Leeds University Library

Academic writing: using others' work

You will need to integrate evidence such as data, facts, quotations, arguments, statistics, research, theories etc. from other authors, to add substance to your own ideas. This allows the reader to see what has informed your thinking and how your ideas fit in with, and differ from, others' in your field. For example, you can use others' work to show that:

  • you understand the general concepts and theories on the topic
  • you know how your views compare and relate to others'
  • you know what debates and issues are current in your field
  • 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. You are likely to use a combination of these throughout your writing, depending on the purpose that you are trying to achieve. Remember that to think, read and write critically you need to be able to analyse and evaluate other people's work, not just describe it.  See our Critical thinking pages for advice about writing critically.

Paraphrasing, summarising, synthesising and quoting

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).

How to use these methods:

Paraphrasing

  • Identify a relevant theme or point. This will depend 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

  • 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
  • Describing an author's idea/argument but not explaining the significance to your own argument, or the point that you are trying to make. 

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

See more examples of successful and unsuccessful paraphrases.


Summarising

  • Identify the relevant points of the idea or argument. This will depend 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

  • 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 


Synthesising

  • 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  
  • 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 from RMIT University. 

For advice about referencing, see referencing pages


Quoting

  • Copy the quote exactly from the original, as the author has written it, taking care to include quotation marks
  • If you want to make any changes to the quote, you must show you have done this. See our citing quotations page for more guidance on this
  • Include an in-text citation and reference to the original author.

Common pitfalls 

  • 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.  

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 find has helped you to develop your own arguments, ideas and opinions. See Critical thinking pages for advice about writing critically.