How to Support Arguments & Positions Supporting positions and conclusions

Many papers that you write in college will require you to take a position or make a conclusion. You must take a position on the subject you are discussing and support that position with supporting evidence. It’s important that you use the right kind of support, that you use it effectively, and that you have an appropriate amount of it.

If your professor has told you that you need more analysis, suggested that you’re “just listing” points or giving a “laundry list,” or asked you how certain points are related to your argument, it may mean that you can do more to fully incorporate your supporting evidence into your argument. Grading feedback comments like “for example?,” “proof?,” “go deeper,” or “expand” suggest that you may need more evidence.

What are primary and secondary sources?

Distinguish between primary and secondary sources of evidence (in this case, “primary” means “first” or “original,” not “most important”). Primary sources include original documents, photographs, interviews, and so forth. Secondary sources present information that has already been processed or interpreted by someone else.

For example, if you are writing a paper about the movie “The Matrix,” the movie itself, an interview with the director, and production photos could serve as primary sources of evidence. A movie review from a magazine or a collection of essays about the film would be secondary sources. Depending on the context, the same item could be either a primary or a secondary source: if I am writing about people’s relationships with animals, a collection of stories about animals might be a secondary source; if I am writing about how editors gather diverse stories into collections, the same book might now function as a primary source.

Where can I find evidence?

The best source for supporting evidence is the assigned resources for each week in the classroom.  Do not use outside resources unless instructed to do so by your professor. 

Other outside sources of information and tips about how to use them in gathering supporting evidence are listed below.

Print and electronic sources

Books, journals, websites, newspapers, magazines, and documentary films are some of the most common sources of evidence for academic writing.


An interview is a good way to collect information that you can’t find through any other type of research and can provide an expert’s opinion, biographical or first-hand experiences, and suggestions for further research.  Consult with your professor before conducting interviews or using interviews in support of positions.

Personal or professional experience

Using your own personal or professional experiences can be a powerful way to appeal to your readers. You should, however, use these experiences only when it is appropriate to your topic, your writing goals, and your audience. Personal or professional experience should not be the  only forms of supporting evidence in a paper.

Using evidence in an argument

Does evidence speak for itself?

Absolutely not. After you introduce supporting evidence into your writing, you must explain why and how this evidence supports your position.   You have to explain the significance of the supporting evidence and its function in your paper. What turns a fact or piece of information into supporting evidence is the connection it has with a larger claim or argument: evidence is always evidence for or against something, and you have to make that link clear.

As writers, we sometimes assume that our readers already know what we are talking about; we may be wary of elaborating too much because we think the point is obvious. But readers can’t read our minds: although they may be familiar with many of the ideas we are discussing, they don’t know what we are trying to do with those ideas unless we indicate it through explanations, organization, transitions, and so forth. Try to spell out the connections that you were making in your mind when you chose your evidence, decided where to place it in your paper, and drew conclusions based on it. Remember, you can always cut prose from your paper later if you decide that you are stating the obvious.

Always write as if the reader knows absolutely nothing about the topic.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself about a specific bit of supporting evidence:

· OK, I’ve just stated this point, but so what? Why is it interesting? Why should anyone care?

· What does this information imply?

· What are the consequences of thinking this way or looking at a problem this way?

· I’ve just described what something is like or how I see it, but why is it like that?

· I’ve just said that something happens—so how does it happen? How does it come to be the way it is?

· Why is this information important? Why does it matter?

· How is this idea related to my thesis? What connections exist between them? Does it support my thesis? If so, how does it do that?

· Can I give an example to illustrate this point?

Answering these questions may help you explain how your evidence is related to your overall argument.

How can I incorporate evidence into my paper?

There are many ways to present supporting evidence. Often, your evidence will be included as text in the body of your paper, as a paraphrase, or summary. Sometimes you might include graphs, charts, or tables; excerpts from an interview; or photographs or illustrations with accompanying captions.


DO NOT USE quotations in assignments in this course.  The only exception is if you are referring to an original, one-of-kind document, such as the U.S. Constitution.


When you paraphrase, you take a specific section of a text and put it into your own words. Putting it into your own words doesn’t mean just changing or rearranging a few of the author’s words: to paraphrase well and avoid plagiarism, try setting your source aside and restating the sentence or paragraph you have just read, as though you were describing it to another person. Paraphrasing is different than summary because a paraphrase focuses on a specific, brief bit of text (like a phrase, sentence, or paragraph). You’ll need to indicate when you are paraphrasing someone else’s text by citing your source correctly, just as you would with a quotation.  Refer to the module in Content, “How to Use APA” for instructions and examples for proper APA citation.

When might you want to paraphrase?

· Paraphrase when you want to introduce a writer’s position.

· Paraphrase when you are supporting a specific point and need to draw on a certain place in a text that supports your position—for example, when one paragraph in a source is especially relevant.

· Paraphrase when you want to present a writer’s view on a topic that differs from your position or that of another writer; you can then refute writer’s specific points in your own words after you paraphrase.

· Paraphrase when you want to comment on a particular example that another writer uses.

· Paraphrase when you need to present information that’s unlikely to be questioned.


When you summarize, you are offering an overview of an entire text, or at least a lengthy section of a text. Summary is useful when you are providing background information, grounding your own argument, or mentioning a source as a counterargument. A summary is less nuanced than paraphrased material. It can be the most efficient and effective way to incorporate several sources.  When you are summarizing someone else’s argument or ideas, be sure this is clear to the reader and cite your source appropriately.

Statistics, data, charts, graphs, photographs, illustrations

Sometimes the best evidence for your argument is hard facts or visual representation of a fact. This type of evidence can be a solid backbone for your argument, but you still need to create context for your reader and draw the connections you want him or her to make. Remember that statistics, data, charts, graph, photographs, and illustrations are all open to interpretation. Guide the reader through the interpretation process. Again, always, cite the origin of your evidence if you didn’t produce the material you are using yourself.  Do not overuse this type of supporting evidence.

Do I need more supporting evidence?

Let’s say that you’ve identified some appropriate sources, found some evidence, explained to the reader how it fits into your overall argument, incorporated it into your draft effectively, and cited your sources. How do you tell whether you’ve got enough evidence and whether it’s working well in the service of a strong argument or analysis? Here are some techniques you can use to review your draft and assess your use of evidence.

Make a reverse outline

A reverse outline is a great technique for helping you see how each paragraph contributes to proving your thesis. When you make a reverse outline, you record the main ideas in each paragraph in a shorter (outline-like) form so that you can see at a glance what is in your paper. The reverse outline is helpful in at least three ways. First, it lets you see where you have dealt with too many topics in one paragraph (in general, you should have one main idea per paragraph). Second, the reverse outline can help you see where you need more evidence to prove your point or more analysis of that evidence. Third, the reverse outline can help you write your topic sentences: once you have decided what you want each paragraph to be about, you can write topic sentences that explain the topics of the paragraphs and state the relationship of each topic to the overall thesis of the paper.

Play devil’s advocate or doubt everything

This technique may be easiest to use with a partner. Ask your friend to take on one of the roles above, then read your paper aloud to him/her. After each section, pause and let your friend interrogate you. If your friend is playing devil’s advocate, he or she will always take the opposing viewpoint and force you to keep defending yourself.  If your friend is a doubter, he or she won’t believe anything you say. Justifying your position verbally or explaining yourself will force you to strengthen the evidence in your paper. If you already have enough evidence but haven’t connected it clearly enough to your main argument, explaining to your friend how the evidence is relevant or what it proves may help you to do so.