6c- Selecting Examples and Evidence

If you have had any kind of writ­ing instruc­tion pri­or to this class, you prob­a­bly already know that one of the most impor­tant ele­ments in devel­op­ing an idea is pro­vid­ing exam­ples to guide your asser­tions.  In the case of ethno­graph­ic writ­ing, these exam­ples are drawn from your mem­o­ry and your field­notes.  Your field­notes, as pri­ma­ry data are then the source for your pri­ma­ry evidence.

It is pri­ma­ry evi­dence that sup­ports your focus and allows you to make clear why you have found a cer­tain behav­ior or idea sig­nif­i­cant.  Rather than think­ing about evi­dence as a way to prove your point, it may be more help­ful to con­sid­er pri­ma­ry evi­dence as an oppor­tu­ni­ty to pro­vide your read­er with an exam­ple of what you mean, what you have seen.  If you are tru­ly try­ing to engage the read­er in a con­ver­sa­tion, to inspire a response from them, you will want to pro­vide exam­ples from your field­notes you found to be com­pelling.  The fact is that if you found some­thing inter­est­ing, you will prob­a­bly write about it in an inter­est­ing way, there­by piquing the inter­est of the read­er.  It is this sort of interest—another lev­el of connection—that will prompt a response.

Giv­en the goal of cre­at­ing con­ver­sa­tion, the ques­tion about how to effec­tive­ly use pri­ma­ry source evi­dence then is three fold:

  1. Which exam­ples should you choose?
  2. Where in the paper do they go?
  3. How do you present them?

Think about the writ­ing of a longer essay as a series of short­er pieces.  If you con­sid­er the intro­duc­to­ry sec­tion and the con­clud­ing sec­tion as two short essays, you are then left to write two or three short­er essays in order to flesh out your idea.  In many ways, the intro­duc­tion begins with an exam­ple of your idea, but since the real pur­pose of the intro­duc­tion is to inter­est the read­er, the effect of this exam­ple is to inspire the read­er to con­tin­ue read­ing.  This exam­ple will not nec­es­sar­i­ly be con­sid­ered as evi­dence of your observation/focus.  As a result, you need to think about oth­er pos­si­ble exam­ples you can use in order to devel­op a dis­cus­sion of your focus statement.

While the focus is def­i­nite­ly crit­i­cal to deter­min­ing your example/evidence choic­es, the most impor­tant con­sid­er­a­tion in choos­ing an exam­ple from your field­notes is:  What would you like to accom­plish with your essay?  This ques­tion may be dif­fi­cult for you to con­sid­er if you are still hav­ing dif­fi­cul­ty see­ing your­self as an author­i­ty on you own research. You might want to say some­thing in par­tic­u­lar way or to inspire some­one to think about some­thing a dif­fer­ent way.  Though it is usu­al­ly not real­is­tic to assume that any one piece of writ­ing will “change someone’s mind,” there is no short­age of opin­ion, research, or writ­ing for that mat­ter, that does not sup­port the notion that writ­ing can assist peo­ple in shift­ing their per­spec­tive, in think­ing about things in a dif­fer­ent way.

There is a dif­fer­ence between iden­ti­fy­ing and iter­at­ing a focus and choos­ing rel­e­vant exam­ples. Let’s start with a stu­dent focus:

In this essay I will dis­cuss the con­nec­tion between Pol­ish folk dance and her­itage.  I will write about the mean­ing of the cir­cle and what it sym­bol­izes to all of us in the group.  Also, I plan on dis­cussing my obser­va­tions on what goes on dur­ing prac­tice and what I have observed about the group and how they view her­itage.  As I write this essay, I want peo­ple to start think­ing about their own her­itage and what they can do to become clos­er to it.  I also want peo­ple to become more aware of the Pol­ish cul­ture and have a bet­ter view of it.  I would like to get peo­ple to par­tic­i­pate in their eth­nic back­grounds, so they can come to know their cul­ture more.

The focus for this essay is, “the con­nec­tion between Pol­ish folk dance and her­itage.”  Mar­ty­na devel­oped this focus state­ment by con­sid­er­ing a pat­tern in her analy­sis observations—that danc­ing con­nects her to her Pol­ish her­itage.  The exam­ple of this con­nec­tion, how­ev­er, is not lim­it­ed to Martyna’s observation—the idea that she feels a con­nec­tion.  She cites the use of the cir­cle in her dance group as a sym­bol of con­nec­tion, a way that the group illus­trates their con­nec­tions with each other.

Once you choose your evi­dence, the exam­ples for your essay, the way of explain­ing and explor­ing your focus, you need to also decide where to dis­cuss the exam­ples and how you will present the exam­ple.  There is no hard and fast rule about where and how you should present your exam­ples.  Mar­ty­na decid­ed that the larg­er exam­ple of the cir­cle should fol­low a sec­tion on the his­to­ry of her dance group and her own con­nec­tion with the group.  This first sec­tion then pro­vides con­text for her dis­cus­sion of the sym­bol­ic func­tion of the circle.

In her sec­tion enti­tled, “Fam­i­ly and Her­itage in Wici,” Mar­ty­na uses the cir­cle as a way of illus­trat­ing the con­nec­tion between dance and her­itage. One can bet­ter exam­ine the log­ic of an essay, the con­nec­tion between focus and evi­dence, by look­ing at the first few lines of each para­graph.  Here, we are able to not only iden­ti­fy how they have used the exam­ple to their ben­e­fit, but to note the log­ic in the devel­op­ment of an idea.  In the sec­tion that focus­es on the cir­cle, we note def­i­nite atten­tion to the rela­tion­ship between the focus on dance and her­itage and the exam­ple of the cir­cle as evi­dence of such a connection:

  • Para­graph 1:  The cir­cle that we stand in at the begin­ning and end of prac­tice is sym­bol­ic.  It rep­re­sents our her­itage and all of us com­ing togeth­er as a family.
  • Para­graph 2: There is a con­nec­tion between the cir­cle we stand in and the peo­ple in Poland.
  • Para­graph 3: The cir­cle rep­re­sents us com­ing togeth­er and tak­ing part in some­thing not all peo­ple take part in.  Being a part of some­thing like a folk dance group shows that we are doing some­thing that con­nects us to our Pol­ish heritage.
  • Para­graph 4: Our dance group is also sym­bol­ic.  We sym­bol­ize the Pol­ish youth who are going to pass on to oth­ers all that we have learned and expe­ri­enced as a part of this group.

In this four-para­graph sec­tion, of her essay, Mar­ty­na uses one example—the cir­cle they form dur­ing dance group—in order to devel­op the con­nec­tion between her her­itage and dance.  She begins with the idea that the cir­cle is sym­bol­ic of this con­nec­tion.  Then she devel­ops this metaphor to extend the con­nec­tion beyond the bound­aries of the group to all peo­ple in Poland.  She then reit­er­ates this idea through the per­son­al, rather than the the­o­ret­i­cal con­nec­tion and final­ly extends the metaphor one more time, cross­ing tem­po­ral, not just geo­graph­i­cal bound­aries.  In short, the cir­cle con­nects the peo­ple to dance, to oth­er peo­ple in Poland, to each oth­er and final­ly to those not yet born or exposed to Pol­ish dance and heritage.

The point is that the exam­ples you choose from your field­notes need not be com­pli­cat­ed or even numer­ous.  While Mary­na does pro­vide “evi­dence” of her asser­tion of the con­nec­tion between dance and Pol­ish her­itage in the form of per­son­al expe­ri­ence and self-reflex­iv­i­ty through­out this essay, she real­ly only uses one bit of pri­ma­ry data in her essay in order to make her point.  The key is that she exam­ines that evi­dence from mul­ti­ple per­spec­tives, she explores its metaphor­i­cal poten­tial, think­ing about how it may be per­ceived, con­sid­er­ing is as a rep­re­sen­ta­tion for all the ways in which she feels con­nect­ed to her her­itage through the dance group.

As you con­sid­er your own focus state­ment and reex­am­ine your list of obser­va­tions in search of appro­pri­ate, fruit­ful exam­ples, and think about which obser­va­tions may enable you to con­nect your focus with the larg­er pur­pose (the SO WHAT?) of your essay.  Here are some ways to begin to do this:

  • Do not think that you need many of these exam­ples, or that you need to know exact­ly how or where you’ll place them at first.
  • Choose first and then as you write, exper­i­ment with ways of pre­sent­ing the example—use your cre­ative flair in order to bring a sit­u­a­tion to life.
  • Extend any metaphor­i­cal con­nec­tions you may make between ideas.
  • Recon­sid­er how and why you made note of the obser­va­tion in the first place.  Was it the result of think­ing about place and space, rit­u­al and sym­bol, rep­re­sen­ta­tion?  If so, use those ideas as guides for devel­op­ing a longer dis­cus­sion of this connection.