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How to Write an Essay When You have no Evidence

By , Santa Cruz, CA
Everyone knows the situation. You’re in history class, or English, and you’ve got a paper to write. Maybe it’s about an eastern civilization, maybe it’s about a book. You’ve been told what kind of argument you need to have, but not exactly what. You can’t find a trend in your information to save your life. After much toiling that includes reading your notes over and over again, color coding them, reading them again, highlighting, and reading them again—plus trying to figure out what people did for this assignment in the past—you’ve found an idea.

As far as you know, there is only one concrete piece of evidence for your idea. It’s a single quote in the book or a value in the civilization shown in one of their pieces of art. Write this piece of evidence down. It will form the backbone of your paper.

Next, do a quick Google search with the title of your civilization or topic and the main idea of your thesis. Example: “The Khmer Civilization love of nature.” If not a whole lot comes up, don’t fret. Click on the first link that seems applicable and start taking notes. Ignore the butterfly background and 80’s music. You can always find a more reliable source that kind-of says the same thing later.

Begin to fabricate trends. Look for specifics—a historian’s quote you can interpret differently, a value that is accepted of the civilization that you can skew to make look like yours, or a comment the teacher made about one unit that seems like it might work for yours, too.

When you turn in your outline, bite your nails and have a nervous feeling in your stomach until your teacher hands it back, 10 out of 10, and tells you it looks great. Calm yourself down. If the teacher thinks it’s a good plan, it must be.

Begin to write your paper. Remember, facts aren’t needed in the introduction. A loooong description of some sort, followed by an eloquent quote about your trend’s presence in many other civilizations or cultures tend to work great.

Topic sentences are key. Make sure your “arguments” relate back to your thesis. The body paragraphs should be a mix of statistics or factual informant that proves one point that is, deductively and in a couple of seconds, linked to your point. Be ready to use the phrase “and, in turn, means that…” a lot.

Footnotes are very helpful. Cite facts you got on less reliable cites to sources you searched long and hard to find these same facts in. If your paper is running a little short, make the footnotes as large as the text of the paper. No one ever notices that. Also, instead of citing an entire sentence with one source, choose one source for one clause and another for another, making your footnote section larger.

The conclusion should relate your trend back to places it actually exists.

Remember: don’t feel bad about this. It happens to the best and worst of us. And learning to do this is a good skill for debating.

When you turn the rough draft in, again bite your nails. Drink hot tea to get yourself to sleep. Once your teacher turns it in with the words “more evidence” all over it, take a deep breath. Find more slightly-relevant data, making sure to cite your sources. Ask the teacher if this is sufficient. They will say yes.





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