Claims in writing need to be backed up with adequate evidence, i.e., additional information from the work of others that supports or develops a claim and adds credibility to propositions and arguments. One common trait of poor academic writing is insufficient or inappropriate use of evidence. Often writers read many resources on a topic and simply copy down quotations to assemble an essay. However, they need to go further than that by establishing balance between the author’s and writer’s own words. The student-writer needs to show that they understand what they have read by paraphrasing and summarising rather than simply copying information.

Some types of evidence are highly valued in academic writing while others should be avoided. Evidence from reputable sources, usually other academics or researchers in organisations acknowledged to be leaders in their area of study, is considered to be high quality evidence. Importantly, evidence from multiple sources is more convincing than further evidence from the same source. Evidence from the personal experience of the writer and the evidence which cannot be correctly referenced should generally be avoided in academic writing.

The three most common ways of incorporating evidence into academic writing are as follows: a) direct quotations, b) paraphrasing, and c) summarising.

  1. Using direct quotations means reproducing another writer’s words exactly as they appear in the original text. When using a direct quotation, it is important to always cite the source it appears. Like all other types of evidence, a quotation cannot speak for itself. It is important to avoid simply dropping a direct quote into writing without introducing and discussing it. One should also avoid having a quotation at the end of a paragraph. Doing so might be a sign that one has neglected to discuss the importance of the quotation in terms of the main argument.
  2. Paraphrasing means putting a specific section of a text into writer’s own words. This does not mean simply changing the order of the author’s words in the original statement. When paraphrasing, the writer needs to read the information they intend to use, put the original source aside and restate the information they have just read as if they are describing it to another person. Paraphrasing usually focuses on a short stretch of text, such as a phrase, sentence or paragraph, and should be approximately the same length as the original passage. When paraphrasing, it is important to include the reference by accurately citing the source, i.e., indicating the author’s name, year of publication, and, if available, page numbers.
  3. Summarising means taking the main ideas from a piece of text and rewriting them in writer’s own words. When summarising, the writer is usually giving an overview of a lengthy section of a text or of an entire text. This technique is useful when grounding writer’s argument, or mentioning a counterargument. When summarising other authors’ ideas, it is important to reference the original source by citing it correctly, i.e., indicating the author’s name and year of publication.

There are no rules about how many indirect and direct quotations one should use in academic writing, but it is generally agreed that the use of indirect quotation (paraphrases and summaries) indicates a higher level of understanding. Therefore, student-writers should try to paraphrase and summarise where possible and only use direct quotations when they cannot put the ideas into their own words or where the original quotation has a particularly clever wording and cannot be expressed any differently.

For more information on the use of evidence, please refer to the following resources: