Finding & Evaluating Evidence

How to talk about it in class

Why is it important?

You will find that to first year students, using evidence to build persuasive arguments is a new concept, but not a new process. They regularly do it in their conversations with peers but just don’t think of it this way. Evidence can be statistics, facts, research studies and conclusions found in scholarly articles. Students may lament that they cannot find the perfect article that encapsulates their argument. Remind them that the goal is to find pieces of evidence that support their argument and weave them together. In addition, your students may think everything in the library is “good” and they don’t have to evaluate library sources, in particular scholarly sources. While they shouldn’t be expected to evaluate scholarly sources at the level that you, as a graduate student and someone immersed in the literature can, there are basics that they can begin to learn now.

Questions to generate class discussion:

  • There is a travel advisory for much of Mexico due to the escalating drug violence but you want to go there for spring break. How would you convince your parents it is safe for you to make that trip? Is some evidence more convincing than other evidence? What makes evidence convincing?

Example to use in class - Walmart is a Socially Irresponsible Company

Ask students to walk through this example with you. It can also be structured as a discussion - for example, ask them to generate criteria they’d use to indicate that Walmart is a socially irresponsible company and then ask them what kind of evidence would support each of those criteria.

First, I’ve identified some controversies surrounding Walmart in my background information searching. These are the criteria I want to base my argument upon - poor labor practices, destruction of small businesses, and harmful to the environment.

  • To illustrate Walmart's poor labor practices using evidence, I might find statistics on the income gap between male and female Walmart employees. I could also try to find summaries of law proceedings of class-action lawsuits
  • To illustrate how Walmart destroys small businesses, I might try to find statistics or studies about the number of area businesses that closed around or after the Walmart store entered the community. Likewise, I could try to find newspaper articles on community outcries from local business owners. Finding public opinion polls on how community members feel about Walmart would also serve to illustrate the point.
  • To illustrate how Walmart harms the environment, I might try to find an environmental study about how paved parking lots contribute to water pollution. Because parking accompanies these massive stores, this is bound to disrupt the local environment. It's important to emphasize that when using evidence, the evidence or articles don't necessarily have to to reference your topic specifically (in this case, Walmart.) Instead, your readers will infer the connection between the paved parking lots and Walmart's parking lots.

Finding Evidence in Scholarly Articles

Up to this point, your students have spent most of their time searching for viewpoints. Remind them that multidisciplinary databases such as Academic Search Complete and Academic OneFile are useful places to find scholarly sources. For help distinguishing between popular and scholarly, use this Popular vs. Scholarly Guide. In addition, remind them that they can choose subject specific databases to find research studies in particular areas (such as a study about the effects of paving on groundwater quality in an environmental studies journal). See the section in Finding Viewpoints (make it a link) entitled “How do you choose a database to search?” for help teaching this to your students.

Many students who read magazines or listen to/watch/read the news are used to hearing the phrase "A recent study from..." You can explain that this study would have been published in a scholarly journal and then discuss the difference between the original study and the report of the study in the popular source. In addition to more fully illustrating the difference between scholarly and popular sources, it provides an opportunity to discuss audience.


Newspaper article:
"Study: Sex on TV impacts teen pregnancy risk
Rates are much higher for those who watch a lot, researchers say"

Associated Press
Nov. 3, 2008, 10:49AM

Original study in academic journal:
"Does Watching Sex on Television Predict Teen Pregnancy? Findings From a National Longitudinal Survey of Youth"
Anita Chandra, DrPHa, Steven C. Martino, PhDb, Rebecca L. Collins, PhDc, Marc N. Elliott, PhDc, Sandra H. Berry, MAc, David E. Kanouse, PhDc and Angela Miu, MSc. PEDIATRICS Vol. 122 No. 5 November 2008, pp. 1047-1054

Evaluating Evidence in Scholarly Articles

In order to get your students thinking about evaluating library resources they plan to use as evidence, lead a discussion with these questions as starting points.

  • Are the materials in a library databases more reliable than information on the Web? Why or why not?
  • What factors would you use to evaluate a scholarly article? Are they the same as the factors you’d use to evaluate a viewpoint or different? (Hopefully the following will come up:)
    • Author - what is the author’s expertise? How can you find out?
    • Publication - where was it published? Is it a peer-reviewed source? What does that tell you? (Don’t ask them to consider how impactful or important the journal is in the field - they don’t have the context to figure this out.) You can show them Ulrichs Global Serials Directory to look up a source, find out if it is peer-reviewed and learn more about it.
    • Currency - is it current enough? Why does that matter with scholarly sources? (Hopefully they’ll understand that what we knew about something in 1980 may be radically different from how we understand it today)
    • Accuracy - is it accurate? Did the author cite other scholarly sources? If you read the study, does the author’s conclusions seem reasonable based on the way they did their study/the evidence they found?

You might also want to emphasize evaluating sources by comparing it to other sources. Suggest reading multiple abstracts in a database search before deciding which article will include the information needed. Students might think it is easier to use the first result of their first search. Tell your students they might be missing valuable information if they do not consider their other options. If they feel they are getting too many results to go through, suggest refining their search by using narrower or different keywords.

Finding Evidence for Local Issues

If your students are writing about local issues, be sure to point them to the Finding Information about Local Issues guide. In addition, make sure they understand that they may have to look at their issue in a broader context (state, national, international) but that is ok. For example, if they are writing about the importance of adding more green space to the West Mall, they may find some viewpoints about this in the DailyTexan but they can also use discussions of the importance of green space on college campuses more generally to support their argument.

Resources, Activities and Assignments:



  • Step 1:  Ask students to complete the first part of the Using Evidence to Build Arguments worksheet up through the section which asks them to identify who would create or collect the evidence.
  • Step 2: Ask for a few volunteers to go over their worksheets as a class and work together to answer the question of where the evidence would be published.
  • Step 3: Have students work in groups to complete the last section (where the evidence would be published) of their worksheets.   
  • Step 4:  Now that they are ready to begin finding the evidence, review keyword brainstorming. With the instructor station, use the words you brainstormed to search Academic Search Complete and Academic OneFile not limited to viewpoints. Discuss some of the results you get and how they might be used as evidence.
  • Step 5:  Briefly introduce finding public opinion (for example, using Polling the Nations) or finding statistics.
  • Step 6:  Ask everyone to find one piece of evidence they identified on their worksheet or, for a take home exercise, ask them to find and cite 2-3 articles or pieces of evidence they found which they identified in the worksheet.

Note: The last two questions on the worksheet will probably be very difficult for freshmen to answer. These questions push them to create a more comprehensive research plan than they probably usually create and think about the nature and cycle of information.

Note: You can split this up over a few sessions by having them work through the first part of the Evidence worksheet as a take-home exercise, and then spending time in class doing group work to determine where information would be published, reviewing keywords and databases and having them find one piece of evidence they identified.