supporting your own ideas

In academic writing, every step of your argument must be fully supported. The quality of the supporting evidence you use determines how strong your argument will be.

Here are six types of proof common in essays and research papers (ordered from most to least persuasive for academic audiences):
  1. experimental: based on reproducible observed results
  2. statistical: based on numerical proof
  3. testimonial: based on the account of an expert or witness
  4. analogical: based on a similar (but not identical) case
  5. anecdotal: based on a single case or personal experience
  6. hypothetical: a “thought experiment” testing different (imagined) conditions
Because it is not practical to research every question yourself, an essential part of academic writing is synthesizing: using facts, figures, examples and quotations and/or paraphrases from various sources to support your own argument.
The quality of the sources you cite also helps to establish your own ethos as an academic expert. Sources must be up-to-date and reputable. It is a good idea to do some research to check that the author is a respected expert in their field. Corroboration from such an expert can make your argument stronger when correctly used.
Nevertheless, poor support can have the opposite effect, and there are some common fallacies associated with source support which you should avoid:
  • the anecdotal fallacy may occur when we give own or another’s personal experiences or opinions as support without robust statistical or case evidence.
  • the argument from authority fallacy occurs when we rely solely on the expert authority of the source without giving or analysing their arguments or evidence. A type of argument from authority also occurs when we use our own assurances to support a claim, as in “I am absolutely certain that x is true.”
  • the straw man fallacy occurs when we misrepresent an argument in order to better attack it.