Working with Sources
Much of college-level writing involves “source-based” writing, incorporating the words and ideas of other into you own words and ideas. Effective use of sources is about much more than "dropping in" the occasional quote or statistic. It's also much more than relying on the intellectual work of others to carry your writing--the post-secondary version of copying out of the encyclopedia.
Journalists and academics call research "digging," and it's an apt analogy. True research is…
- hard work,
- can be tedious; and
- involves trial and error. You may have to "dig up" some junk before you can find (or recognize) exactly what you are looking for.
To effectively work with sources, you as a writer will:
- Read/view/listen to our sources material carefully and critically
- Test your understanding by sketching out a summary of what you've read.
- Write questions that occurred to you.
- Do further research to look for the answers to those questions.
- Search out different viewpoints.
Synthesize different views and voices
To synthesize is to make a coherent whole out of many separate and sometimes ill-fitting pieces. It is your job as the writer to sort out and make sense of the various ideas, statistics, quotations, and data you found in your research. This is the step where you begin to "digest" the information you've consumed, turning it into the knowledge that will inform your own writing.
To completely incorporate source material into your own writing means balancing our voice as the author with the voices of the authors you're quoting. Don't let others argue for you, but do not be afraid to use the authority of others to support your points.
There are many ways to integrate quotations into a sentence or passage. By avoiding an endless repetition of "he says,...the author says...Smith says," you also provide yourself an opportunity to include your own voice. Your final choice shold depend on how you want the quotation emphasized and how you want it liked to the rest of your writing, as well as upon stylistic considerations. Some of the possibilities are as follows. Note the punctuation in each case:
- John Smith argues, "the issue isn't as simple..."
- Smith warns that "the issue isn't as simple..."
- Smith describes the problem differently, though: "the issue isn't as simple..."
Always provide a "lead in" (called a signal phrase) for your quotation. BUT, try to avoid expressions such as: "I quote" "as we see in the following statement," and "the quotation just given." These expressions are awkward and distracting. Make the quotation fit into your presentation, not the other way around.
Long and Shortened Quotes
There are no rules as to the length of quotations, but various documentation styles treat long quotations in different ways. Most styles require long passages to be formatted as block quotes. See Purdue's OWL for block quote guidelines in various styles. APA block quotes. MLA block quotes.
When you use only part of a quotation, indicate the missing material with ellipses (three dots). Use ellipses when you eliminate material from the middle of a section (or sentence). The following example shows MLA style documentation:
· Bork claims, "the movies feature sex, violence, and vile language...car chases ending in flaming crashes, the machine gunning of masses of people...these are now standard fare" (290).