Does Your Evidence Say What You Think It Does? Assessing Agreement Between Evidence and Analysis

No matter the discipline, we all must include Evidence and Analysis of it as we work to prove the validity of our claims. However, when it comes to revising a rough draft, one step many writers overlook is ensuring that the evidence they are using fits with the analysis and claim that they are making. No matter why this disagreement is the case, it is always useful to run a diagnostic check of the evidence and analysis you included to determine if the two fit or if you need to swap one piece of evidence for another or even, tweak your analysis.​ This revision strategy offers one way to run the diagnostic.

There are multiple reasons why a disconnect between evidence and its analysis can happen in an early draft. Sometimes, the writer simply does not read the evidence correctly. Other times, after finishing a rough draft, the writer returns to the evidence and understands it differently. In some cases, a piece of evidence sparks so many ideas and analytical digressions that a writer’s own understanding of what they are saying changes along the way, producing a piece of writing that contains problematic inconsistencies. Upon reviewing your draft, you might notice that your analysis feels shaky, or you might recall that you struggled to justify how the evidence you selected supports your claim. These are all indications that the evidence you included is not the best fit for your analysis, and that it can be revised.

When you are ready to evaluate your evidence and analysis, try this diagnostic exercise. The idea behind this exercise is that by isolating the evidence on a separate piece of paper and breaking your analysis up into a series of numbered steps, you can reorient your thinking and read the evidence afresh.​

Step 1: Choose a piece of evidence and analysis about which you feel unsure. Alternatively, choose a piece of evidence that is a centerpiece of your Argument, meaning that any mistake in your choice of evidence or in your analysis of it could significantly weaken your paper as a whole.

Step 2: Open a separate document and write down what you think the evidence is saying. In other words, without refreshing your memory and reading the evidence first, paraphrase it.

Step 3: Now, open another separate document. Copy and paste the actual evidence—a quote, results from an experiment, etc., read / consider it, and paraphrase it again.

Step 4: Compare / contrast the two paraphrases. Ask yourself, do these two pieces of writing say the same thing?

    • If they say the same thing, that means that you understand your evidence and you can move on to evaluating your analysis.
    • If they do not say the same thing, you’ll need to find out if your analysis is responding to the paraphrase that you wrote before you reread your evidence or the one you wrote after you reread your analysis. Continue to step 5, knowing that you might have to revise either your evidence or your analysis.

Step 5: Copy and paste your analysis onto the document that holds your evidence and your paraphrases of it. Then, break up your analysis from its paragraph form into a sequence of events. The easiest way to do this is to create a step-by-step numbered list. Your goal is to ascertain if your analysis sequentially follows from your evidence, and if it is itself logically sequenced. It is a good idea to start the first step with the phrase “If this (i.e. bit of evidence I am using) is true, then it logically follows that…”. Each following entry on your list should start with “If the above is true, then…”. Think of your analysis as mechanistic, like a proof from geometry.

Step 6: Now, read your sequential list and ask yourself the following questions: Does my first analytical step use as its base the evidence I have provided? If it does, is my analysis interpreting the evidence I see on the page? If your answer is “yes,” move on to the next step of your analysis, asking yourself similar kinds of questions: Does my next analytical step use as its base the analytical step that came before? Does my analysis understand the previous analysis correctly?

If your answer was “no” for any of the above, then ask yourself: Have I interpreted the evidence or my previous analysis correctly? Is there an analytical move I must make before the current step I am considering? These diagnostic questions will help you determine a) if you interpreted the evidence correctly; b) if your analysis logically follows from your evidence; and c) if there are any gaps in logic within your analysis.

Step 7: If you created two different paraphrases (one before you reread your analysis and one after you reread it), you should know by now if your analysis is responding to the actual evidence you provided. If your analysis is responding to the paraphrase you wrote before rereading your evidence (and thus, not the actual evidence you provided), you’ll need to either a) rephrase or rewrite your analysis so that it matches the actual evidence you’ve included, or b) choose a different piece of evidence that matches the analysis. This happens often during the early drafting and revision stage, and it is not cause for panic. Your argument will still work although you might have to rephrase or reorder some of your work.

Step 8: Once you have treated one section of evidence and analysis, move on to the next.

For an alternate revision strategy that attends to failures of the “quote sandwich” see: Evidentiary Disconnect—Thinking Through the Vacuum.