Anecdotal Evidence

Student shouting at desk in classroom

JGI/Jamie Grill / Getty Images 

An Anecdote is a narrative told from the point of view of an observer. Anecdotal evidence is considered unreliable and is seldom accepted as a means to validate an educational method or technique. Still, anecdotal evidence can be helpful when assessing a student, especially a student with behavioral issues. A starting point for a behavioral intervention is anecdotes, especially anecdotes collected by several different observers. Sometimes those anecdotes are written in an ABC form, or Antecedent, Behavior, Consequence, a way in which the function of the behavior can often be identified. By observing the events or set of the behavior being observed, by describing the behavior and figuring out the consequence, or benefit the student receives.

Problems with Anecdotes

Sometimes observers are subjective, rather than objective. Learning to observe the topography of behavior without making any judgments about the behavior is often difficult since culturally we tend to freight certain behaviors with meaning that may not actually be part of the behavior. It may be important that the person assessing the student begins with an "operational" definition of the behavior so all observers are clear what they are looking for. It is also important to train observers to name certain behaviors explicitly. They may say that a student stuck his or her foot out. They may say it appears that they did it in order to trip another student, so it could be aggression, but you don't want to say "John intentionally tripped Mark" unless John tells you it was intentional.

Multiple observers do, however, give you varied points of view, which may be helpful if you use an "ABC" format for your observations. Discerning the function of a behavior is one of the principal reasons for collecting anecdotal evidence, although discerning what is objective and what is subjective is often challenging. Figuring out which anecdotes are influenced by prejudice or expectation will help cull valuable information. Parents' anecdotes will provide information but may be shaped by some denial.

  • Also Known As: Observation, narrative observation
  • Examples: As Mr. Johnson began to plan for the Functional Behavioral Analysis he needed to do for Robert's disruptive behavior, he reviewed a number of anecdotal reports that were in his file from content area classes.
mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Webster, Jerry. "Anecdotal Evidence." ThoughtCo, Aug. 28, 2020, Webster, Jerry. (2020, August 28). Anecdotal Evidence. Retrieved from Webster, Jerry. "Anecdotal Evidence." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 9, 2023).