Now that you have decided what you plan to argue about the text with which you are working, you need to find parts of that text that support your argument. A thesis not supported by solid textual evidence will be weak and unconvincing. This section of the guide will help you to define what constitutes textual and teach you techniques for finding the best evidence for your argument.
Many students think of textual evidence as quotations from a text. Quotes are an important form of textual evidence, but paraphrases, descriptions of the text’s formal aspects (e.g. rhythm, rhyme scheme, line length, etc.), and sometimes even descriptions of visual aspects of text are also types of textual evidence.
According to Professor Richard Nanian, the first step to finding good textual evidence should begin before you ever start writing your paper: “read closely with attention.” Close reading can reveal aspects of the text that might have been glossed over had you been reading passively, says Professor Nanian. “You have to talk back to the text, read with it, then read against it.” Profesor Nanian suggests that one of the best ways for students to start developing their close reading skills is to make notes in the margins of the texts; not only will these notes help you to analyze the text as you are reading it, but they can also help you to locate and quickly remember certain passages as your are writing your paper.
In addition to close reading, Professor Nanian suggests that some students find it helpful to think of their arguments in terms of Dr. Stephen Toulmin’s rhetorical model. Toulmin’s model specifies that each argument must have data, a claim, and a warrant. In this case, says Nanian, the data is the text or the portion of the text you are working with, your claim is your thesis, and the warrant is “what allows you to justify the claim using the grounds.” According to Professor Nanian, being aware of what your warrant is can help you to choose what kind of textual evidence your thesis requires. For instance, says Professor Nanian, if you are working with the text Hamlet (data), your thesis (claim) could be, “Hamlet’s anger towards his mother derives less from his grief over his father’s death than from his disgust at her sexuality.” Professor Nanian suggests that the warrant to justify that claim would probably be “specific language Hamlet uses to show disgust.” Thus, the best textual evidence for your paper would be quotes from Hamlet that convey disgust over his mother’s sexuality, such as “Nay, but to live in the rank sweat of an emseamed bed,/Stewed in corruption, honeying and making love over the nasty sty.” (III.iv. 92-5)
If are having trouble finding evidence for your thesis, Professor Nanian suggests that you should put your original thesis out of your mind for a moment and try finding a paragraph or passage of the test that interests you. Figure out what it is that you would like to explore about that particular part of the text, and then write a paragraph that makes an interpretive argument about the passage. Once you have your paragraph, ask yourself if there are other passages in the text that fit into the argument you made about the specific paragraph. If so, you might consider making that argument your thesis. If you would like to practice finding textual evidence to support a thesis, Professor Nanian’s website has an exercise that will help you.