Especially in your are working in the humanities (and some social sciences), he most common evidence youwill offer to support your claims will be quotations from the texts you read and references to passages in them. Without such evidence, your claims are merely statements of opinion. You are, as we said earlier, entitled to your opinions, but you’re not entitled to having your readers agree with mere assertions. In fact, your readers generally will not highly value your opinions unless you provide some evidence to support them. When you provide evidence, you turn your opinions into arguments.
But before readers can value your claim as supported byevidence, they must first underestand how your evidence counts as evidence for that claim. No flaw more afflicts the papers of less experienced writers than to make some sort ofclaim, or to offer a quotation from the text, and assume the reader understands howthe quotation speaks to the claim. Here is an example:
Lincoln believed that the founders would have supported the North because as he said, this country was “dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”
The writer may be corect that Lincoln believed that the founders would have supported the North, but what in that quotation would cause a reader to agree? In other words, how does the quotation count as evidence of the claim? The evidence says something about the views of the founders in 1776. How does that support a claim about what the founders would think in 1863? When pressed, the writer explained: “Since the founders dedicated the country to the proposition that all men are created equal and Lincoln freed the slaves because he thought they were created equal, then he must hve though that he and the founders agreed, so theywould have supported the North. It’s obvious.
Well, it’s not. After it has been explained, it may or may not be persuasive (after all, the author of “All men are created equal,” was himself a slave owner). But it isn’t obvious. Quotations rarely speak for themselves; most have to be unpacked, and whatever implicit pertinence they have to a claim made explicit. If you offer only quotes without interpreting them, your reader will likely have trouble understanding the quote as evidence in support of your point. Your paper will seem to be a pastiche of strung-together quotations, suggesting that your data never passed through the critical analysis of a working mind.
Whenever you support a claim with numbers, charts, visual images, and especially quotations—whatever counts as primary data in the context of a discipline—do not assume that what you see is what your readers will get. Spell out for them how it is that the data counts as evidence for your claim. For a quotation, a good principle is to use a few of its key words just before or after it. Something like this:
Lincoln believed that the founders would have supported the North because they would have supported his attempt to move the slaves to a more equal position. He echoes the founders’ own language when he says that the country was “dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”