Evaluating Evidence: A Checklist
Before you write the supporting paragraphs in your paper, evaluate the worthiness of the evidence you have in mind to use. For each data set, example, or expert opinion, ask yourself the following questions:
- Is the evidence up-to-date?
- Is the evidence relevant? Evidence that doesn’t directly support your point may not belong in your essay.
- Is the evidence sufficient? The more complex your topic is, the more evidence you will need to support your claim.
- Is your example similar to other examples you could have chosen, or does it present an extreme or atypical situation? Examples that present typical situations are usually most effective.
- Does your example illustrate your point?
- Is the source of the data trustworthy? If you cannot find full documentation of source material or if the material does not come from a familiar source, it may not serve as appropriate support.
- Are abstract or controversial terms (poverty, humane treatment, etc.) clearly defined? Statistics often have little meaning without an explanation of how key terms are defined by the source of the data.
If you’re using statistics to compare, are you comparing equal units? For example, if you’re comparing population statistics, be sure that both statistics refer to the same geographical unit—city, metropolitan area, county, etc.
- Is the source of an opinion qualified to give an opinion on the subject? Is he/she associated with a reputable institution? What is his/her profession? Are his/her credentials relevant? Be sure to include the source’s credentials in your essay in case your reader is not familiar with the source.
- Is the opinion of an expert likely to be biased in any way? If any special interest is evident (economic, political, ideological, etc.), consider further research before you accept or reject the opinion.
- Does the source of the opinion provide the evidence upon which his/her claim is based? Just as you must support your argument, your sources should provide proof that their information is valid.