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6.8: Integrating Sources into Your Own Writing

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  • One of the most difficult tasks facing students of research writing is learning how to seamlessly integrate the information they find in the research sources into their own writing. In order to create a rhetorically effective researched text, a writer needs to work out a way of combining the research data, the voices and theories of research sources’ authors on the one hand and his or her ideas, voice, and tone on the other. The following techniques of integrating source material into your own writing are, of course, relevant not only for academic research. However, it is when faced with academic research papers that many beginning researchers face problems with the integration of sources. Therefore, I am placing the discussion of these methods into the chapter of the book dedicated to academic research.

    Typically, researching writers use the following methods of integrating information from research sources into their writing:

    Direct quoting

    Quoting from a source directly allows you to convey not only the information contained in the research source, but also the voice, tone, and “feel” of the original text. By reading direct quotes, your readers gain first-hand access to the language and the spirit of the original source.

    How Much to Quote

    Students often ask me how much of their sources they should quote directly in their papers. While there is no hard and fast rule about it, I usually reply that they should quote only when they feel it necessary to put their readers in direct contact with the text of the source. Quote if you encounter a striking word, sentence, or passage, one that you would be hard pressed to convey the same information and the same emotions and voice better than the original source. Consider, for example the following passage from a paper written by a student. In the paper, the writer analyzes a 19th-century slave narrative written by a man named J. D. Green:

    The most important event of Green’s early life was the sale of his mother to another owner at the young age of twelve years old. In response to this Green dropped to his knees and [shouted] at the heavens, “Oh! How dreadful it is to be black! Why was I born black? It would have been better had I not been born at all” (Green 5). It is this statement that communicates the message of Green’s story. [None of] the atrocities told in the later portions of the narrative…elicit the same level of emotion and feeling from Green. For the remainder of the story, [he] is very reserved and treats each increasingly horrendous crime as if it was of no particular importance.

    The direct quote works well here because it conveys the emotion and the voice of the original better than a paraphrase or summary would. Notice also the author of the paper quotes sparingly and that the borrowed material does not take over his own ideas, voice, and tone. Out of roughly ten lines in this passage, only about two are quoted, and the rest is the author’s own interpretation of the quote or explanation for why the quote is necessary here.

    If, after writing a preliminary draft of a paper, you feel that you have too many quotes and not enough of your own material, try the following simple trouble-shooting method. This activity was suggested to me by my colleague Michael Moghtader. Both my students and I have found it effective.

    Take a pen or a highlighter and mark all direct quotes in your paper. Make sure that the amount of quoted material does not exceed, or even equal the amount of your own writing. A good ratio of your own writing to quoted material would be 70% to 30% or even 80% to 20%. By keeping to these numbers, you will ensure that you work is not merely a regurgitation of writing done by others, but that it makes a new and original contribution to the treatment of your topic.


    A summary is a shortened version of the original passage, expressed in the writer’s own words. The key to creating a good and useful summary of a source is preserving all the information and arguments contained in the original while condensing original to a small size. According to Bruce Ballenger, the author of the book The Curious Researcher (2001), summarizing “…requires careful thought , since you are the one doing the distilling [of the original], especially if you are trying to capture the essence of the whole movie, article, or chapter, that’s fairly complex” (128). Purely and simply, then, a good summary manages to capture the essence of the original passage without losing any important information.

    Consider the following example. The original passage comes from an article exploring manifestation of the attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) not only in children but also in adults

    Example \(\PageIndex{1}\):

    Original passage:

    Perhaps the clearest picture of adult ADHD comes from studies of people originally diagnosed with ADHD in grade school and followed by researchers through adolescence and young adulthood. These studies vary widely in their estimates of ADHD prevalence, remission rates, and relationship to other psychiatric disorders. But over all, they show a high percentage -- 80% in several studies --of ADHD children growing into ADHD adolescents. Such individuals have continual trouble in school, at home, on the job, with the law in general, and with substance abuse in particular. Compared with control groups, ADHD adolescents are more likely to smoke, to drop out of school, to get fired, to have bad driving records, and to have difficulties with sexual relationships. "There's a great deal of continuity from the child to the adult form," says Russell Barkley, a researcher at the Medical University of South Carolina. "We're not seeing anything that suggests a qualitative change in the disorder. What's changing for adults is the broadening scope of impact. Adults have more things they've got to do. We're especially seeing problems with time, with self-control, and with planning for the future and being able to persist toward goals. In adults, these are major problems." Poor time management is a particularly treacherous area. As Barkley observes, "With a five-year-old, time management isn't relevant. With a 30-year-old, it's highly relevant. You can lose your job over that. You can lose a relationship over it."


    According to the authors of the article “A Lifetime of Distraction,” studies show that about 80% of children with ADHD grown into ADHD adolescents. Such people may have trouble in school, at work, and even with the law. Poor time management by adults with ADHD is of particular concern (1).

    When summarizing the lengthy original passage, I looked for information struck me as new, interesting, and unusual and that might help me with my own research project. After reading the original text, I discovered that ADHD can transfer into adulthood—something I had not known before. That claim is the main focus of the passage and I tried to reflect it in my summary.


    Paraphrasing means rewriting original passages in your own words and in roughly the same length. Skillful paraphrasing of your sources can go a long way in helping you achieve two goals. Firstly, when you paraphrase you are making sense of your sources, increasing your “ownership” of the ideas expressed in them. This allows you to move a little closer to creating your own viewpoint, your own theory about the subject of your research. Paraphrasing is a great alternative to direct quoting (especially excessive quoting) because it allows you to recast the ideas of the original into your own language and voice. Secondly, by carefully paraphrasing source material, you are helping yourself to avoid unintentionally plagiarizing your sources. There is more discussion on how to avoid plagiarism in Chapter 12. For now, consider this passage, taken from the article “Fighting the Images Wars”, by Steven Heller.

    Example \(\PageIndex{2}\):


    Such is the political power of negative imagery that, during World War II, American newspapers and magazines were prohibited from publishing scenes of excessively bloody battles, and drawings done by official "war artists" (at least those that were made public) eschewed overly graphic depictions. It wasn't easy, but U.S. military propaganda experts sanitized the war images, with little complaint from the media. While it was acceptable to show barbaric adversaries, dead enemy soldiers, and even bedraggled allies, rare were any alarming representations of our own troops in physical peril, such as the orgy of brutal violence during the D-Day landings.


    In his article “Fighting the Image Wars,” writer Steven Heller argues that the US government tries to limit the power of the media to publish disturbing images of war and conflict. According to Heller, during World War II and during the Korean War, American media were not allowed to publish images of disturbing war scenes (176). Heller further states that while it was often OK to show the enemies of the US as “barbaric” by displaying images of the atrocities committed by them, media rarely showed our own killed or wounded troops (176).

    While the paraphrase is slightly shorter than the original, it captures the main information presented in the original. Notice the use in the paraphrase of the so-called “signal phrases.” The paraphrase opens with the indication that what is about to come is taken from a source. The first sentence of the paraphrased passage also indicates the title of that source and the name of its author. Later on in the paragraph, the signal phrase “According to Heller” is used in order to continue to tell the reader that what he or she is reading is the author’s rendering of external source material.

    How to Quote, Paraphrase, and Summarize Effectively

    One of the reasons why so many of us do not like the traditional research paper assignment is because we often feel that it requires us to collect and compile information without much thought about why we do it. In such assignments, there is often not enough space for the writer to express and explore his or her own purpose, ideas, and theories. Direct quoting is supposed to help you make your case, explain or illustrate something. The quote in the passage above also works well because it is framed by the author’s own commentary and because it is clear from why the author needs it. He needs it in order to show the utter horror of J.D. Green at the sale of his mother and his anguish at being black in a slave-holding society. The quote is preceded by statement claiming that the loss of his mother was a terrible event for Green (something that the quote eloquently illustrates). After quoting from the source, the writer of the paper prepares his readers for what is to come later in the paper. Therefore, the quote in the passage above fulfills a rhetorical purpose. It illustrates a key concept that will be seen throughout the rest of the work and sets up the remaining portion of the argument.

    Every direct quotation from a source should be accompanied by your own commentary. Incorporating source material into your writing effectively is similar to weaving a thread of one color into a carpet or blanket of another. In combination, the two colors can create a beautiful pattern. Try to follow this sequence:

    • Introduce the source and explain why you are using it
    • Quote
    • Comment on the source material and set up the next use of a source
    • Quote
    • Continue using the steps in the same or similar order for each source.

    Such variation of your own ideas, commentary, and interpretation on the one hand and source material on the other creates a smooth flow of the text and can be used not only for work with direct quotes but also with source summaries and paraphrases.

    Quick Reference: Using Signal Phrases

    When using external source material, whether by direct quoting, summarizing or paraphrasing, it is important to guide your readers through it in such a way that they always understand clearly where it is you, the author of the paper speaking and where you are working with external sources. To indicate this, signal phrases are used. Signal phrases introduce quoted, paraphrased, or summarized material to the reader. Here are some popular signal phrases:

    “According to [author’s name or work’s title]…”
    “[Author’s name] argues that…”
    “[Author’s name] states that…”
    “[Author’s name] writes that…”
    “[Author’s name] contends that…”

    There are many other variations of these. When writing your own papers, play with these phrases, modify them to suit your needs, and see how that does to your writing. Remember that your readers need to be prepared for every quote, summary, or paraphrase. They need to know what is coming and why. Using signal phrases will help you prepare them.

    Putting The Writer Back into Writing

    If you suspect that you might have passages like the one above in your own academic writing, try to locate them. Then, make them your own by using sources for your rhetorical purpose rather than letting your sources control you. Follow the following suggestions:

    • Do something with every source and every external reference. Sources, no matter how authoritative, do not speak for themselves. It is up to you as a writer to explain their significance for your paper and to comment on them. Therefore, every time you need to use an external source in your writing, explain to your readers what that source does for your argument and why you are using it.
    • Establish and assert your authority over the subject of your writing and over your sources. It is your paper, and therefore it your voice, your opinions, and your theories that really count in it. External sources are useful learning and argument tools, but it is still you who does the learning and the arguing.
    • If you summarize and paraphrase your sources, make sure your readers know where a reference to one source ends and a reference to the next one begins.
    • Make sure your readers know whether it is your source speaking or you. If you summarize or paraphrase your sources, rather then quoting them directly, do so in such a way that your audience knows where the summary or paraphrase ends and your own commentary on it begins.
    • Carefully analyze what information about your sources your readers need. For example, if most of your readers have not studied your sources in detail, provide them with enough information about the sources.
    • Apply the conventions of working with sources that exist in your academic discipline.
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