Trouble Balancing Evidence and Analysis? Color-coding to Find Your Evidence-to-Analysis Ratio

Each time you make a claim that supports your overall Argument, you will generally follow it up with Evidence and Analysis that establishes how the claim relates to your overall argument. But balancing your evidence with your analysis can be tricky; for indeed, your evidence and your analysis will expand or contract depending on their purpose in your paper. There are many reasons to use evidence: to support a major claim, to highlight a concern or question you want to explore or to situate your argument within an existing critical conversation. In the same way,  there are many reasons to spend more or less time analyzing a particular piece of evidence, depending on its utility in your argument. For example, expanding upon your analysis is useful when the point of one of your claims is unclear. On the other hand, you might want to condense your analysis if you determine that you’ve over-explained or have included information about your evidence that is not directly related to your argument. In this entry, we propose a color-coding technique that will help you find, frame, and evaluate your balance between the amount of evidence in your work and the degree of analysis you employ when engaging with your evidence.

Try this simple color-coding exercise to determine the appropriate level of analysis.

Step 1: Going through your paper, color code in three different colors:

    1. Paragraph level claims, that is to say, claims you make in a body paragraph that will need to be supported by evidence
    2. Supporting evidence
    3. Analysis of evidence

Step 2: Link each claim to the evidence and analysis that supports it. Now you will be able to consider moments of evidence and analysis in relation to the specific claim they support.

Step 3: Begin evaluating each claim/evidence/analysis cluster to determine whether you’ve achieved the right blend of supporting evidence and analysis. This part can be tricky, because there is no universal ratio that you are trying to achieve. Instead, the goal in each case is analytically substantive: you need the precise amount of evidence and analysis that achieves the goal of supporting the claim. That being said, it can help to think about some basic conditions that can determine the amount of evidence and/or analysis that the reader will need to see. For example, the more original your claim is, the more evidence readers will need to see. Or, for example, if a claim is counter-intuitive, the more analysis you’ll need to show your reader that the evidence supports your claim.

This strategy is closely related to “Not Sure Whether You Should Paraphrase, Cite, or Block-quote? Assessing Evidence Length and Detail.”  When you become familiar with this revision process, you may decide to do both strategies at once. If you find color coding a particularily effective revision strategy check out:”Disorganized first draft? Color-coding as a tool to reorganize and restructure,” “How much do I need to explain? Finding places to condense and expand,” and “Evidentiary Disconnect—Thinking Through the Vacuum.”