Using data and information from various sources to develop and support an argument

6 min readjanuary 4, 2023

Minna Chow

Minna Chow

AP Research 🔍

28 resources
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In this guide, we’ll be discussing evidence: where to get it and how to use it. 
In AP Research, the research you do will turn up the majority of the evidence needed to answer your research question. However, you’ll also need evidence from outside sources for your literature review, your analysis of implications and conclusions, and various other points in your research paper. 
Let’s start by reviewing what evidence is and discussing where you can get it from.

Looking for Evidence 

To recap from Big Idea 2: Evidence is anything used to support a claim. That means it can be facts and data as well as observations, predictions, analogies, explanations, and opinions. This means we can get evidence from just about anywhere we care to search, although some places are more reliable than others. 

Where Can We Find Evidence?

When you start your evidence search, try looking in or with...
  • Print sources: Books, monographs, research papers, etc. This can include pictures.
  • Nonprint sources: For certain research projects, nonprint sources such as physical objects or videos can be used as evidence.
    • You can find many sources, both print and non-print, in libraries, museums, archives and digital databases such as EBSCO. For my research project, done in 2020-21, I used digital databases almost exclusively for all the evidence I didn’t get from my research itself.
  • Experts:  Experts in their field will be valuable resources for your own research. If you have access to an expert who can be a mentor, that's wonderful! If not, you can get expert knowledge from the writings they've published.
    • Don't be afraid to reach out to experts asking for help! This can be your teachers or college professors. As long as you're respectful and polite, the worst they can do is turn you down.
  • Data gathered in the field: This is all the data you will collect from your research. Depending on your research topic and method, this will vary, but note that not only is this the physical data you collect but also any observations you make about the process. For example, do you notice any difficulties in your method or any unexpected patterns? Those are often the most important!
Research Tip: It can be helpful to keep a research diary, a place where you log all your observations and data as you research. This prevents you from forgetting your observations later.

Choosing Evidence

Evidence is always strategically chosen based on context, purpose and audience. This means that the evidence you use should be the evidence that best fits for the situation you’re in. Remember, the main point of evidence is to support your claims. Once you get evidence, you should use it to do just that!
However, there are some important caveats we’ll be discussing below. 
How do we determine what the best evidence is?
To begin with, make sure your evidence backs up your claim. If it doesn’t, you should either use a different piece of evidence or you may need to change your claim. 
Then, you should examine the quality of the evidence. College Board defines compelling evidence as sufficient, accurate, relevant, current, and credible to support the conclusion. We discuss evidence more in Big Idea 2: use the evidence analysis skills you’ve learned by looking at other people’s papers to think about the evidence you want to use in your own paper. 
Finally, you should think about the audience you’re presenting to. For example, if you’re presenting your argument to a group of elementary schoolers (for whatever reason), you’re going to use different evidence than if you were presenting to graduate students. You might use more statistics and research facts in the latter case than in the former, where you might use more anecdotes or visual examples. 
Of course, sometimes you only have one piece of evidence and can’t choose, but most of the time you’ll have more evidence from your research than you can use. In that case, you should use the best evidence you have.  Caveat: There is a difference between “strategically choosing evidence” and “cherry picking evidence to suit a specific claim.” If you know that most of your evidence is demonstrating one point, and you use a piece of evidence to demonstrate the opposite, that may not be the best choice. Again, make sure all the evidence you use is accurate and credible, and remember that at the end of the day it is up to you to use evidence ethically. 

Using Evidence

Now that we have our evidence, how do we use it to support our claims? 
Here are several ways the College Board has outlined:
  • To align an argument with authority: "I believe xyz is true. Professor Five argues that xyz is true in xyz book, so I have backing for my claim."
  • to define a concept, illustrate a process, or clarify a statement: "According to the College Board, research is defined as..."
  • to set a mood: "It was a dark and scary night..."
    • Why would we want to do this? Setting a mood can prepare your audience for some of your points. For example, if you want to make a call to action, setting a somber mood can reinforce your claim that action needs to be taken now.
  • to provide an example: "Hawaiian Pizza sales are declining. According to survey data from 15 pizza shops in New York City..."
  • to amplify or qualify a point: "Not all states are seeing a decline in Hawaiian Pizza sales, according to these reports…"
    • This can be an example of adding qualifiers to your arguments, or limiting their scope in order to make them more accurate.
Oftentimes, it will be clear to you what you’re using a piece of evidence to do. The more common issue is when you have a claim without the appropriate evidence. 
However, sometimes people can fall into the trap of using evidence just to use evidence. It’s not a bad idea to go through your work and examine what every piece of evidence is doing — if it’s not contributing to your overall goal, you should consider removing that piece of evidence. 
How, exactly, do we take a piece of evidence such as a statistic and use it to “align an argument with authority” or “define a concept?” Sometimes you can allow a piece of evidence to “stand alone” but most of the time, you’ll want to include reasoning to link your evidence to your claims. 

Reasoning: Your Paper’s Glue

Reasoning, in this context, is the commentary that you attach to your evidence. It's what brings your claims and evidence together and sticks them to the other claims and evidence in your paper. Therefore, your reasoning should always link your evidence to your claims. In addition, it can do other things such as point out interesting connections or add qualifying statements to your claims. However, don’t forget that your reasoning should link to your claims first and foremost. 
Here are some things you can do with your reasoning, if you’re stuck on ways to start: 
  • making interpretations or inferences: What can this evidence tell us? What does it imply and why?
  • identifying patterns: Does this piece of evidence fit with a larger pattern or suggest a pattern? If so, why?
  • describing trends: Does this piece of evidence show that something has changed? If so, why?
  • explaining relationships: How does this evidence work with another piece of evidence or another idea? Relationships can be comparative, causal, and/or correlational. (Remember that correlation — when two things have a mutual relationship, such as both trending upwards — does not automatically mean one is caused by the other.) 
Research Tip: The place where I start my reasoning is by asking myself why is this piece of evidence important to my paper? Why does my audience need me to present this evidence? 
There you have it! A beginner’s guide to finding and using evidence. In the next guide, we’ll discuss some important technical skills you’ll need to use evidence — discipline alignment and proper quotation practices.

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