In a Tortoiseshell: Alexandra Marino’s “A Nation of Maniacs: Understanding Commodified Mania Through Bipolar Narratives” uses sociological and medical analysis to explore the commodification of mental illness. Her ability to artfully explain sociological theory in the context of illness narrative makes the beginning of her paper a compelling example of stellar orienting.
Evidence, or data, is the universe of interpreted primary sources, empirical observations, or factual information relevant to a paper’s argument. Analysis is the interpretation of sources.
However fascinating an essay’s thesis or compelling its motive, the reader is unlikely to be swayed without valid evidence, proof for the author’s claims, whether in the form of experimental data or quotations gathered from a primary source. Of course, this does not mean that a convincing essay can merely be a collection of claims and supporting evidence. The author must also provide analysis to help the reader interpret the evidence. Ultimately, this analysis links the selected evidence to the author’s claims and then weaves these claims together to support the author’s broader thesis
In the following excerpts, we see how evidence and analysis must work together to help the author first convince the reader that the individual claims in the essay are valid, and then show the reader that these claims can be brought together to justify the thesis as a whole.
In Ali Houston’s excerpt from “The Nature of Gender Inequality in Rousseau’s Second and Third Discourses,” she critically examines the claims of natural female inferiority that pervade Rousseau’s influential writings. Her paper features an exemplary application of evidence and analysis by fragmenting Rousseau’s multifaceted argument into bite-sized pieces that Ali can then introduce to her readers and subsequently counter with examples of her own.
Heather Newman’s excerpt from an essay on the character of Mr. Collins in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice expertly balances the use of evidence and analysis throughout the piece. In addition, Heather use a broad range of evidence, coupled with a unique interpretation of the text, to support her argument from multiple facets while maintaining her own scholarly voice throughout.
The excerpt from Andrew Mullen’s essay “The ‘Immense Edifice’: Memory, Rapture, and the Intertemporal Self in Swann’s Way” concerns the analysis of Marcel Proust’s Swann’s Way through the lens of Claudia Brodsky’s essay on narration and memory. The essay is an exemplary demonstration of the lens essay–an essay that is structured around the analysis of a source text using a theoretical framework provided by another.
Finally, in Aparna Raghu’s “Works in Progress” excerpt, we see how it is nearly impossible to justify a claim when the evidence is irrelevant or insufficient. This ultimately makes it difficult for the reader to trust the thesis as a whole, since it relies so heavily on precariously justified claims.
For more details, refer to the Evidence & Analysis Preface from our 2014 Issue, available here: https://tortoise.princeton.edu/2015/10/18/evidence-analysis-14/.
In a Tortoiseshell: In the paper below, Ali Houston challenges Rousseau’s ideas about the natural inferiority of women. She showcases effective evidence and analysis by picking selected fragments from Rousseau’s overarching theories and responding to them with clear, well-implemented counterarguments.
In a Tortoiseshell: In this essay on the character of Mr. Collins in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Heather Newman crafts the intriguing argument that Austen’s portrayal of Mr. Collins’s stupidity conveys sinister underpinnings that are commonly overlooked by readers. In order to prove her argument, Heather utilizes abundant evidence and accompanies that evidence with insightful analysis that directly ties back to the overall argument.
In a Tortoiseshell:This excerpt from Andrew Mullen’s essay “The ‘Immense Edifice”: Memory, Rapture, and the Intertemporal Self in Swann’s Way” concerns the analysis of Marcel Proust’s “Swann’s Way” through the lens of Claudia Brodsky’s essay on narration and memory. Andrew’s essay is a prime example of the lens essay–an essay that is structured around the analysis of a source text using a theoretical framework provided by another. Continue reading
…When we study this battle [between Grendel’s mother and Beowulf] separately, we can see that Beowulf is not at a disadvantage, for both he and Grendel’s mother act like human-monster hybrids, making this a battle between equals. Ultimately, this gives Beowulf more control over his fate than Tolkien suggests, making Beowulf more accountable for the hypocritical actions he could otherwise blame on his desperation. […]
The author provides evidence for Beowulf’s monstrosity in the first battle, when Beowulf states: “it won’t be a cutting edge I wield / to mow [Grendel] down… since [Grendel] has no idea of the arts of war” (Beowulf 681-683). While this seems noble, it forces us to wonder how Beowulf is able to tear Grendel’s arm off without weapons. He must possess some monstrous strength to do so, placing him at the same level as Grendel’s mother.
Since Beowulf and Grendel’s mother are equally matched because of his monstrous strength and her human nature, we cannot merely excuse Beowulf as Tolkien does, for Beowulf is not helpless. He is therefore obligated to live up to the standards of honor he creates when he sheds his weapons in the first battle.
In this revised version of my first essay for writing seminar, my goal was to undermine Tolkien’s argument about Beowulf’s disadvantages in battle by arguing that Beowulf and Grendel’s mother, who fights Beowulf in the second battle of the story, are equally matched because both are portrayed as human-monster hybrids. While I initially had only focused on the humanity of Grendel’s mother, arguing that her portrayal as a mother established her humanity, I realized I could not ignore the fact that she was seen as a monster, that she was not completely human, which led me to the idea of the human-monster hybrid.
I became committed to the idea of the human-monster hybrid before finding evidence to suggest that Beowulf could be described by this label. Thus, when I ended up finding limited evidence actually suggesting Beowulf’s hybrid nature, I glossed over it. For example, in the passage above, I argue that Beowulf’s brute strength proves his monstrosity, providing only one small piece of evidence of this–that Beowulf can tear off Grendel’s arm. This insufficient evidence, compared to my detailed analysis of Grendel’s mother, forces the reader to accept the largely unsupported claim of Beowulf’s monstrousness to understand my remaining arguments.
To revise this treatment of evidence, I would have started by searching for more evidence to support my claim about Beowulf’s hybrid nature. This would have allowed me to avoid making an unsupported, ad hominem attack against Beowulf and ultimately more convincingly communicate my point that the author may have intended us to hold Beowulf accountable for his brutality. I would have also grounded my thesis in the evidence I found showing that we are not meant to admire Beowulf unconditionally, rather than making such an absolute and simplistic claim that Beowulf and Grendel’s mother are both human-monster hybrids, which detracted from my intended point.
A paper’s line of reasoning, from beginning to end and also within and between paragraphs.
The writing process begins long before the writer is ready to put a pen to paper. It begins instead when the author begins brainstorming, whether by gathering evidence or drafting thesis statements. Thus, by the time drafting begins, the author is already an expert about the argument. While this helps make the writing process quicker, the author’s expertise can hinder the ability to communicate the argument to others, to nonexperts. To avoid this, it is crucial that authors consider not only what they argue but also how they can clearly share their arguments.
This need to communicate the argument to a nonfamiliar reader forces the author to develop a clear, organized structure for the essay. At a broader level, the writer must provide the reader with a framework that pieces together individual claims into the larger argument. And at a narrower level, the author must periodically remind the reader, while analyzing each particular claim, how it relates to some larger point.
In the following examples, we see how, through careful planning of structure, the respective authors succeed in linking the evidence and analysis back to the thesis and motive, balancing exploration of specific examples with development of the larger argument as a whole.
In the selected passage from his paper “The Fishy Business of Transgenic Salmon: Explaining the Delay in the Mass Commercialization Process,” Eric Qiu demonstrates how roadmaps, clear transitions, and paragraph structure can be used to effectively introduce and analyze multiple sources while maintaining focus on the paper’s original argument.
The excerpt from Lavinia Liang’s essay “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf(stonecraft)?” shows how writing out the framework of the essay in the introduction, and reminding the reader of the place of each bit of evidence within this framework, can help the reader work through a comparative argument without getting stuck in one source or the other.
For more details, refer to the Structure Preface from our 2014 Issue, available here: https://tortoise.princeton.edu/2015/10/18/structure-14/.
In a Tortoiseshell: In the excerpted paper below, Eric Qiu explores the skepticism with which researchers and the general public view the introduction of transgenic salmon. In tracing this common skepticism to the fish’s perceived violation of “naturalness” and the unknown long-term effects of its introduction, Eric uses structure to clearly introduce his many sources and advance his argument.
In a Tortoiseshell: In this paper, written for an introductory political theory class, Lavinia Liang compares the treatment of women in marriages to the treatment of slaves as property. The essay is notable for its thoughtful structure, as Lavinia chooses to give the reader a skeletal framework of the argument in her introduction, which she proceeds to fill with details throughout her presentation of evidence, so that the reader is always able to see how her evidence links back to her larger thesis.
Thus, large portions of Lévi-Strauss’s work can be read as attempts to establish the group as capable of almost unilaterally perpetuating a magical system’s validity. This conception seems particularly inconsistent, however, in light of an anecdote the reading provides about a boy on trial for witchcraft after his touch appeared to send a young girl into a seizure. Although the boy initially claimed his innocence of sorcery, he soon realized that providing a rich and detailed account of his supposed supernatural powers would prove a much more persuasive defense. This approach is so successful because, in fact, the group is not capable of maintaining the validity of their magical system alone. The boy offers them complex detail and physical proof–a plume which he claims is the source of his power–and, in the process, transforms and solidifies the group’s magical beliefs which had previously constituted “a diffuse complex of poorly formulated sentiments and representations” (Lévi-Strauss 174). As Lévi-Strauss concludes, the group is desperate for the boy to confirm its system and ‘become the guardian of its spiritual coherence,’ meaning that the group is reliant on the supposed witch to validate its system (Lévi-Strauss 174). Therefore, when the boy is able to cure his ‘victim’ using a root it is at least less likely that he would have been successful had he not corroborated the system and even begun to ‘become the dupe of his own impersonation’ (Lévi-Strauss 174).
This excerpt comes from the draft of my first Writing Seminar paper. My professor provided my class with a text on magical beliefs by anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss and asked us to identify and respond to an inconsistency in his theories. I argued that, based on Lévi-Strauss’s own evidence, he overemphasized the role of group-consensus in the perpetuation of magical beliefs and downplayed the key role played by witches and other magical practitioners. In taking a fresh look at my draft, I found it difficult to determine the function of the paragraph above and its relation to my thesis. A few revisions to the paragraph’s structure could make it much easier for the reader to follow my train of the thought. One easy tweak would be to move the current topic sentence to the next paragraph. That way, the new topic sentence would capture the main claim of the paragraph. The last sentences of the paragraph could also be revised. Right now, the paragraph ends with a quote. This means that the reader is left to interpret the significance of the quote herself. Adding a few sentences to analyze the quote and link the paragraph’s main claim back to my thesis would frame my ideas more clearly. In revising my drafts, I’ve found that minor revisions to paragraph structure can have a huge impact on the logical “flow” of a paper.