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COMM 104: Fundamentals of Public Communication

This guide is designed to help COMM 104 students do research for the written persuasive appeal assignment.

Why use evidence?

Incorporating and citing evidence in your work will not only lend more credibility, it will also demonstrate your expertise on the topic. Readers see that you have done further research to inform your stance on an issue and have not simply made things up or exaggerated. Incorporating evidence into your writing or speaking will make your audience more likely to consider and adopt your conclusions. Providing references also allows your readers to directly verify your claims and access further information on the subject. 

But not all evidence is created equal. The quality of the evidence you use will impact the degree to which your audience will accept your position. 

So what are the characteristics of quality sources?

Characteristics of Quality Sources

The sources you rely on should be clear and comprehensible to your readers, so that your readers can easily make connections between the evidence presented in your sources and the claims you're making based on that evidence. 

What to generally avoid:

  • Sources with repetitive arguments
  • Sources that are unorganized or lacking a clear presentation of main points
  • Sources containing overly technical or scientific language that will be difficult for your reader to comprehend

Time to practice!

How clear is the source to my audience? Are the claims presented in a way that my audience will easily understand?
0 = Totally unclear: 2 votes (1.15%)
1 = Mostly unclear: 4 votes (2.3%)
2 = Somewhat clear: 28 votes (16.09%)
3 = Mostly clear: 125 votes (71.84%)
4 = Totally clear: 15 votes (8.62%)
Total Votes: 174

A source is considered accurate when its claims are supported by expert knowledge or opinion. Any author who borrows information from another source should give credit to the original source through citations, a list of references, or hyperlinked works. Works striving for accuracy will identify what information is borrowed and give your reader a complete reference so that your reader can locate the original source and read it for themselves.

What to generally avoid:

  • Sources that have no reference list, hyperlinks to external sources, or have not gone through any type of editorial or peer-review process
  • Sources that are not supported by external and expert opinion or knowledge

Time to practice!

How supported are the central claims or conclusions? Will my audience find that the claims match up with the evidence presented?
0 = Completely unsupported: 1 votes (1.32%)
1 = Mostly unsupported: 3 votes (3.95%)
2 = Somewhat supported: 39 votes (51.32%)
3 = Mostly supported: 30 votes (39.47%)
4 = Totally supported: 3 votes (3.95%)
Total Votes: 76

Relevance is important because your readers expect that claims or ideas are supported with pertinent and current information. Supporting your research with information that has been superseded by new research or recent events weakens your argument. In some disciplines, the date of the source is less important, while in others it is very important.

What to generally avoid:

  • Sources that provide content which is unrelated to the issue or topic you're researching
  • Sources that do not reflect major developments regarding an issue or topic

Time to practice!

How relevant and timely is the source to the topic at hand? Will my audience find the source current or useful?
0 = Totally irrelevant: 1 votes (2.86%)
1 = Mostly irrelevant: 3 votes (8.57%)
2 = Somewhat relevant: 7 votes (20%)
3 = Mostly relevant: 20 votes (57.14%)
4 = Totally relevant: 4 votes (11.43%)
Total Votes: 35

Precision is a measure of closeness among the results obtained through a series of experiments under similar conditions. It represents the degree to which your audience can have confidence in the results of the experiment or study. In regards to statistics, this refers to the confidence interval which represents how precisely the researchers are able to report their estimates. The more sound the experiment method (e.g. large or diverse sampling, repetition of experiment, etc.) or the more dissimilar the results (results with statistical significance), the more precise the results or conclusions will be to your audience. 

What to generally avoid:

  • Statistics derived from faulty methodology, including a small sample size or non-diverse sample population
  • Studies or statistical analyses featuring p-values greater than 0.05 (more than a 5% probability that the results are random)
  • Conclusions based off very narrow statistical difference (ex: difference of 2 percentage points)

Time to practice!

How definitive are the claims? How confident will my audience be in the evidence presented?
0 = Totally inconclusive: 0 votes (0%)
1 = Mostly inconclusive: 3 votes (5.26%)
2 = Somewhat conclusive: 23 votes (40.35%)
3 = Mostly conclusive: 28 votes (49.12%)
4 = Totally conclusive: 3 votes (5.26%)
Total Votes: 57

Depth describes how much of a subject is discussed, or "covered" by the source. Not each of your sources needs to fully detail or dive into the topic, but in total all of your sources should leave your reader with a deep understanding of the main subject or issue.

What to avoid:

  • Content which is too broad for your audience to understand the nuances of an issue or topic
  • Lacking of sufficient coverage on a complex subject across your sources

Time to Practice!

How deeply does the source explore the topic? Is there enough information for the source to be helpful to my audience?
0 = Totally superficial: 0 votes (0%)
1 = Mostly superficial: 7 votes (8.86%)
2 = Somewhat in-depth: 28 votes (35.44%)
3 = Mostly in-depth: 35 votes (44.3%)
4 = Totally in-depth: 9 votes (11.39%)
Total Votes: 79

Breadth refers to how much a source contextualizes a topic for your reader. Adequate breadth provides your reader with some orientation to the topic, and this can take the form of overviews, historical contexts, or discussion of related issues or phenomena. Not each of your sources needs to widely contextualize a topic, but in total all of your sources should leave your reader with a wide background to situate your main conclusion or claim.

What to avoid:

  • Content which is too narrow for your audience to understand the nuances of an issue or topic
  • Lacking sufficient context for a complex topic across your sources

Time to Practice!

How comprehensive is the source? How widely does it contextualize the topic for my audience?
0 = Totally incomplete: 0 votes (0%)
1 = Mostly incomplete: 3 votes (6.67%)
2 = Somewhat complete: 16 votes (35.56%)
3 = Mostly complete: 22 votes (48.89%)
4 = Totally complete: 4 votes (8.89%)
Total Votes: 45

Arguments and claims should be arrived at through a critical synthesis and analysis of evidence. Assumptions made should be reasonable to your reader. The ideas and arguments advanced should more or less be in line with other works you or your reader has read on the same topic. The more radically an author departs from the views of others in the same field, the more carefully and critically you should scrutinize their ideas.

What to generally avoid:

  • Sources using logical fallacies or weak reasoning to advance major arguments or claims
  • Sources containing ideas or arguments that have no consensus from other experts in the field

Time to practice!

How rational are the claims? Do the arguments appeal to my reader's emotions or logic? Will my readers find the claims reasonable based on the evidence presented?
0 = Totally irrational: 0 votes (0%)
1 = Mostly irrational: 1 votes (1.43%)
2 = Somewhat rational: 21 votes (30%)
3 = Mostly rational: 38 votes (54.29%)
4 = Totally rational: 10 votes (14.29%)
Total Votes: 70

While some sources are primarily informative and others are more opinion-driven, almost all sources reflect a certain perspective (and along with it some degree of bias). This perspective influences what information the creator includes or excludes and how they present that information. Rather than looking for sources that are completely free of any bias, recognize that most sources have some degree of bias.

But some sources will present more bias than others. It is up to you to decide how much of a bias is present and if it is still a worthwhile source. If you suspect a source contains too much bias or an agenda, verify its evidence by reading laterally and looking at other sources, including ones that may present a different perspective that is still well supported by evidence.

What to generally avoid:

  • Sources that are primarily opinion-based, with little evidence
  • Sources that do not mention alternate perspectives or counterarguments to their own claims
  • Sources that are primarily concerned with selling a product
  • Sources with affiliations known for promoting a certain viewpoint 
  • Sources use loaded language, emotion-arousing words, or “clickbait,” words or phrases meant to convince potential readers to click on the article

Time to practice!

How balanced is the source? Will my audience find the information one-sided, prejudiced, or overly exaggerated?
0 = Totally biased/exaggerated: 0 votes (0%)
1 = Mostly biased/exaggerated: 10 votes (22.22%)
2 = Somewhat biased/exaggerated: 16 votes (35.56%)
3 = Mostly unbiased/unexaggerated: 16 votes (35.56%)
4 = Totally unbiased/unexaggerated: 3 votes (6.67%)
Total Votes: 45