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Evidence & Documentation

Avoid plagiarism and academic dishonesty by understanding when you need to provide citations in your research.

While you may be an unusually bright, innovative thinker, your instructors still expect your research reports to link your insights with those of other scholars. Research involves "listening in" on a scholarly discussion in professional periodicals, books, and reference volumes, and then synthesizing, extending, and connecting what you discover through others' publications with your own insights.

When incorporating outside sources, it’s important to be conscious of what constitutes plagiarism and to avoid plagiarizing material. Plagiarism occurs when an author uses someone else’s ideas, words, or style in his or her own writing without properly attributing the information to that source. While many people think that plagiarism only occurs when a writer directly copies someone else's words, there are many other types of plagiarism: using the ideas of someone else without referencing that source; failing to capture a source's point in your own words when paraphrasing; mimicking an author's style; and neglecting to include an in-text citation for a quote, paraphrase, or summary.

Addresses the ethical responsibilities of authors. Avoid plagiarism and academic dishonesty.


Plagiarism can be deliberate or the result of carelessness. Individual colleges have unique policies for addressing plagiarism. Some colleges, for example, expel students after their first offense; others place an "FF" on the student's transcript, creating a permanent blemish on the student's academic record.

Synthesis notes are a strategy for taking and using reading notes that bring together—synthesize—what we read with our thoughts about our topic in a way that lets us integrate our notes seamlessly into the process of writing a first draft. Six steps will take us from reading sources to a first draft.   

When we read, it is easy to take notes that don’t help us build our own arguments when we move from note-taking to writing. In high school, most of us learned to take notes that summarize readings. Summarizing works well when the purpose of our notes is to help us memorize information quickly for a test.

Though you may be the most familiar with the genre of research papers, not all your writing in ENC 1101 and 1102 will require research. So, you may be tempted to think that you won’t need evidence for such writings. This is an incorrect assumption, because all formal writing (and even the majority of informal writing) requires evidence of some sort, because evidence does not just refer to source material (quotes, paraphrases, and summaries); more broadly, evidence refers to the support used to back up your claims, which may take other forms depending on the genre in which you’re writing.

When you think of the term “evidence,” what comes to mind? CSILaw and OrderNCIS? Certainly, detectives and law enforcement officers use evidence to prove that a criminal is guilty. What’s more, they use different types of evidence to find and convict the offending person(s), such as eyewitness accounts, DNA, fingerprints, and material evidence.

Just as detectives use various types of evidence, writers incorporate evidence to prove their points—and they also use different types of evidence, depending upon which form is most useful and relevant to their points. These different types of evidence include—but are not limited to—quotes, paraphrases, summaries, anecdotes, and hypothetical examples.

How are supporting details used?

When a writer makes a claim, the position should be backed with supporting details and examples. These details supply evidence that defends the validity of the claim, and they should be relevant, credible, and verifiable.

Why is it important to relate supporting details directly to the thesis or topic sentence?

In an academic paper, the claim and main ideas stated in the thesis and topic sentences require further explanation and support. The major components of a paper—the thesis, the topic sentences, and the supporting details—should work together to create a strong and stable essay.

Many emerging writers struggle with connecting sourced material to their claims and to their thesis. Oftentimes, this is because they’re too close to their work and think that the connection between claim and evidence is completely apparent to the reader.

Even if the connection is readily visible, authors should still follow up a piece of sourced material with an explanation of its relevance to the author’s point, purpose, and/or thesis. Such connections (“analysis”) should be made directly following the sourced material.

Can the reader distinguish between your ideas and those of your sources?

You don’t want to take credit for the ideas of others (that would be plagiarism), and you certainly don’t want to give outside sources the credit for your own ideas (that would be a waste of your time and effort). So, as a writer, you should distinguish between your ideas and those of your sources before quoting, paraphrasing, or summarizing.

Why is it important to avoid the use of unsupported opinions as evidence?*

  • Unsupported opinions can weaken the credibility of the writer because the reader may lose their trust in the writer.
  • Strong opinions may offend the reader, who may feel differently about the issue or have a personal connection to the opposing view.
  • Opinions without supporting evidence can compromise the strength and perceived validity of the paper’s argument because such opinions may overshadow other trustworthy evidence.

Why is it important to provide reliable support for a point?

When a writer makes a point or claim, his or her position should be supported by evidence from one or more reliable sources. Evidence from reliable sources can make an argument more convincing and build the credibility of the writer. In contrast, unsupported points or points supported by unreliable sources can compromise the integrity of the paper and the writer.

What kind of additional support can be added?

How is this source relevant to your thesis and purpose?

Many emerging writers struggle with connecting sourced material to their claims and to their thesis. Oftentimes, this is because they’re too close to their work and think that the connection between claim and evidence is completely apparent to the reader. Even if the connection is readily visible, authors should still follow up a piece of sourced material with an explanation of its relevance to the author’s point, purpose, and/or thesis. Such connections (“analysis”) should be made directly following the sourced material.

Related Resources at Writing Commons:

How is this source relevant to your thesis and purpose?

Cite the source of this information

Does this source appear on your Works Cited list?


Exercise: Analyzing Evidence

Take whatever project draft on which you’re currently working and underline all of your quotes and paraphrases. Then, highlight lines in which you directly address (analyze) sourced material. After you've done these two steps, write a 250-word (minimum) reflection that answers the first question and complete the second task by filling out the worksheet below.

Why is it wise to avoid unreliable sources?

Information from unreliable sources is not always true, up-to-date, or accurate. Using unreliable sources in an academic paper can weaken the credibility of the writer, dilute the writer’s argument, and detract from the overall strength of the paper.

What kind of sources should be avoided?

While the Internet provides a plethora of information on almost any topic imaginable, not all of its content can be trusted.

Synthesis is something you already do in your everyday life.  For example, if you are shopping for a new car, the research question you are trying to answer is, "Which car should I buy"?  You explore available models, prices, options, and consumer reviews, and you make comparisons.  For example:  Car X costs more than car Y but gets better mileage.  Or:  Reviewers A, B, and C all prefer Car X, but their praise is based primarily on design features that aren’t important to you.  It is this analysis across sources that moves you towards an answer to your question.

Early in an academic research project you are likely to find yourself making initial comparisons—for example, you may notice that Source A arrives at a conclusion very different from that of Source B—but the task of synthesis will become central to your work when you begin drafting your research paper or presentation. 

Summary: Learn how to introduce and correctly summarize, paraphrase, and cite sources. Clarify the research methods employed by your sources.

Your instructors do not want to read miscellaneous quotations that are thrown together one after another. The problem with essays that use extensive direct quotations is that they tend to lack voice, continuity, or authority. If you offer quotations every few lines, your ideas become subordinate to other people's ideas and voices, which often contradicts your instructor's reasons for assigning research papers—that is, to learn what you think about a subject.

One of the three sides of the rhetorical triangle is ethos. Ethos refers to the writer’s credibility and authority as perceived by readers. (For more information about this rhetorical appeal, please see "Ethos.") Using sources to support the claims you make strengthens your authority as a writer.  Sources also show your readers that you’ve “done your homework,” that is, that you are able to make arguments about your topic because you have read other credible and significant writers who have contributed to the ongoing conversation about your topic. To be a scholarly writer is to respond to other writers who have already discussed certain aspects of the topic you are investigating. 

Learn how to integrate the words and ideas of others into your documents without losing your voice and focus.

Over the years, conventions have evolved regarding how writers should acknowledge and integrate the ideas and works of others.

This section on annotating, summarizing, paraphrasing, and quoting sources explains how to develop an annotated bibliography, and it explains how this effort can help you to manage your time and help create a focus for your research report.

What is a summary?

A summary uses the writer’s own words to concisely explain the main point(s) or major argument(s) of a source or passage. Key words and main ideas from the original text should be used to create a brief, accurate review of the source’s original ideas. A summary does not include minor details, and therefore, should be significantly shorter than the original text. Summarized material should be integrated into the writer’s work using a signal phrase, which informs the reader of the source’s author(s), title, and/or origin.

Summaries tend to be interpretive. They give the author's critical evaluation of the source. Would your summary differ, for example, from the following summary of The Wizard of Oz? Transported to a surreal landscape, a young girl kills the first woman she meets and then teams up with three complete strangers to kill again.

Like paraphrasing, summarizing involves reporting someone else's ideas in your own language. Unlike paraphrasing, however, summaries allow you to sort through the information in the secondary source and report only what you consider to be essential. A summary is therefore much shorter than the original, whereas a paraphrase may be the same length. In addition, you do not need to cite particular pages when summarizing a source.