The Evidence Cycle

Incorporating outside sources without the essay sounding like a string of other author’s opinions is very challenging. In college, instead of presenting everyone else’s thoughts, you are expected to engage with, question, analyze, evaluate, and connect these sources to your own arguments and opinions.

To do this, use assertions, evidence, and commentary (AEC) as building blocks for your paragraphs. Doing so will allow you to provide adequate support and evaluation for each point incorporated in your paper. Generally, you would start with an assertion, and then move onto evidence and commentary. Below is an infograph which further defines AEC and addresses how it can be used to form paragraphs.

Note: In larger paragraphs, after you follow the initial AEC cycle, it may be necessary to add more pieces of evidence or commentary that connects back to the original assertion. Potentially, after following the AEC format, you may want to just add pieces of evidence and commentary, like so: A-E-C-E-C.

Graphic of Evidence Cycle, circle broken into thirds representing "Assertion" "Evidence" and "Commentary" with arrows indicating a clockwise rotation of these three stepsAssertion

The assertion introduces the point or evidence you are about to present.

The assertion might be the same as the topic sentence.


The evidence is the actual example or detail you would like to use.

Typically, this is where you would cite and use outside sources.


Commentary explains why your evidence is relevant to your argument or how your audience should interpret the information. It may question, analyze, and evaluate information.

Running Acknowledgements

Some instructors use the term “running acknowledgements” to describe phrasing like “According to Jones,” or “As Monroe writes,” or any other that introduces the name of the author prior to giving information from a source. This falls somewhere between assertion and evidence, and can be an easy way to provide context for the source material you quote or paraphrase.

AEC Paragraph Example

The paragraph below is taken from a paper that argues Highsmith’s novel, The Cry of the Owl, reveals the hidden creepiness of the suburbs and challenges reader’s perceptions of what happens in the suburbs. In this diagram, the commentary makes up a significant portion of this paragraph. The author must describe what is important about the description and how it connects back to the argument of the paper.

Topic Sentence

In The Cry of the Owl, Highsmith reveals the hidden creepiness of the suburbs through her descriptions of suburban homes, which challenges readers to look deeper at suburban dangers.


While the typical American suburban home has a front yard, a white picket fence, a trimmed lawn, and a pristine paint job that reflects the neat and orderly nature of the people inside the home, Jenny’s home reveals the inner disarray, creepiness, and chaos lurking beneath the surface.


Highsmith describes Jenny’s home as “a two storey white house with brown shutters and brown trim, much in need of painting, and the lawn was overgrown and the white rail fence along the driveway collapsing and askew” (9).


Rather than the image of order and pristineness, Jenny’s home and lawn are wild and run-down. In the suburbs, appearance is extremely important; if everything appears to be running smoothly on the surface, then the neighbors will not question the unspoken narrative. However, this unsettling home description is out of character for the suburbs despite having all the basic traits of a suburban home. The home, just like its occupant, is too open and chaotic, which would be normally hidden in real life. That is part of the reason the description is unsettling: it goes against what we expect the suburbs to look like and reveals that the suburbs can be places for chaos to fester despite appearances.

Concluding Statement

In this way, Highsmith challenges the readers to break free of their perceptions of the suburbs.