The Importance of Supporting Your Claims with Evidence

When writing an essay it’s not enough to simply make claims; you need to support your claims with evidence.  Supporting evidence can take many forms, but it often comes in the form of embedded quotations.  English courses typically rely on MLA standards when using quotations in papers.  While many students are aware that they need to use quotations, few are aware of the best practices for using them.  Before you send your students to write their paper, you must ensure that you have explicitly taught them how to embed quotations as supporting evidence in their essays.

Quotation Shadow

What is MLA?

MLA stands for Modern Language Association.  They produce a guidebook that every university student who has enrolled in English 101 has been told they should purchase.  From first to, at the time of writing, eighth edition, these guidebooks have sat on students’ book shelves, and travelled with them as they moved – unable to bear the idea of throwing out a book.  Those with the shiny mirrored 6th edition cover are incredibly lucky, as it will remind them of the retro-futuristic ideals we all once held.

Luckily, today, much of the information from the guidebook – including specific and relevant questions – can be found on a number of websites, including OWL Purdue.

 

Teaching how to Embed Quotations

As mentioned, students must be taught how to embed quotations in their essays.  They have probably used quotations before, but that does not mean they know how to properly embed them into their essays.

Below, you will find a number of examples that respond to the source text.  Providing these examples to students, and asking them to rank them in order from most to least effective, while pointing out what works well, and what could be improved, is a great way to engage your class and create a meaningful learning experience.

You may also wish to ask students to write their own brief response to the source text before they look at these examples.  Once they have completed their own writing they can compare their work to the below examples so that they have a meaningful understanding of where they are, and where they should be looking to go.

 

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Source Text

If you knew the first thing about me, you’d know that I’m not the type to go off investigating strange noises.  I’m not.  I know that the worst thing you can possibly do is go charging after an unknown sound, in an unknown direction.  If my grandmother taught me anything it was…  well, no, my grandmother would be telling me to charge straight at it, just so long as I was being safe.  But I’m not being safe, and she’s not here.

-M. Barltrop, Dreams of the White Bird (Page 1)

Example One: No Quotations

The protagonist places herself at risk of danger when she goes to investigate a noise.  When she was younger her grandmother encouraged her to explore, just so long as she was being safe.  However, the protagonist is not being safe this time, placing herself in harm’s way.

A number of your students will write their paper like the above example.  They will assume that because they know what happened, so too will their reader.  They may also assume that you know what happens in the text, so there is no reason for them to support their statements.

However, you will need to tell your students that it’s not enough to simply make claims, leaving it to the reader to assume they are factual.  They must provide direct evidence of their claims through the use of quotations.

What Works Well

  • There are a number of points made in response to a writing prompt.

What Needs Improvement

  • There is no textual evidence to support any of the author’s claims.

 

Example One: A Poor Use of Quotations

The protagonist places herself at risk of danger when she goes to investigate a noise. “I know that the worst thing you can possibly do is go charging after an unknown sound, in an unknown direction”.  When she was younger her grandmother encouraged her to explore, just so long as she was being safe.  “my grandmother would be telling me to charge straight at it, just so long as I was being safe”.  However, the protagonist is not being safe this time, placing herself in harm’s way.  “But I’m not being safe”.

Hopefully your students will have some concept of how to use quotations.  Many students will make claims, and then slap quotations on the end of them as their own stand alone sentences.  This is a good start, but you need to quickly move beyond this use of quotations.  Rather than creating a flowing, connected, piece of writing this format creates a disjointed collection of sentences.

This version also fails to cite their quotations, leaving the reader wondering what text the quotations are from, as well as where in the text the quotations are located.

What Works Well

  • There are a number of points made in response to a writing prompt.
  • Quotations are used to support the author’s claims.

What Needs Improvement

  • Some sentences are not correctly capitalized (“my grandmother…”)
  • Quotations are not embedded into the author’s sentences.  They stand alone as their own sentences.
  • There are no citations indicating where the quotations are from.

 

Example Two: Basic Embedded Quotations

The protagonist places herself at risk of danger when she goes to investigate a noise.  This is shown in the text when the protagonist claims, “I know that the worst thing you can possibly do is go charging after an unknown sound, in an unknown direction” (Barltrop 1).  When she was younger her grandmother encouraged her to explore, just so long as she was being safe.  This is proved by the statement,  “my grandmother would be telling me to charge straight at it, just so long as I was being safe” (1).  However, the protagonist is not being safe this time, placing herself in harm’s way.  She says this herself, “But I’m not being safe” (1).

If your students are already at this level, making the jump to properly embedded quotations will be relatively simple.  Students at this level have a strong understanding of the need to embed quotations into their sentences, and the requirement of citations.

The one leap they still need to make is that their quotations do not need to be introduced, they can simply be embedded as words within their own writing.

What Works Well

  • There are a number of points made in response to a writing prompt.
  • Quotations are used to support the author’s claims.
  • Quotations are embedded into the author’s sentences.
  • Citations indicate where the quotations are from.

What Needs Improvement

  • Quotations are introduced “This is shown when…” rather than simply being part of the author’s sentences.

 

Example Three: Embedded Quotations

The protagonist places herself at risk of danger when she goes “charging after an unknown sound” (Barltrop 1).  When she was younger her grandmother encouraged her to explore, “just so long as I was being safe” (1).  However, “I’m not being safe, and she isn’t here” (1), so the protagonist places herself in harm’s way.

At this point, students understand that quotations should be fully embedded into their sentences.  They know that there is no need to introduce the quotations or point out who is saying them (as that should be obvious from the context of the writing).

There are still areas that require improvement, however.  There are issues with the use of the word “I”.  In this content the author intends for “I” to refer to the protagonist, but as written it refers to the author.  The use of “I” in reference to the author should not exist in a formal paper.

Most likey, these problems arise due to the fact that the author believes they need to maintain the quotations exactly as they were written in the source text.  At this point you will need to specifically teach how to work with quotations.

What Works Well

  • There are a number of points made in response to a writing prompt.
  • Quotations are used to support the author’s claims.
  • Quotations are embedded into the author’s sentences.
  • Citations indicate where the quotations are from.
  • Quotations are not introduced, they simply flow as parts of the author’s words.

What Needs Improvement

  • Quotations do not fully match the style of the author’s written piece

 

What’s Next?

At this point we have seen a number of different examples of how students might respond to an essay prompt.  They ranged from lack of quotations, to embedded quotations.  Regardless of what level your students are currently at, they will require EXPLICIT TEACHING FOR EMBEDDING QUOTATIONS.  In the next part we will address how to work with quotations, and modify them to suit the needs of our writing.  The use of brackets and ellipses come into play here.

 


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