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Lesson 3: Presenting Evidence

In a court of law, nobody believes anything unless it is backed up by evidence. In other words, if you, as a defense attorney, say, “My client was nowhere near the scene of the murder,” the prosecutor will immediately jump up and shout, “Objection!” That is because you have stated your own opinion—an opinion that is not backed up by evidence. 

Therefore, if you want to prove that your client was nowhere near the scene of the murder, you must first call a witness to the stand and ask questions something like this:

  You:   What were you doing on the night of June 12th?  
  Witness:   I was with Joe [the accused murderer]. We were watching TV all night.  
  You:   And where were you watching TV?  
  Witness:   In my apartment.  
  You:   And where is your apartment?  
  Witness:   Near the beach.  
  You:   The beach? How far is that from the scene of the murder?  
  Witness:   About 15 miles.  


By calling the witness, you have submitted evidence. And if you submit enough pieces of evidence, you may win your case.

Similarly, in academic debates, no one cares too much about your opinion. What they really want to see is evidence, so that they can judge for themselves whether you are right or wrong.

Consider the following statement:

That statement may be true. On the other hand, perhaps I just made it up. How do you know? The above statement does not count as evidence, because it is just a “lawyer’s opinion.”

Now consider the following statement:

Now that statement is evidence, because I have presented a “witness.” (In this case, the witness is the documentary). Hopefully, the witness is an expert who knows what he or she is talking about.

But wait—how do you know that the witness is an expert? The documentary may have been made by a fool.

In court, the jury can see the witness and judge for themselves whether he or she is lying. But how can you see the documentary Monster: A Portrait of Stalin in Blood, unless I tell you where to find it?

The answer, of course, is that you, the author, must cite each and every source that you use, just like a lawyer must enter things into evidence. That way, the reader—if she chooses—can look at the evidence first hand. 

Check Your Understanding:

  1. Why is it important to document your sources?

Quiz: MLA 3