Academic Skills

Provide Evidence

The difference between most writing and academic writing is that with academic writing you are required to give evidence or support when you make a statement. For example, if you say that a certain musical composition uses a particular feature you might include an example from the score; if you then go on to suggest that this feature has a particular effect, you might use a quote or a paraphrase from your background reading to support your ideas. As you get more confident (and more knowledgeable) you might argue against another writer’s interpretation but again you would need evidence for your assertion. Always clearly state where your evidence comes from by giving a suitable reference (see below). It is also very important to put any quotation you use in context.

Using quotations

Quotations should always be used to support or illustrate your ideas, not to replace them. One way of ensuring that you do this is to write the essay or argument first, and then go through it to see where you need supporting quotes and insert them. In order to use quotations successfully, you need to blend them in. For example, short quotes can be integrated in this way:

  • When speaking lines it is important to consider exactly how they should be said. As Davis suggests: 'The actor must be in control and be able to exercise choice' (1995, p50).


  • It is important that an actor considers exactly how lines should be articulated. The performer ‘must be in control and be able to exercise choice’ (Davis, 1995, p50).

Longer quotes (usually over about 30 words or 3 lines but this varies with subjects so check your handbook) need to be blocked and indented using the tab key; you don’t need to use quote marks. Indented quotes are usually single-line spaced, but again this can vary with the subject so check specific guidelines. The following example is adapted from the Study Guide for Courses in Media and Journalism:

In exploring the history of the BBC, it is important to consider the very different attitudes and customs that prevailed at the time:

    The BBC’s transformation is often presented as the personal achievement of one man, John Charles Walsham Reith, who dominated the BBC from its inception in 1922 to his resignation in June 1938. A man of exceptionally strong character and drive, he left a strong impression on the BBC and British broadcasting... But to see the BBC and the form of broadcasting established in Britain between the wars as the product of one man is to misunderstand the nature of those times. (Williams, 1998, p89)

So although Reith is a very important figure in the changes...

Too many long quotes are not advisable in an essay, as it begins to look as if you are simply stringing other people’s ideas together rather than coming up with your own. One way to get around this problem is to paraphrase. The art of paraphrasing is something which you need to learn so that you will not be accused of plagiarism through mistakenly using somebody else’s ideas as if they were your own.

Using Paraphrasing

Paraphrasing is putting the point across in your own words whilst still acknowledging that the idea was originally from another source. Paraphrasing makes the essay flow better and also illustrates your understanding of the topic. The long quote above could be paraphrased as:

  • John Reith was a powerful figure. Although it is important to acknowledge that he was extremely influential in developing the BBC between 1922 and 1938, it is also necessary to put this in the context of the time and to explore other factors which had an impact on its evolution (Williams, 1998, p89).

Note that although the words are different, the idea is the same and therefore it needs to be acknowledged as belonging to Williams. This can be done immediately or at the end of the paragraph. If any of the original words were used (apart from names and dates) then they would be put in quotation marks. For example, the quote above could read: John Reith had an 'exceptionally strong character and drive'. Although it is...
For another example of different ways to use quotations, see: Examples of quotes (Download word doc)

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