How to write good paragraphs 2: Evidence
In Part 1 of this blog series on how to write good paragraphs, I talked about the idea of a “claim”.
Now, let’s look at how we can present good reasons for our claims in a paragraph.
Let’s look at evidence.
When is a claim “substantiated”?
Remember: there is a difference between claim and fact. We can make the text by placing [In my opinion,] before a sentence: if it fits, we have a claim!
You need to have “good reasons” to support your claim because that’s what gives “substance” to it.
Hence, the word “substantiated”. Get it?
The word to use here is “plausibility”.
Opinions can never be “true”. The best you can hope to do is to make “your version of the truth” (your opinion) so plausible that someone else will accept it as “true”.
Can you see the difference?
When we talk about “convincing” someone we talk about “proposing a version of the truth to them that is more plausible than their own”.
And only “good reasons” can do it.
In schools and universities, however, we have a more accurate word than ” good reasons”: evidence.
[In my opinion,] takes away the strength of a statement, because it signals that the statement is open to discussion.
“Evidence” adds strength to the statement. It adds “plausibility”.
But it doesn’t do so automatically. “Substantiating” a claim is your job.
There are three important characteristics of “evidence”:
- Evidence is incremental: the more evidence you give, the stronger your claim is, as long as separate pieces of evidence do not contradict one another.
- Evidence is variable: the same piece of evidence can be used for opposing claims, depending on how it is interpreted.
- Evidence is data-based: evidence has a basis in verifiable facts which are collected as data in their respective subjects (eg Literature: text, History: sources, Physics: experimental data, Maths: equations, etc)
Being able to work with these characteristics will:
- Make your evidence reliable: when others check your evidence, they accept it as valid.
- Increase the plausibility of your claim: others are more likely to accept your claim as “true”.
The consequence of these characteristics of “evidence” is that using evidence is a skill and requires a good technique.
Let’s go back to the London Bridge example:
We have established that the claim to be substantiated is that “the Eiffel Tower is more beautiful than London Bridge.”
Some examples of “good reasons” or evidence might include:
- Analysis of design and material, resulting in uniqueness of the structure, adding aesthetic novelty and beauty
- Data collected through surveys testing popular opinion and perception of respective beauty
- Mathematical analysis of Golden ratios, and other numerical standards of “beauty”
Taken together, a good “argument” can eventually be made for the claim that one structure is “more beautiful” than the other.
But, this goes for both sides! The side that treats evidence more convincingly will win….
What does this have to do with a paragraph?
In your paragraph, you will present and analyse your evidence, choosing a selection and sequence that helps the reader to follow your ideas.
You will want to present evidence like you build a house of cards.
Look at these (made-up, but quite relevant) “rules” for building a house of cards:
- Always place one card next to or on top of another
- You start in the bottom row and you finish in top row
- Every card contributes to building the foundation for every next card
- First-placed cards will carry all the cards that follow
- Last-placed cards should not destabilize those cards below them
Maybe you should first go and build a house of cards before you write your next essay? I bet it might help.
Anyhow, the house of cards idea helps to remind you that you need to think carefully about what evidence to place in what order:
- Will it be more convincing to present mathematical analysis first?
- Should you start with writing about the public opinion poll?
- What about the design and materials evidence?
If you start with the opinion poll first, your reader might think you are using maths to validate your opinions. That is a weak structure, because it makes us suspicious if you, for example, tweaked your evidence to your advantage.
Maybe it’s more clever to start with maths first?
Show that there is some mathematical understanding of beauty; then, that those who designed the building were aware of it and followed the rules; and then, that the outcome is a positive reception by the public.
Where to next?
Sounds pretty convincing, right?
Finally, you’ll have to make sure that your paragraphs “add up to something”. That they really do make a house of cards, and not just a heap of paper…
Check out the next post in the series on paragraph to know what an “overarching argument” is.