Breaking Down the MEAL Plan: Using Evidence Effectively -->

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Breaking Down the MEAL Plan: Using Evidence Effectively

Last week we learned about the importance of presenting a clear topic sentence (also known as the main idea) in every paragraph. This week we’re going to explore the second letter of the MEAL plan* acronym: E, for “evidence.” 

Breaking Down the MEAL Plan: Part II: Evidence

The purpose of evidence in any paragraph is to provide support for the main idea. But it isn’t enough to simply insert a few statistics or quotations, however compelling they might be. To effectively present and use evidence, whether in the form of a paraphrase or a quotation, it’s important to make sure you take the following two steps:

1. Cite appropriately: When you paraphrase material (that is, restate information from another source in your own words), you must give credit to the original source by citing both the author and the year. Direct quotations, which should be used sparingly, must include the author, year, page or paragraph number, and quotation marks.

2. Provide connections: Even an excellent supply of paraphrased or quoted material is not going to be effective if it isn’t incorporated into the paragraph in a meaningful way. Rather than string together a list of quotes or paraphrases, then, you’ll want to take the time to provide transitions or explanations that show how the different ideas are related.

To illustrate these two steps, let’s take a look at the sample paragraph from last week:
          Many infant and mother deaths can be prevented, especially in the third world. Worldwide, around 11,000,000 children under 5 years old die primarily from preventable diseases, and over 500,000 mothers die from pregnancy- or delivery-related complications annually; almost 99% of these occur in developing countries (Hill et al., 2007). This high number is devastating because while infants in these countries have a high risk of dying, their risk does not stop once they are adults. For women, the lifetime risk of dying from pregnancy and childbirth-related causes is about 100 times higher in Bangladesh than in developed countries (WHO, 2004). The continued failures in implementing straightforward interventions targeting the root causes of mortalities have been responsible for these deaths (McCoy, 2006). The medical community has not been able to come up with simple, cost-effective, and life-saving methods that would help save lives in developing countries. This lack of innovation in the medical field has resulted in the continued unnecessary deaths of thousands of mothers and children.
In this paragraph, we can see both of the steps for presenting evidence have been taken:

1. Sources are cited appropriately: We don’t have any quotations in this paragraph, but each of the three sentences containing paraphrased material also includes a parenthetical citation with both the author and the year.

2. Transitions and explanations show how the ideas are connected: Again, it isn’t helpful to the reader to simply pile up the evidence without explaining how one piece of information is related to the next. In the third sentence, for example, the author shows how these two sets of numbers—deaths of children under the age of 5 and deaths of mothers from pregnancy- and childbirth-related causes—are connected: Together they contribute to a high risk of dying over the lifespan for infants and mothers in the third world.

Of course, there is more to a well-crafted paragraph than effectively presented evidence, but by taking the time to accurately cite and carefully incorporate your material, you’re well on your way to establishing a critical foundation for a solid argument.

Have you used the MEAL plan? What was your experience? Share with us in the comments!

*The MEAL plan is adapted from the Duke University Writing Studio.

This post is the second in a four-part series. If you missed Part 1, start here. If you're ready for a discussion of analysis, check out this post next

Breaking Down the MEAL Plan with the Walden Writing Center: Part 1: The Main Idea Breaking Down the MEAL Plan with the Walden Writing Center: Part 2: Evidence Breaking Down the MEAL Plan with the Walden Writing Center: Part 3: Evidence Breaking Down the MEAL Plan with the Walden Writing Center: Part 4: The Lead Out Sentence Image Map

Jen JohnsonDissertation Editor Jen Johnson has been with the Walden Writing Center since 2007. As a writer and a former writing instructor, she has a particular interest in helping students craft well-written doctoral research, from the sentence level up.


  1. I just saw the drop down for the next in the series.

    1. Oh, great Lolo! I hope you find this information helpful. Please let us know if you have questions. :)

  2. Very useful information to assist with assignments as well as to teach writing in the classroom settings to English students