Citing Evidence

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In this article, you will learn how to cite the most relevant evidence for your audience.


Writing for a specific audience is an important skill. What you present in your writing and how you present it will vary depending on your intended audience.

Sometimes, you have to judge your audience’s level of understanding. For example, a general audience may not have as much background knowledge as an academic audience.

The UNC Writing Center provides a general overview of questions about your audience that you should consider. Click here and read the section, “How do I identify my audience and what they want from me?”

Addressing Audience Bias

In addition to knowledge, values, and concerns, your audience may also hold certain biases, or judgments and prejudices, about a topic.

Take, for example, the topic of the Revolutionary War. Your intended audience may be British economists who see the American Revolution as a rebellion, which hindered British imperialism around the world.

When writing for this audience, you still want to present your claims, reasoning, and evidence to support your argument about the American Revolution, but you don’t want to alienate your British audience. You will need to be sensitive in how you explain American success and its impact on the British Empire.

Quotes, Paraphrases & Audience

Using quotes and paraphrases is a terrific way to both support your argument and make it interesting for the audience to read. You should tailor the use of these quotes and paraphrases to your audience.

Evidence Sources & Audience

Whether you’re quoting or paraphrasing, the source of your evidence matters to your audience. Readers want to see credible sources that they trust.

For example, military historians may feel reassured to see citations from the Journal of Military History (the refereed academic publication for the Society for Military History) in your writing about the American Revolution.

They may be less persuaded by a quote from a historical reenactor’s blog or a more general source like The History Channel. Historical fiction or historical films created for entertainment likely will not impress them at all, unless you are creating a critique of those sources.

It can sometimes be helpful to create an annotated bibliography before writing your paper since the annotations you write will help you to summarize and evaluate the relevance and/or credibility of each of your sources.

Quoting/Paraphrasing with Audience in Mind

Choosing ­when to use quotes or paraphrases can depend on your audience as well.

If your audience wants details, if you want to grab the attention of your audience, or if audience bias may prevent acceptance of a more generalized statement, use a quote.

If your audience is new to the topic or a more general audience, if they will want to see your conclusions presented quickly, or if a quote would disrupt the reading of your text, a paraphrase is better.

Using Quotes and Paraphrases Effectively: Example

John Luzader, who has worked with the Department of Defense and the National Park Service, can be considered an expert who understands the technical aspects of military history.

Click here to read his “Thoughts on the Battle of Saratoga.” As you read, consider whether you would quote or paraphrase this text when using it as evidence for a school newspaper article explaining why the British surrendered.

Quotes and Paraphrases Example: Explained

A high school newspaper’s audience is usually intelligent and informed but not expert. Unless it is a military academy’s newspaper, it is unlikely that the audience has enough expertise to understand specific technical terms like “redoubt,” “intervisual,” or “British right and rear.”

For this audience, Luzader’s Thoughts on the Battle of Saratoga would work better as a paraphrase:

Military historian John Luzader (2010) argues that the British position on the field at Saratoga allowed the Americans to take the earthwork fort that protected the Redcoats and form a circle around the British, forcing their defeat.

Notice that the above paraphrase uses an in-text citation, which all paraphrases should. Because Luzader’s name is included in the sentence, we only need the year of publication (2010) in parentheses.

Relevant Evidence for Claims and Counterclaims

As a writer, you need to supply the most relevant evidence for claims and counterclaims based on what you know about your audience. Your claim is your position on the subject, while a counterclaim is a point that someone with an opposing view may raise.

Pointing out the strengths and limitations of your evidence in a way that anticipates the audience’s knowledge level, concerns, values, and possible biases helps you select the best evidence for your readers.

Relevant Evidence for Counterclaims: Example

Your audience’s concerns may include a counterclaim you must address. For example, your readers may think that the American Revolution cannot be considered a world war because it was a fight between one country and its colonies.

You should acknowledge these differences in beliefs with evidence, but be sure to return to your original claim, emphasizing why it is correct. Your acknowledgment may look like this (the counterclaim is in italics):

Although the American Revolution was primarily a battle between the British empire and its rebellious North American colonies, the foreign alliances made during the American Revolution helped the colonists survive the war and become a nation. The French Alliance of 1778 shows how foreign intervention was necessary to keep the United States going. As Office of the Historian for the U.S. State Department (2017) explains, “The single most important diplomatic success of the colonists during the War for Independence was the critical link they forged with France.” These alliances with other nations, who provided financial and military support to the colonists, expanded the scope of the Revolution to the point of being a world war.


Now you know how to select the best evidence to include in your writing! Remember to consider your audience, address counterclaims while not straying from your own claim, and use in-text citations for quotes and paraphrases.

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