Evidence and Analysis

Evidence, or data, is the universe of interpreted primary sources, empirical observations, or factual information relevant to a paper’s argument. In humanistic disciplines, evidence is usually quoted and analyzed. In scientific disciplines, data are visually summarized in labeled graphs and figures.

 Analysis is the interpretation of sources. In humanistic disciplines, analysis of primary sources is used to support claims, while analysis of other kinds of sources is used to advance the overall argument (for example, by providing a theoretical framework). In scientific disciplines, analysis of data leads to results (described in the Results section); the results are further analyzed for their larger implications (in the Discussions section).

When we make an argument, we need to back it up with evidence. It is easy to make claims; it is harder to prove that they are worth believing. In its simplest terms, that’s all evidence is: the proof that compels a reader to buy our thesis. This might take many forms in an academic paper, from defining a keyword to providing context to even providing a complicating idea or counterargument.

But evidence does not stand on its own; it must be unpacked and distilled in terms of the paper’s broader thesis. Imagine a recipe that ended right after the ingredients list – we wouldn’t know where to go from there! Instead, we need to be guided through the raw evidence by way of thoughtful and rigorous analysis (that’s our step-by-step recipe). After all, flour, water, and butter can be shaped into any number of desserts. The key is to combine those ingredients in such an order as to produce the cake or biscuit or pie we want our reader to metaphorically devour.

This is where analysis comes in. Analysis breaks down the evidence into bite-sized chunks so that we can guide the reader through our argument piece-by-piece.   In this way, strong analysis forms the backbone of a good paper; without it, our thesis cannot be substantiated, nor a structure imposed to prove that thesis.

Evidence and analysis are often bundled together – and for good reason. As we will see in the following submissions, a successful paper is rarely successful in only one of the two. A paper that relies too heavily on evidence to substantiate its argument risks reading like a review of the existing scholarship. Conversely, a paper whose argument employs baseless claims will collapse under pressure from other scholars; rarely is “because I said so” an effective argumentative strategy.

In the following four essays – “The Secret of the Secret of the Nights (8),” “Florine Stettheimer’s Family Portrait II: Cathedrals of the Elite Family (15),” “Catholic Fashion Blogs: Unite Modest with Fashionable, Catholic with American (18),” and “General Prologue of Canterbury Tales (22)” – we highlight exceptional engagement with their sources of evidence. They all employ analysis that moves beyond descriptive claims to engage with the material through sophisticated and unexpected arguments.

The author


Tyler House ’14 is from Duck, North Carolina. He is a Woodrow Wilson School major focusing on international development and health policy.

Cameron Langford ’14 hails from Davidson, North Carolina.  She is majoring in Politics and pursuing a certificate in Values and Public Life.  On campus, she also works for The Nassau Literary Review, where she formerly served as Poetry Editor.