Integrating Your Sources

Effective writers always cite their sources. They do so for a number of reasons. First, it’s important to give other authors credit for research they’ve done. Second, effectively formatted citations help your readers, who may want to find your sources and read them on their own. You want to make that process simple for them by including all of the necessary information. When you make it hard for readers to track down your sources, they might lose trust in your research. Third, keeping track of your sources ultimately makes your own job easier, in terms of organizing and synthesizing your research.

Citation enables you to borrow ideas, opinions, findings, and sometimes the exact words from other writers. Learning how to cite effectively mill make you a more successful, but also a more ethical writer.

The method of citation depends on the discipline, genre, and specific publication you’re writing for. But writers and editors adhere to some universal guidelines discussed below.

Summary, Paraphrase, Quotation

Summary refers to the bird’s eye view. When you summarize someone else’s work, you explain their overall argument and purpose, as well as the audience and context. In academic writing, summarizing doesn’t mean you explain every plot turn of someone’s argument. Focus on the main points and their importance for your own work.

Paraphrase zooms in on specific parts of someone’s argument. When you paraphrase, you put some of their specific claims into your own words. You usually don’t paraphrase an entire piece of writing. Instead, you paraphrase the specific claims or interpretations that relate to your own views.

Quotation involves borrowing specific sentences and phrases from another work. You may want to provide quotations if you think someone’s specific wording of a viewpoint would be helpful to readers. Maybe a researcher offered a clear definition or explanation or a complex idea, or maybe a politician had an elegant way of articulating an issue.

Writers don’t always quote others simply to agree with them. If you’re critiquing another person’s choice of words, it’s often necessary to put those words right in front of your readers so they have access to them.

Anytime you quote another writer, include their words in quotation marks. You should try to quote sparingly. In most cases, you should only borrow 2–3 sentences from a text at a given time. You should always follow your quotations with some discussion and analysis of the author’s specific word choice, so readers understand why you decided to include it, and how it directly helps your argument.

Direct and Indirect Citation

Most writers follow two main citation methods — direct and indirect. A direct citation includes quotations from your source, followed by discussion of the specific words and phrases used by the author(s). Humanities disciplines such as History and English use direct citation the most, because they value the exact words and phrases used in historical and literary texts.

Many other disciplines prefer indirect citation, which involves paraphrase or summary of articles rather than direct quotations. Indirect citation allows you more flexibility when it comes to discussing your experiment results and numeral data like statistics. Summarizing and paraphrasing sources also helps writers integrate their own voice and stance more efficiently, and often results in more readable prose. Finally, indirect citation allows you to cluster many sources together. For example, if I want to make an observation about a larger trend or pattern in a body of research, it helps to be able to cite many sources indirectly at the end, rather than having to deal with them individually.

Either way, citations usually include page numbers. Even when using indirect citations, you need to indicate where you found specific information if you’re paraphrasing data or facts that don’t seem like common knowledge.

Introducing Sources

Sometimes, you’ll want to introduce a source explicitly by naming the author(s), the article title, and the name of the journal. Other times, you might decide to simply identity the authors and the journal, or just the author. You can decide how much information to include up front based on guidelines from your teacher or editor, but also how much time you plan to spend on the source. If you plan to talk about an article in depth, analyzing its points and evaluating its methods and evidence in depth, then you should probably identity the authors, the article title, and the journal. If you only plan to spend a few sentences on the article, then you can probably cite the author.

Deciding how to introduce your sources might seem trivial, but readers often want information on a source immediately so they know how seriously to take the research. You don’t want readers distracted by lack of information, asking questions to themselves like, “Who is this person? Where do they work? How do I know this source is reliable?” Providing key data answers these questions, and allows the readers to focus on the content.

Tag Phrases & Reporting Verbs

You’ll find a number of phrases and verbs to help integrate sources into your writing. These phrase appear commonly throughout all kinds of writing, but especially in research articles. Experience readers see these phrases as cues that prepare them to process information form a source. In other words, they serve as a heads up to your readers. Without that heads up, they can become confused and frustrated, and therefore less receptive.

In an article by ** in **, Author X points out that….

According to Author X in Publication Y, fast food companies have contributed to the nation’s obesity epidemic.

Author X states that

In Author Y’s view,

Recent research by Institute X on Topic Y shows that…

Lots of verbs exist to help you introduce and discuss your sources. Writing specialists sometimes call these reporting verbs, because they convey information about the relationship between you, your sources, and the topic. Some reporting verbs indicate agreement, some imply doubt, and still others give you more specific ways to tell your readers about your stance toward a source. They can also help you efficiently explain how authors and researchers view each other’s opinions and evidence.

True, you’ll ultimately tell readers directly what you think about your evidence and sources anyway. So why care about verb choice? First, skilled verb use gives readers another cue or heads up to help guide through through your article. Second, it enhances your voice and will gain you more respect and consideration from readers. The more precise you are when it comes to reporting on your sources, the more persuasive you’ll be.

Think about the difference between verbs like argue, assert, insist, offer, and declare. Each of these verbs may sound similar on the surface, but they mean different things. An author who declares something must have overwhelming evidence to back up their claims. Insisting on something may indicate a degree of stubbornness. On the other hand, offering a point seems more open-minded, reasonable point of view.

Some reporting verbs indicate concession or partial agreement. For example, if you say “Author X concedes that,” then you’re indirectly describing a concession on that source’s part. Other verbs that perform similar moves include acknowledge, admit, and grant.

Other reporting verbs offer ways to convey the attitudes of other writers toward each other. Think about the verb dismiss. When you say a researcher dismisses prior studies, that implies they don’t take them very seriously — which you might see as good or bad. On the other hand, verbs like counter, contend, oppose, scrutinize, assess, or examine all indicate different stances that researchers might take toward other studies.

You might want to gently critique a source, even while you’re summarizing it. In these cases, you might point out problems in another author’s view of an issue. They might assume things that aren’t true, overlook other explanations for a trend, or neglect other viewpoints. Each verb suggests a different weakness in someone else’s approach.

Many articles may not take a strong stance on an issue, but only attempt to explain or show evidence in support of a particular viewpoint. In these cases, using these verbs helps convey that goal more clearly when you summarize that source to your readers.

List of Common Reporting Verbs

subscribe to
point out
account for
complicate, contend, contradict, deny, renounce, refute, question, qualify, verify, reaffirm, corroborate, exhort, demand, advocate, implore, recommend, urge, warn, caution.

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