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Writing

Evidence, plagiarism and referencing

Using evidence

Many types of university assignments are persuasive or critical. In these types of texts, you need to provide evidence to support your claims.

Different disciplines use different types of evidence. For example, in arts disciplines, published sources are the main evidence, while science disciplines also use various types of empirical data (such as statistics or other experimental results) as the main evidence.

In addition to finding the right kind of evidence you need to evaluate the quality of evidence: not all pieces of evidence will be equally valuable for you to use. You should consider:

  • whether the evidence directly demonstrates support for a claim you are making. For example, does it show that another scholar agrees with your argument, or that results confirm your interpretation?
  • the reliability of the evidence. Is it published in a peer-reviewed journal or a book by a reputable publisher? Is the author someone who has expertise and status in the field? Has the data been obtained through a rigorous methodology, using an appropriate sample?
  • if it meets the standards for good evidence in your discipline. For example, in some disciplines, such as information technology, sources need to be quite recent, as publications that are two years old may already be out of date. In other disciplines, like Philosophy, sources that are more than 200 years old may still be authoritative and relevant.

If you’re not sure what type of evidence you should use, or what is good-quality evidence in your discipline, you could start by:

  • checking the assignment instructions and any rubrics/marking guide/grade descriptors provided
  • asking your lecturer/tutor for more information
  • discussing it with other students
  • looking at the type of evidence used in the readings for that unit of study.

Plagiarism

Plagiarism is using someone else’s work as if it were your own. It is a type of academic dishonesty. 

Make sure you’re familiar with what is considered plagiarism and what the consequences are.

Avoiding plagiarism

To avoid plagiarism, you need to be aware of what falls into that category, as well as have good writing skills and referencing knowledge. You need to be able to:

  • paraphrase and summarise
  • know when to quote a source and when to paraphrase it
  • link information from sources with your own ideas
  • correctly use referencing conventions.

When you quote a source, you use an extract exactly as it was used in/by the source. You indicate a quote by using quotation marks or indenting the text for long quotes.

When you paraphrase or summarise, you put the author’s ideas in your own words.

It’s usually better to paraphrase than quote, as it shows a higher level of thinking, understanding and writing skills. To rephrase ideas you need a large vocabulary of formal and technical words for the subject matter, as well as grammatical flexibility.

To develop your skills in quoting, summarising and paraphrasing, visit the Write Site or attend a Learning Centre workshop.

If you have a language background other than English, you can also work on these skills by spending as many hours per day as possible in English conversation. You can also study the vocabulary and grammar patterns used in the books and articles you’re reading for your course.

Referencing

In order to avoid plagiarism, you need to acknowledge your sources through referencing.

There are several different referencing conventions, also called citation styles, such as Harvard, American Psychological Association and MLA. The referencing convention you use depends on your discipline.

You should be told which system to use by your lecturer, school, department and/or faculty at the beginning of the year or semester. You will be told either in a set of general guidelines, the outline for the unit of study or in the instructions for a particular assignment. Occasionally, you will be allowed to choose the citation style you prefer, as long as it is consistently used. If you’re not sure which system to use, ask your lecturer.

Find out how to reference on the library website.

If you have a lot of references, you can use software such as Endnote to automatically apply the right format to each reference. Endnote can be downloaded for free from the library’s website. The library also runs classes on using Endnote.

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Last updated: 22 February 2019

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