Assessing Evidence in Informational Writing

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

It's important to know what you're reading. In this lesson, we're going to examine the evidence in informational texts to learn whether it's valid or not.

Reading Writing

The Golden Gate Bridge is made of solid gold, with no steel or iron. Do you believe that? How would you know if that's true? One of the best things you can do is to look at the evidence that is used to support a claim like this (and for the record, no, the Golden Gate Bridge is not made of gold…sorry).

It can be hard to tell when something is accurate or correct, even in informational writing, or that which is made to disseminate facts, not opinions. Informational writing is meant to inform, which means the reader expects the text to be credible and accurate. Unfortunately, sometimes we trust informational writing too much, and we don't take the time to explore the validity of their claims. So, let's take a closer look at how we can tell if informational writing is really worth reading.

Find the Evidence

The best way to tell if information writing is accurate is to examine the evidence. Of course, you can't do that if you don't know what the evidence is. So, step one of this process is to separate the evidence from other components of informational writing you'll find, like an argument or claims.

Imagine that we're reading a textbook on the Golden Gate Bridge. Here's a snippet:

The Golden Gate Bridge had a big impact on the history of architecture. It is measured by the California Department of Transportation to be 4,200 feet long. More significantly, however, chief engineer Joseph Strauss had to create this span over very deep water in a region known for earthquakes. This suggests that the Golden Gate Bridge helped expand the ambition of architectural projects.

How credible is this evidence about the influence of the Golden Gate Bridge?

So there you go, a bit of informational writing. Now, what's the evidence, and what's not? Most informational writing, even in your textbooks, has an argument or a point it's trying to make. See if you can find the argument in this paragraph on the Golden Gate Bridge.

It's actually the first sentence, which argues that the Golden Gate Bridge had a big impact on architecture. That's the claim we're making. Now, what's the evidence? Evidence includes the facts used to support the claim, which here we can see in the stats about the bridge and the information about Strauss' challenges. But what about that last sentence? That's an analysis of the evidence, but not evidence itself.


Now that we know where the evidence is, we can figure out whether or not it is good evidence. There are three tests that evidence must pass before we should see it as credible. First, is it relevant? The relevancy of evidence is very important. Imagine reading a piece of informational text like this:

The United States flourished under George Washington. In his youth, Washington refused to lie about cutting down a cherry tree.

We have an argument (that the USA did well under Washington) and a piece of evidence from the President's life. Unfortunately, the evidence has absolutely nothing to do with the argument. It's neat, but not relevant to American stability during Washington's presidency so we can't say the argument is credible.

Look back at that Golden Gate Bridge snippet. Is the evidence in there relevant? The span of the bridge may not be entirely relevant, but the challenges Strauss faced in building the bridge are relevant to its place in architecture history. Try and think of some other pieces of evidences you'd like to see in that snippet that would be relevant to the argument.


A second question about our evidence: is it significant? Sometimes, information may be relevant, but isn't all that important. To know if the information is credible, it's necessary to examine the importance of the evidence.

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