Establish Evidence Credibility

You probably already know that it is important to cite your sources so that you will not be plagiarizing. But in business, citing sources does something even more important. It establishes the credibility of your evidence and your personal credibility as a business professional.

If the evidence is a key part of your argument, you may want to consider providing a footnote in a hardcopy document that contains information about the source. If you are preparing an electronic message (whether in an email or in a report that will be made available in PDF form), you should hyperlink to the original source.

When it comes to citing sources, there is not one right way. For academic writing purposes, you may have been required to cite sources according to MLA (Modern Language Association) or APA (American Psychological Association) styles. While specific citation styles are common in academic writing, most business writing does not follow academic guidelines like these. But just because you won’t be required to follow a set of rules about how exactly to cite sources (Is the article title capitalized or lowercase? Do you need a comma or a period there?), you still are responsible for citing your evidence.

Evidence may include information that is publicly available (e.g., data from the U.S. Census Bureau or stock prices from the NYSE), privately held (e.g., a market analysis report provided by a hired consultant or salary data provided by your company’s HR department), or generated by you personally (e.g., when you perform sales projections or analyze company spending on vendors). Here are some basic strategies for citing your evidence for increased impact.

Externally-Sourced Evidence

If you get evidence from external sources (such as websites, business publications, etc.), then you will need to share information about the source of the evidence. How much information you share will depend upon the specifics of the source, but typically you want to provide your receiver with information about who created the evidence (author), when the evidence was created or published (date), and where the evidence can be found (website, magazine, data portal).

If your source is from a widely known and credible source, then the source name might suffice for establishing credibility—whether the source is an agency, a publication, or a person.

“The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported this week that unemployment….”

“According to a study published in Harvard Business Review in 2023….”

If your source is from a credible source that is not widely known, then you will need to explain why the source is credible.

“According to Douglas Korpi, an investor with more than 30 years of experience funding startups, the most important….”

“Digitel, a marketing research firm specializing in interactive visualization, predicts that….”

If a source is widely known but it is not credible, proceed with caution. If you can’t make a strong case for your source and evidence being sufficiently high quality, it is better to use different evidence.

Internally- or Personally-Sourced Evidence

If you use evidence that you got from internal sources (such as data from HR, internal sales projections, etc.) or that you personally developed, your job is to explain your source and analysis in enough detail to establish the credibility and trustworthiness of your evidence. Here are two key pieces of information you should include.

First, include the source of your data. Were data provided by the accounting department? Are you using data from your social media analytics service? Did you conduct your own data collection? By identifying the original source of the data, you will establish that your data came from a trusted source.

Second, concisely describe your analytic steps. What tools did you use and what steps did you take to reach your conclusions? Did you use a data visualization tools to identify your insights? If you excluded any cases, what criteria did you use? Did you calculate statistical tests? How did you choose what text excerpts to use? By describing your analysis in sufficient detail, you will instill confidence that your interpretations can be trusted.

“For my analysis, I used current salary data provided by the Human Resources Department. It captured all salaries as of July 1, which is the first day of the current fiscal year. I excluded all part-time employees and all C-suite executives so those outlying salaries would not skew the results. Then…”


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Business Communication: Five Core Competencies Copyright © 2023 by Kristen Lucas, Jacob D. Rawlins, and Jenna Haugen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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