Intermediate Reading Course. Section 4: Reading Critically
Evaluating the Evidence When Reading
When writers make a persuasive point, they present an argument supported by evidence. The evidence presented can be research studies and statistical evidence,,expert testimony, anecdotal evidence, historical evidence, and so on.
As a critical reader, you should accept or reject the argument by evaluating the evidence presented.
Evaluating the Evidence
A well built argument must be supported by accurate, sufficient, and relevant evidence.
Watch Evaluating the evidence and take good study notes.
Note. The video supports the content on this page. You can study the page and watch the video in any order.
Accurate evidence is based on facts and can be verified (rather than based on subjective, personal opinions). Writers should rely on credible and reliable sources to obtain information that supports their claims. A well written text provides sources; however, it is up to the reader to verify whether or not the information is accurate.
If needed, you must check information in other sources; therefore, sometimes you need to go outside the text for further information. That may seem like a great deal of work but, that is part of reading critically. After all, you do not want to be fooled by bad information.
To support an argument, writers must provide enough evidence. The evidence can come from data and statistics, expert opinions, and relevant examples.
As a critical reader, you must add the evidence up and ask yourself if it is enough to convince you to change your opinion or take action.
You should also consider possible counterarguments or objections, that is, arguments that you can make against the writer’s position. A strong argument should include sufficient evidence to counter these objections.
Example paragraph. Is the evidence sufficient?
Read the following paragraph, where the writer is trying to convince you to subscribe to his YouTube channel to show you support his work.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- How many pieces of evidence support the argument that you should subscribe to support his work?
- Is the evidence sufficient to support the argument that you should subscribe?
1 Click the “Subscribe” button on my channel to show you support my work.
2 I started this channel 7 years ago, I have created over 100 videos.
3 Each video covers an interesting topic.
4 I do a lot of research on each topic, so you will always get accurate information.
5 My subscribers have never complained that the information was wrong.
6 So, subscribe to my channel, and I promise you won’t regret it.
How many pieces of evidence does the writer provide?
At best, the writer provides only two pieces of evidence:
- The channel has over 100 interesting videos (Sentences 2 and 3).
- The videos are well researched and accurate (Sentences 4 and 5).
Is the evidence sufficient?
Probably not. One hundred videos in 7 years is about 1-2 videos a month. Besides, “interesting” is very subjective. What are the videos about? What are the topics in the videos?
Having well researched, accurate videos is always good but, again, there is little information about the types of videos on the channel and why you will find them “interesting.”
Evidence that supports an argument must be relevant, that is, it must be directly related to the point the writer is trying to make.
Sometimes writers present evidence that is “somehow” related to the topic in general. As a critical reader, you should not be fooled by evidence that is related to the topic but not to the argument itself.
Example paragraph with irrelevant evidence
Read the following paragraph, where the writer is defending the argument that online courses offer a flexible and convenient solution for busy people wanting to further their education (Sentence 1). Which sentence presents a piece of evidence that is related to the topic but is irrelevant to the argument?
1 Fortunately, online courses offer a flexible and convenient solution for busy people wanting to further their education.
2 Online courses allow students to study on their own time and at their own pace, from anywhere with an internet connection.
3 This means that students can fit learning into their busy schedules, whether it is early in the morning, during their lunch break, or late at night after the kids are in bed.
4 The idea of delivering education remotely dates back to the early 20th century with the use of radio and television to deliver educational content to remote areas.
5 Today, educational institutions offer online courses to millions of people around the world.
6 Online courses eliminate the need for commuting to a physical classroom, saving both time and money.
7 With the flexibility and convenience of online learning, busy people can finally achieve their educational goals without sacrificing their other commitments.
Which pieces of evidence are irrelevant?
Sentences 4 and 5 are related to the general topic; however, they are not relevant to the argument that the writer is trying to make. How long remote education has been around and how widespread it is does nothing to support the idea that they are a flexible and convenient solution for busy people.
How to Evaluate the Evidence
As you have seen above, to evaluate the evidence when reading, make sure to analyze the evidence critically. As yourself if the evidence is accurate, sufficient, and relevant evidence. If the evidence does not meet these requirements, you should be cautious about it.
Up Next: Distinguishing Fact from Opinion and Speculation
Go to the next lesson to learn how to distinguish fact from opinion and speculation.
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