Text Evidence Definition
Textual evidence uses information from an originating source or other texts to support an argument. Think of textual evidence as the driving force behind debates. Debates take a position and then use facts as supporting evidence. You can take any debate position you want, but without facts to back up your argument, you can’t prove your point.
Here’s an important issue: “evidence” is not the same as a “claim.” Evidence is a single fact or set of facts. “Barack Obama was the 44th president of the United States” is a fact. A claim is a statement that can be in dispute and requires further evidence. “Aliens are buried at Area 51 in Nevada” is a claim that can’t be verified. Textual evidence only uses facts to make its point.
So, what should you look for when evaluating textual evidence? Think P-D-F. No, not the file format used in presentations. You want to make sure the information is precise, descriptive, and factual. That’s easy to remember. Here are some clues to look for when analyzing textual evidence.
Look for data that also includes the source information. Data are the strongest available pieces of evidence because statistics use analysis to reach strong, accurate conclusions. Here’s an example of statistics. Which one of the examples is factual?
On average, Americans with a college degree earn more money than Americans who have only earned a high school diploma.
About 327 million people live in the United States.
Nearly half of American households own dogs.
The answer? Those are all factual statements. You can go to the source and examine the data yourself. That’s why statistics are such a powerful tool in textual evidence. The next form of evidence isn’t as powerful as statistics, but it’s often used to examine textual evidence.
Experts give testimony in a number of areas. Testimony doesn’t just mean in the legal sense, like when someone takes the stand in a court case. Testimony also means providing a set of facts based on expertise. An experienced and trained car mechanic can provide testimony on the workings of an engine. A doctor, with years of specialized training, can testify about treatment options for patients. A pilot, with thousands of hours of flight time, can testify about the control panel on a jumbo jet. They all have expertise backed by verifiable factual information. Authors use testimonial information to make their argument in an attempt to sway their audience.
Statistics and expert testimony are the most reliable ways to analyze textual evidence, but there are two other methods as well.
Anecdotal evidence can be tricky since anecdotes are personal observations that may or may not be factual. You can embellish anecdotes for literary effect. For example, you tell an anecdote about the end of your day and it goes like this:
After a long day, I’d come home with a headache. My body hurt. I was so tired that I didn’t want to eat. I don’t know if this makes any sense, but I was so tired I couldn’t sleep. Maybe that’s because I had so much on my mind.
From there, the author might ask, “Have you ever been unhappy at work?” The author would list the medical symptoms that correlate with unhappiness at work and then provide statistics on the number of Americans unhappy at their job. The anecdote, on its own, isn’t really sufficient to persuade the audience. But anecdotes can serve a valuable literary purpose by keeping the audience engaged and leading them to the facts.
An analogy compares two different things. “My house is as hot as the sun” is an example of an analogy. But in textual evidence, analogies prove useful when there’s little available research on a specific topic. Cutting-edge topics have little data because researchers are in the beginning stages of gathering information.
Here are two examples of analogical evidence:
Based on how the audience uses mobile phones, we believe this is the right screen size for tablet computers.
I saw a boring film that has a similar plot to this movie, so therefore the movie must be boring.
In analogical evidence, the author tries to show a parallel, but you can see the problems, especially in the movie analogy. Just because one film is boring doesn’t mean a similar movie will also be. That’s why analogical evidence is the weakest form of evidence.
So that’s our look at textual evidence, the process of finding facts to support an argument. We reviewed statistics and testimony, the two most reliable ways of analyzing textual evidence. We reviewed anecdotal and analogical evidence, two useful, but weaker, methods of providing facts.
I hope this overview was helpful.
See you guys next time!