Craig White's Literature Courses

Terms / Themes


An anecdote is a brief narrative embedded in a larger genre such as an essay or biography. The anecdote is used to entertain and inform by its concise illustration of a distinction, characteristic, or foible of the subject or human nature.

The term also appears in "anecdotal evidence," in which an incident is related to support or attack a theoretical or ideological position. Such an incident may or may not be representative of larger statistical truths but may succeed rhetorically because it fulfills an audience's expectations and prejudices and satisfies desire for images and narratives. 

OED [etymology < Fr anecdote < Latin anecdota < Greek "things unpublished" (leading to original meaning of "secret, private, or hitherto unpublished narratives or details of history"]

def. 2a. The narrative of a detached incident, or of a single event, told as being in itself interesting or striking. (At first, an item of gossip.) a short account of a particular incident or event, especially of an interesting or amusing nature.

Example of usage from

"The writer makes his living by anecdotes. He searches them out and carves them as the raw materials of his profession. No hunter stalking his prey is more alert to the presence of his quarry than a writer looking for small incidents that cast a strong light on human behavior." (Norman Cousins, The Healing Heart: Antidotes to Panic and Helplessness. Avon, 1984)

Example of usage of "anecdotal evidence": from

"Anecdotal evidence is in some ways at the opposite extreme from statistical evidence. . . . [T]he kinds of thinking based on anecdotal evidence is less concerned with verifiable trends and patterns than with a more detailed and up-close presentation of particular instances.

"Given the difficulty of claiming that a single case (anecdote) is representative of the whole, researchers using anecdotal evidence tend to achieve authority through a large number of small instances, which begin to suggest a trend. Authority can also be acquired through the audience's sense of the analytical ability of the researcher, his or her skill, for example, at convincingly connecting the evidence with the claim."
(David Rosenwasser and Jill Stephen, Writing Analytically, 5th ed. Thomson, 2009)









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