Skip to main content

Language and style

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 other 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 examples of paragraphs in academic writing resource has several examples of how authors have incorporated evidence into their writing. Browse the paragraphs to see paraphrasing, summarising, synthesising and quoting in context.

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 the critical thinking webpages for advice about writing critically.

However you incorporate evidence into your work, it must be clear to your reader when you’re using your own words and ideas or referring to someone else’s. The academic integrity tutorial explains more about why this is important and how to ensure you are following the rules.  

Take the practice version of the tutorial to remind yourself about this aspect of academic integrity. 

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 citation and a page number (if there is one) to show where the idea can be found in the original source. 

Common pitfalls include:

  • describing an author's idea or 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.

See this tutorial for further examples of paraphrasing (from RMIT University).

See more examples of successful and unsuccessful paraphrases (from the University of Wisconsin-Madison).

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, for 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 or 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.

View a tutorial for further examples of summarising (from RMIT University).

How to synthesise others’ work

Synthesising involves combining different information and ideas to develop your own argument.

When synthesising other people’s work, make sure that you:

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

Common pitfalls include:

  • not distinguishing clearly which viewpoints belong to which authors
  • 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 or argument but not explaining the significance to your own argument or point you are trying to make.

View a tutorial on synthesising from RMIT University.

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. Using quotes is not appropriate in all disciplines. It is more common in the arts and humanities than in sciences, where paraphrases and summaries are preferred. Check with your tutor whether quotes are acceptable in your subject area.

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 with a page number (if there is one) to show exactly where the quoted words can be found in the original source.
  • explain the significance of the quote and how it relates to the argument or point you are trying to make.

Common pitfalls include:

  • using too many quotes throughout your work. Paraphrasing or summarising can demonstrate your understanding of the source more effectively than directly copying the original text.

Citing and referencing your sources

It is important to ensure you keep track of all the sources and evidence you want to use in your writing. A reference management tool such as EndNote can help with this.

View our guidance about getting started with EndNote.

Whether you are paraphrasing, summarising, synthesising or quoting sources, you should always provide a citation and reference so that your reader can find the original source.

View our advice about referencing to make sure you cite and reference your sources correctly.