Evidence consists of specific examples or opinions of others which support and illustrate your thesis. Try to give several examples rather than just one. You want to make sure that there is sufficient evidence for you to make a strong point; the evidence must also be relevant, reliable, and representative.
Evidence comes from either primary or secondary sources. The primary source is the text on which you are commenting, or documents that deal directly with your topic. Secondary sources are opinions or interpretation of others on the topic (your essay itself becomes a secondary source, should anyone wish to quote it).
In literary essays especially, it is important that you have a good grasp of the primary source and have formed your own opinion about it before you turn to secondary sources. Although secondary sources can help support your view, your instructor is still interested in what you think about the work.
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Not every assignment will require you to consult secondary sources. In literature courses, some instructors prefer not to assign research essays because they want you to come to your own conclusions about the text. In this kind of essay, a careful rereading of the work or works you are discussing will allow you to develop your ideas more fully, in the way that formal research does for a research essay. If you do consult secondary sources, be sure not to rely too heavily on them. Use them to support your own view, rather than adapting your view to suit your sources; avoid the trap of the ńscissors and pasteî essay that simply collects opinions of others and rearranges them.
Some more traps to avoid when citing secondary sources:
The type of secondary sources you seek out will depend on the assignment. Secondary sources can include biographical material, factual material, definitions, studies, commentaries, criticism„virtually anything you consult outside the original material itself.
One problem writers come up against when completing research assignments is how to use secondary sources and still write something new. You might try judging or challenging old ideas, or concentrating on a controversy between sources. Use secondary sources to show that you know what has been said and give your opinion about it. Research is not a substitute for your own careful thought and analysis. (There are some further suggestions on the use of quotations from primary and secondary sources in the section on ńQuotations and Works Citedî below.)