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Section 3.6 Supporting an Argument with Evidence

To be convincing, an argument must have compelling evidence linked and supported with clear analysis. Strong arguments are thoroughly reasoned and continuous in their analysis of evidence, which is sometimes challenging, but it helps to keep a few principles in mind: Notice-Reflect-Write and quote sandwiches.

Warning 3.6.1. Poorly Reasoned Analysis.

It is possible to write a claim and then throw in some evidence without connecting the two. Consider the following construction:

Claim: Though they are in the same geographic space, Adele and her addressee are separated on a nonspatial level by an otherworldly emotional distance.

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Evidence: In “Hello,” Adele sings, “I'm in California dreaming . . . / . . . / There's such a difference between us / And a million miles” (10–11).

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In “Hello,” Adele sings, “I'm in California dreaming . . . / . . . / There's such a difference between us / And a million miles” (10-11). Though they are in the same geographic space, Adele and her addressee are separated on a nonspatial level by an otherworldly emotional distance.

Okay, what's going on? Though the intuitive reader may be able to follow the writer's logic, this argument lacks the analysis necessary to explicitly connect the evidence to the claim; because it lacks this analysis, the argument is not as convincing as it could be. How can the writer better analyze the text to make their point? Let's consider the following three-step principle.

Noticing your Evidence.

Effective analysis identifies the specific elements of the evidence that point to the claim being made.

Look over the lyrics to Adele's “Hello.” Notice anything that stands out to you and anything you think might be meaningful for the song. Pay attention to language, syntax (sentence structure), logic, and other formal or thematic aspects. For instance, I might think that when Adele sings “a million miles” she's exaggerating just a little.

Reflecting on your Evidence.

Effective analysis is predicated on “how” and “why” questions. Ask yourself these types of questions to move from the realm of identifying to that of speculating.

Let's think about some things that we noticed: What do these rhetorical, aesthetic, logical, or formal choices mean, or how do they contribute to the meaning of the text? Pay attention to how form and content intersect. For example, I might look at the phrase “a million miles” and think that, since the earth is only 8,000 miles in diameter, Adele's longing for this person is otherworldly, or exceeds the bounds of earthly description.

The song tells us that Adele's in California and that the person she's addressing is “a million miles away.” I wonder: What's a million miles away from California? I Google the earth's diameter and find that it's roughly 8,000 miles in diameter. I do some math to determine where a million miles from California is. But one million divided by 8,000 comes out evenly—125. So Adele's addressee is in California as well, or at least in the area. Then I think, Adele is referring to the distance and not the displacement between herself and her addressee. Thus, though the displacement between Adele and her addressee is 0, the figurative distance between them is equal to 125 times the earth's diameter. The phrase “a million miles” then encodes, ironically, that, though they are close to each other geographically, Adele and her addressee are separated on a nonspatial level by an otherworldly emotional distance.

Writing about your Evidence.

Now that you've reflected on the things you noticed, put your thoughts into words. It can be helpful to speak your thought process while you're writing, just to be as specific as possible.

In “Hello,” Adele's use of hyperbole reveals the otherworldly intensity of her longing; she sings, “I'm in California dreaming . . . / . . . / There's such a difference between us / And a million miles” (10-11). The phrase “a million miles” is an exaggerated estimation of the distance between Adele and the person whom she addresses. The use of “California” as a geographical marker suggests that the person Adele is addressing is a million miles away from California. However, the earth is only 8,000 miles in diameter. One million divided by 8,000 is 125 with no remainder. Assuming the person Adele is addressing is also somewhere on earth, the “million miles” between Adele and her addressee actually locates the addressee in California. “A million miles” must then refer to a distance, as opposed to a displacement, suggesting that though the displacement between Adele and her addressee is 0, the figurative distance between them is equal to 125 times the earth's diameter. The phrase “a million miles” then encodes, ironically, that, though they are in the same geographic space, Adele and her addressee are separated on a nonspatial level by an otherworldly emotional distance.

Note 3.6.2.

(You'll want to make your thought process as transparent as possible so that others can respond to your argument. For instance, someone could respond to the above argument by saying that a person could travel a million miles in a nonlinear fashion such that Adele and her addressee could as likely be 4,000 miles apart as they are 0 miles apart.)

And you're done! By following this simple, three-step process, the writer comes up with a coherent and thoroughly reasoned analysis that connects evidence to claim in a convincing way.

Take some time to practice the above strategies on your own. When you're done, take a quick break and watch everyone's favorite nature video personality, Sir David Attenborough, narrate the beginning of the “Hello” music video.