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 often 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:
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:
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.
To avoid plagiarism, you need to be aware of what it is, and have good writing skills and referencing knowledge. You need to be able to:
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. However, you still need to attribute the idea to the author by including a reference.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This material was developed by the Learning Centre, who offer workshops, face-to-face consultations and resources to support your learning. Find out more about how they can help you develop your communication, research and study skills.
See our Writing skills handouts.