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4.6: Working from Sources

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    “They Say/I Say” approach to sources

    When you write a research paper, you join a conversation about a topic that many other more expert writers have already studied and written about. Citing sources adds your ideas to that ongoing conversation. Sometimes you’re citing a research finding that provides strong evidence for your point; at other times you’re summarizing someone else’s ideas in order to explain how your own opinion differs or to note how someone else’s concept applies to a new situation. You first report what “they” say (“they” being published authors, prevalent ideas in society at large, or maybe participants in some kind of political or social debate). Then you respond by explaining what you think: Do you agree? Disagree? A little of both? Just like the participants in a real conversation (see Figure 4.6.1), you can learn and communicate the ideas of others while also adding your own voice to the discussion.

    four people stand together smiling and talking outside a meeting room
    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): "Symposium Indigenous Languages Today": Symposium on Indigenous Languages at the University of Pennsylvania's Quechua program. October 2019, by Quechua UPenn, is licensed under CC-BY-NC.

    Balancing your ideas and source ideas

    This “They Say/I Say” approach can help you find balance in your use of sources. Two mistakes that student writers can make are:

    • Describing what sources say about a topic but then going on to state ideas or opinions that are not connected to the claims they have just summarized. For example, if you have research evidence that children who keep their home language perform better on cognitive tests, you can't jump to claiming that they have better high school graduation rates. You need more research evidence to support that second claim.
    • At the other extreme, simply quoting, summarizing and paraphrasing what research sources say without including their own thoughts at all; a research paper is not just a report. It is a paper organized around your own thinking on the topic, supported by information that you get from your research.

    How can you know when you’re avoiding both of these extremes? Here are five common strategies. The strategies are in bold and are followed by an example:

    • Combine research findings from multiple sources to make a larger summary argument. You might find that none of the sources you’re working with specifically claim that immigrant students in your own city do not get enough support to continue building literacy in their home languages, but you can combine information from several sources that point in that direction. For example, you may find statistics from your city about how many students speak which languages at home, and compare those findings to the bilingual language programs in your local school district.
    • Combine research findings from multiple sources to make a claim about their implications. For example, you might review papers that explore various factors affecting language loss in order to warn about the future consequences for children and communities.
    • Identify underlying areas of agreement. For example, you might compare various students' experiences of learning a language in order to make generalizations about its effects.
    • Identify underlying areas of disagreement. For example, you may find that the controversies about the effectiveness of bilingual education result from focusing on different student populations that have different needs.
    • Identify unanswered questions. Perhaps you can review research about the effectiveness of dual-immersion and then argue for more in-depth research into why it is more successful for some student populations than for others.

    When you cite sources that you agree with, you should choose quotes or paraphrases that serve as building blocks within your own argument.

    Here are some more key principles for incorporating sources, principles which follow from the general point that academic writing is about entering an ongoing conversation.

    Notice the context of the evidence in the original source

    Have you ever had the maddening experience of arguing with someone who twisted your words to make it seem like you were saying something you weren’t? Inexperienced writers sometimes misrepresent their sources when they quote very minor points from an article or even positions that the authors of an article disagree with, or which were just unimportant things mentioned in passing. This often happens when students approach their sources looking for information that matches their own opinion.

    Notice this!

    For example, let's say a writer wants to argue that being bilingual is actually bad for you. They might find this sentence in an article and include this quote in their paper:

    "There were warnings that bilingual children would be confused by two languages, have lower intelligence, low self-esteem, behave in deviant ways, develop a split personality and even become schizophrenic."

    But wait! Let's look at the whole paragraph from the article:

    There were warnings that bilingual children would be confused by two languages, have lower intelligence, low self-esteem, behave in deviant ways, develop a split personality and even become schizophrenic. It is a view that persisted until very recently, discouraging many immigrant parents from using their own mother tongue to speak to their children, for instance. This is in spite of a 1962 experiment, ignored for decades, which showed that bilingual children did better than monolinguals in both verbal and non-verbal intelligence tests. However, research in the last decade by neurologists, psychologists, and linguists, using the latest brain-imaging tools, is revealing a swathe of cognitive benefits for bilinguals. It’s all to do with how our ever-flexible minds learn to multitask.

    The author of the article is clearly against the idea and goes on to refute it. She only put it in her article to fight back against it. So if a student writer uses the first quote out of context, it looks like they didn't notice that they are using evidence that was already proven wrong by their source.

    Use sources efficiently

    You can quote or paraphrase whole sentences or just phrases from another text. Less commonly, you can also quote long passages of more than one sentence using block quotes; this means that you indent the quote two tabs and omit the quotation marks. Most quotes should be short (key terms, phrases, parts of sentences, or single sentences), and the longer quotes (whole sentences and passages) should have a good reason to be there.

    Every bit of every quote should feel necessary to the paper. Too many long quotes usually mean that your own argument is undeveloped. You can also use paraphrasing and summarizing. These are more difficult when you are not writing in your first language, but are often more appropriate to use than direct quoting. In fact, a good college research paper typically includes few direct quotes. Student writers may avoid paraphrasing because it is more difficult. Also, because many writers are afraid of plagiarizing, sticking to direct quotes seems safer. However, it is worth your time to work at building your paraphrasing skills because it is often a paraphrase that fits most smoothly into your own writing.

    Licenses and Attributions

    CC Licensed Content: Original

    Authored by Anne Agard, Laney College and Gabriel Winer, Berkeley City College. License: CC BY NC.

    CC Licensed Content: Previously Published

    Instructions on working with sources adapted from Athena Kashyap & Erika Dyquisto, Working With Sources I, licensed CC BY SA.

    Sample sentences are from "Why Being Bilingual Helps Keep Your Brain Fit" published on Mosaic and licensed under CC BY 4.0.

    This page titled 4.6: Working from Sources is shared under a CC BY-NC 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Gabriel Winer & Elizabeth Wadell (ASCCC Open Educational Resources Initiative (OERI)) .

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