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Academic writing

How to incorporate evidence

Academic writing must be supported by evidence such as data, facts, quotations, arguments, statistics, research, and theories.

This evidence will:

  • add substance to your own ideas
  • allow the reader to see what has informed your thinking and how your ideas fit in with, and differ from, others' in your field
  • demonstrate your understanding of the general concepts and theories on the topic
  • show you have researched widely, and know about specialist/niche areas of interest.

There are several methods that you can use to incorporate other people's work into your own written work. These are:

  • paraphrasing
  • summarising
  • synthesising
  • quoting.

You are likely to use a combination of these throughout your writing, depending on the purpose that you are trying to achieve.

The main characteristics of the different methods you can use to incorporate others' work into your own writing are shown in our comparison table (PDF).

Be aware that your writing should not just be a patchwork of other people's ideas made up of quotes, paraphrases and summaries of other people's work.

You need to show how the information you found has helped you to develop your own arguments, ideas and opinions. See Critical thinking pages for advice about writing critically.

How to paraphrase others’ work

Paraphrasing is using your own words to express someone else’s ideas. When paraphrasing, make sure that you:

  • identify a relevant theme or point, depending on your purpose
  • write the point in your own words
  • focus on the meaning of an idea or argument
  • include a reference to the original author.

Common pitfalls include:

  • describing an author's idea/argument but not explaining the significance to your own argument, or the point that you are trying to make
  • using too many of the original author's words, this includes using the same structure
  • not distinguishing between the author's point and your own viewpoint
  • providing too much detail.

For further advice and examples of paraphrasing, see this tutorial from RMIT university.

See more examples of successful and unsuccessful paraphrases.

How to summarise others’ work

Summarising is providing a condensed version of someone else’s key points. When summarising other people’s work, make sure that you:

  • identify the relevant points of the idea or argument,depending on your purpose
  • write a shortened version, in your own words, to show your understanding
  • include an in-text citation and reference to the original author.

Common pitfalls include:

  • describing an author's idea/argument but not explaining the significance to your own argument or point you are trying to make
  • providing too much detail such as examples, anecdotes, unnecessary background information rather than being selective and applying the information to the question you are trying to answer.

For further advice and examples of summarising, see this tutorial from RMIT university.

How to synthesise others’ work

Synthesising involves combining different information and ideas to develop your own argument. When synthesising others’ work, make sure that you:

  • Group sources into relevant categories, for example, authors with similar viewpoints or research that reveals the same results
  • Write about these in your own words. Do not discuss each author separately; you must identify the overall points you want to make
  • Include references to all the original authors.

Common pitfalls include:

  • Not distinguishing clearly which viewpoint/s belong to which author/s
  • Listing authors separately or one by one, thus not grouping relevant authors or points together
  • Giving too much detail about different perspectives rather than being selective of the key features relevant to your line of argument
  • Describing the idea/argument but not explaining the significance to your own argument or point you are trying to make.

For further advice and examples of synthesis, see this tutorial on synthesising from RMIT University.

View our advice about referencing.

How to quote from others’ work

Quoting is where you copy an author's text word for word, place quotation marks around the words and add a citation at the end of the quote. When quoting others’ work, make sure that you:

  • copy the quote exactly from the original, as the author has written it, taking care to include quotation marks
  • show where you have made any changes to the text (see citing quotations using Harvard and citing quotations using Numeric for more guidance on this)
  • include an in-text citation and reference to the original author.

Common pitfalls include:

  • Using too many quotes throughout your work
  • Incorporating a quote without explaining the significance to your own argument or point you are trying to make.