Using evidence

Key words: valid evidence, currency, sources of evidence, support claims, direct quotes, paraphrases, summaries, intellectual property, plagiarism

Evidence is the support you give to back up your statements and arguments. In university studies, there are strict rules about the evidence you use. You must acknowledge another’s intellectual material every time you use it—words (e.g. single words, phrases, sentences, paragraphs); graphic material (e.g. tables, diagrams, drawings); multimedia sources (e.g. videos, CD-ROMS, Internet).

About evidence in university learning

In most instances, you will be required to read widely for your assignment essays and use valid evidence to support your claims. Most first year subjects let you know their requirements about the sources of evidence you should use. For example:

  • USE 3 reference books, 2 journal articles and a government web site. (Sometimes the specific readings are recommended, and other times you are on your own to find the relevant material.)
  • CHOOSE 5 recent journal articles published within the past 5-10 years (i.e. check the date of publication)
  • DRAW ON current opinion from newspapers, magazines, TV shows and recall your own experiences

Make no assumptions: always read your unit guide; check your subject forums; ask questions if you’re not sure. There will always be loss of valuable marks (and study time) if you use the WRONG resources.

Your experiences with evidence

Exercise 1: WHO are you?

Click on the questions to see the answer.

When I did projects and assignments at school, we cut and pasted information (e.g. text, graphs, pictures) from the Internet and other sources into our work—nobody said anything about this work being owned by somebody!
You need to learn everything you can about plagiarism and intellectual property. Universities have very strict rules about intellectual property that must be followed. There are serious consequences for any student who is caught plagiarising the work of another.

I go to lectures and listen to the experts, then I write up that information in my research essay. All the evidence for the research question was in my lecture notes!
If referenced correctly, you can use lecture material as evidence in an assignment as this is a valid information source. However, assignment essays are set with the intention that you read widely and apply knowledge from your readings and research to the set task. Assignment essays with very limited references to recommended authorities seldom reach the pass mark!

I just go to GOOGLE and find all the evidence I want in Wikipedia.
Most Google searches will bring up information from Wikipedia. This site is a work in progress that allows all contributors (expert and non-expert) to post articles on topics. It warns readers that it may not be a source of valid information. Most lecturers do not accept references to Wikipedia in formal academic writing.

I read lots of resources on the topic and copy down exactly what is said (direct quotations) to use as evidence. Then I string all the quotations together to make an essay—evidence galore!
This is a common problem with research essays. You have done your reading and research well, but you need to take the next step and get this information into a balance between the author’s and your own words. Strings of direct quotations are poorly received by lecturers—anyone can copy information. The trick is to show that you understand what you have read by paraphrasing and summarising.

I've worked out the whole evidence thing. I use valid academic material, make sure my evidence is relevant and keep a balanced approach in the way I write up evidence in my paragraphs. BUT, there are so many notes and bits and pieces, I forget who said what in the end.
Researching for essays can be a messy business—bits of paper and information from everywhere. You cannot use a single piece of evidence from an outside source in your writing without acknowledging the source of information correctly. You need to have a sound system for recording all of the information sources you collect, so that you get the best marks for your work.

Using evidence in different subjects 

Different subjects will require you to draw on a variety of sources for evidence in your essay. For example, if you are working on Law subjects, you will draw much of your evidence from legal cases and legislation. In contrast, teaching and nursing courses may ask you to demonstrate your theoretical understandings with examples from your practical training. All of this varies from discipline to discipline. The message here is to READ your unit guides and assessment tasks very carefully to determine the type of evidence your assignment work requires. Also, examining readings and textbook-material in your discipline will help you to work out the ways that your discipline incorporates evidence in writing.

What the lecturers want (assessment)

The lecturer wants you to use evidence in your research essays. It must be VALID, RELEVANT and RECENT.

The lecturer wants your work to reflect the teachings of your unit—use the information sources recommended in your unit materials.

The lecturer (and the university) expects you to ACKNOWLEDGE each source of evidence you use.


More information:
eSkills 2.0