Skill Spotlight: Textual Evidence

Skill Spotlight: Textual Evidence 


DefinitionAny time you’re explaining something about a text, you need to cite, or point out, textual evidence to support your ideas. Textual evidence may be a word, phrase, sentence, or paragraph that led you to make an inference or draw a conclusion. When you cite textual evidence, someone else can look back at a particular part of a text you read and understand how you came to your inferences or conclusions.

When you make inferences while reading or analyzing a text, you use the text and your own background knowledge to make logical guesses about what is not directly stated by the author. When you are explaining these inferences to someone else, it is important that you use textual evidence to show how and why you analyzed a text in the way that you did.

For example, an analysis of Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken,” in which the speaker describes coming to a fork on a forest path and having to choose which one to take, might state:
 The difficulty of making choices is an important theme of Frost’s poem. 
The same analysis is strengthened by going on to cite textual evidence:
 Frost establishes this theme in the first few lines. “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,” the speaker begins, “and sorry I could not travel both / and be one traveler, / long I stood . . . .” Immediately, we see that the speaker is faced with a tough choice: which way to go.

Whether you’re making inferences from a short passage or drawing conclusions based on an entire text, textual evidence is the most important tool for helping you explain your ideas.Identification and Application: 
In order to cite textual evidence that most strongly supports your analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, do the following:

  • Cite textual evidence by making notes about particular details as you read, including:
    • a character’s words, actions, appearance, and motivations
    • dialogue and interactions between characters
    • setting and its impact on plot, characters, and theme
    • the sequence or order of events
    • the main conflict and theme, or overall message
    • the use of language, including repeated words or phrases, figurative language, and words with strong connotations
    • the structure of a text, such as a poem’s lines, stanzas, and rhyme schemes
  • Make inferences using the following questions as a guide:
    • What experience or knowledge do you already have about this text detail?
    • What does the author want you to figure out that the text doesn’t say directly?
    • If the text does say something directly, for what purpose? For example, if an author provides a great deal of information about a setting, it may be because some element of the setting will affect the development of the plot.