assignment. To break it down to the basics, evidence can be considered anything that is hard to argue. Of course, anything can be argued against, but finding something that is hard to argue anchors your argument.

Now that you know what evidence is, let’s explore the steps toward finding great evidence. In this example, let’s assume that you have a research paper to write about eyewitness misidentification, which leads to the conviction of an innocent person.

Step 1 – Find a Database of Articles Related to the Topic

For a research paper (or any academic essay in college), do not use Wikipedia. You need to find a reputable source, whether that be a magazine (Time Magazine), or maybe a newspaper (New York Times). For this example, we want to find a scholarly article written by some kind of expert. Both of the two colleges I have attended (one a community college, the other a university) have a database of articles for students to use. At my community college, the database is based off of its county’s library. At my university, I have access to multiple large databases.

Getting to these databases might be a challenge, though. At my community college, there is a link in Blackboard (the school’s online home for enrolled students). At my university, there are a few steps I had to go through on the library’s website in order to get the list of databases available to me as a student. If you have trouble, you can always talk to someone at your school’s library and they will probably be able to show how to find what you need.

Step 2 – Find Articles that Seem Like They Could Help in Any Way

Once in the database, you need to do a search. Not a general search, you need to complete an advanced search. Most, if not all, of your databases should be able to allow you to do this. By completing an advanced search, you can filter out irrelevant articles that will not help your essay. You want to get specific enough in your search to the point where the database is bringing up no more than 20 results.

Step 3 – Save Time by Reading the Preview and Introduction

Depending on your database, when looking at the details of the article it might include some kind of preview or excerpt to give you an idea of what the article is about. Reading that portion is extremely important in order for you to save time. Who wants to read through the whole article to find out what the point of it was? Another trick that will save time is to pay attention to the first few paragraphs of the article. Does the article’s introduction sound like it could be relevant to your essay? If not, move on to the next article.

Step 4 – Read the Conclusion

After reading the introduction of the article, you should have some kind of knowledge on what the article is trying to figure out. If it sounds like something you could include in your essay, then skip the body of the article and go straight to the conclusion. Why? Because this will give you even more information on what the article’s purpose is. If the conclusion is good enough, you might even be able to use part of it as evidence in your essay.

Another reason to skip to the conclusion is that the question, “why?” is often answered there. In many research papers, the goal is to point out the problem and present ways to solve the problem.

Step 5 – Now Read the Body

Sometimes the body will include some really good passages that you could also use.

Step 6 – Repeat Steps 1-5

Keep repeating this process until you have a decent-sized list of evidence to use in your essay. 15-25 pieces of evidence should be enough for a 10-page paper.

After following these 6 steps, you should have a decent amount of evidence ready for your essay. Keep these passages together with their reference. If you reference each piece of evidence right after collecting it, you will save time and energy in the long run. However you need to reference the evidence (an example would be MLA format), just make sure it gets done early.

If you’ve liked this series so far, you can sign up to be on the email list and receive updates on an upcoming course that I am creating, which will go into more detail everything that I am explaining in this series. To receive the updates, plus some other freebies that I may throw in, click here.


2 thoughts on “The College Writing Series: How to Pick Great Evidence For Your Essays

  1. Thank you for this series Reggie Reg! I have consistently struggled with feeling like I take way too much time in sorting my thoughts and gathering evidence when writing essays / research papers. The ‘free-spirit’ facet of my personality is ever hopeful that everything will magically fall into place when I need it to and on time for assignment submission! Lol! I have learned that I need to be much more systematic in my approach to writing any type of paper and you provide straight-forward pearls to aid in this strategy. The statement, “By picking your evidence before doing anything else, you are able to form your argument based off of the evidence instead of picking evidence that fits your argument.”…yowzas, this alone will be a MAJOR time saver for me!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the comment! Finding evidence first also helps anchor your argument because you found the facts first, instead of making up an argument that might be true.

      Glad my post helped, and don’t forget to subscribe to the email list!


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