An anecdote (pronounced 'AN-ik-doat' (IPA: /'æ nɪk ,dəʊt/); adjective anecdotal, pronounced 'an-ik-DOAT-el' (IPA: /æ nɪk 'dəʊ təl/)) is a small story, about an interesting moment of ordinary life, rather than a significant public event. It is often close to the idea of gossip. Originally, it meant 'the inside story', or the less official -- hence unpublished -- details of meetings etc.
This idea of 'unpublished' may help to explain why anecdotal evidence is not regarded as sufficient in academic writing. Avoid using it, unless you mark it clearly. A historian may have to say something like "There is no firm evidence for XX's motives at this point, but the Memoirs of YY suggest, anecdotally, that he may have wanted to ..." Outside history and other subjects where firm evidence may be hard to find, there is rarely the need to use anecdotal evidence. It is not enough, for example, to say "my friend says that Coke is much better than Pepsi..." in discussing modern marketing in Business Studies. A student of language may refer to one charming story about her child when discussing how we learn language (what better evidence is there to illustrate a point?); but one cannot construct a theory about it on one anecdote. Serious students have to assemble much evidence from different sources before they can speak with any authority.
- You may like see discussion of similarly 'doubtful evidence' at apocryphal.
- Etymological Note: Anecdote comes from the Greek ἀνέκδοτος (anekdotos, unpublished), a compound of ἀν- (an, not) and ἔκδοτος (ekdotos, published).