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7.15: Using Sources in Your Paper

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    Academic writing requires the use of signal phrases to properly embed quoted material and document information. While basic signal phrases require the use of the author’s name and a strong verb, attribution tags emphasize different types of information related to the source in order to set up the quoted material and can help shape your reader’s response to the information presented. In grammatical terms, an attribution tag can be viewed as an appositive, an adjectival clause following a noun that modifies the noun and provides contextual information. In the following examples, the signal phrases (appositives) are italicized.


    As Benjamin Franklin, one of the Founding Fathers, states, “Well done is better than well said.”[1]


    The campaign slogan, “Yes we can,” was highly successful for Barack Obama, the 44th President of the United States.

    What you have to say is more important than the passage you are citing, so you want the information leading into your evidence/ support to work to your advantage. A basic signal phrase is a device used to smoothly integrate quotations and paraphrases into your essay and consists of an author’s name and an active verb indicating how the author is presenting the material. It is important for beginning academic writers to use signal phrases to clearly attribute textual evidence to an author and to avoid interrupting the flow of an essay.

    Referring to the Author within a Signal Phrase

    In most instances, a signal phrase should contain only the last name of the author or authors of the source text (as opposed to the author’s first and last name). APA style guidelines require no reference to a first name at any point in an essay and few if any gender specific pronouns. But in MLA papers, if you are referring to an author for the first time in your essay, you should include that author’s first name. Any future signal phrase should refer to the author by last name only or with a pronoun when it’s perfectly clear to whom the pronoun refers.


    Ellen J. Langer observes, “For us to pay attention to something for any amount of time, the image must be varied” (39).[2]

    Langer continues, “Thus, for students who have trouble paying attention the problem may be that they are following the wrong instructions” (39).

    She then states, “To pay constant, fixed attention to a thought or an image may be a kind of oxymoron” (39).

    Notice how each signal phrase verb is followed by a comma, which is then followed by one space before the opening quotation mark.

    Varying Your Verbs

    While it’s important to use signal phrase verbs, you’ll want to make sure that you vary them to avoid repetition (rather than simply using “states” throughout your entire essay for example) in order to maintain your readers’ interest and to indicate the author’s intended use of the excerpted material. See below for examples of strong signal phrase verbs.

    [table id=4 /]

    Why Use Signal Phrases and Attributive Tags?

    While many students may see attributive tags as filler, they can provide the audience with valuable insight into how you, the writer, intend the quoted material to be read/viewed. In addition to setting up the source evidence, attribution tags can also be used as meaningful transitions moving your readers between your ideas and those of your support.

    In most instances, the first time the author is mentioned in an MLA style essay, it is a good idea to provide an attributive tag as well as the author’s first and last name. When using APA style, list the author’s first initial and last name. Style will vary with studies including multiple authors.

    While providing the author’s credentials and title of the source are the most common attributions used, there are others we should be aware of.

    Types of Attributive Tags (attributive tag is underlined in each example)

    Type: Author’s credentials are indicated.


    Grace Chapmen, Curator of Human Health & Evolutionary Medicine at the Springfield Natural History Museum, explains…

    Purpose: Presenting an author’s credentials should help build credibility for the passage you are about to present. Including the author’s credentials gives your readers a reason to consider your sources.

    Type: Author’s lack of credentials is indicated.


    Matthew Spencer, whose background is in marriage counseling, not foreign policy, claims…

    Purpose: Identifying an author’s lack of credentials in a given area can help illustrate a lack of authority on the subject matter and persuade the audience not to adopt the author’s ideas. Pointing to an author’s lack of credentials can be beneficial when developing your response to counterarguments.

    Type: Author’s social or political stance, if necessary to the content, is explained.


    Employing nonviolent civil disobedience, Roland Hayes, prominent civil rights activist, preaches… Ralph Spencer, who has ties to the White Nationalist movement, denies…

    Purpose: Explaining the author’s social or political stance can help a reader to understand why that author expresses a particular view. This understanding can positively or negatively influence an audience. Be careful to avoid engaging in logical fallacies such as loaded language.

    Type: Publisher of the source is identified.


    According to a recent CNN poll…

    Purpose: Identifying the publisher of the passage can help reinforce the credibility of the information presented and you can capitalize on the reputation/ credibility of the publisher of the source material.

    Type: Title of the source is included.


    In “Understanding Human Behavior,” Riley argues …

    Purpose: Informs the reader where the cited passage is being pulled from.

    Type: Information that establishes context is presented.


    In a speech presented during a Free Speech rally, Elaine Wallace encourages …

    Purpose: Presenting the context that the original information was presented can help the audience understand the author’s purpose more clearly


    What are Direct Quotes?

    Direct quotes are portions of a text taken word for word and placed inside of a work. Readers know when an author is using a direct quote because it is denoted by the use of quotation marks and an in-text citation.[3]

    Example of Direct Quote

    In his seminal work, David Bartholomae argues that “Every time a student sits down to write for us, he has to invent the university for the occasion-invent the university ”(4).

    Direct quotes might also be formatted as a “block quote” which occurs if the borrowed language is longer than four (4) lines of text in MLA formatting, or more than 40 words in APA formatting. In MLA, A block quote requires the author to indent the borrowed language by 1/2 an inch, place the citation at the end of the block, and remove quotation marks.

    Example of Block Quote

    In his seminal work, David Bartholomae argues that

    Every time a student sits down to write for us, he has to invent the university for the occasion-invent the university, that is, or a branch of it, like History or Anthropology or Economics or English. He has to learn to speak our language, to speak as we do, to try on the peculiar ways of knowing, selecting, evaluating, reporting, concluding, and arguing that define the discourse of our community. (4).

    Be careful when using direct quotes because failing to write the text exactly as it appears in the original is not an ethical use of direct quotes. Also, failing to bracket the quote with quotation marks and/or cite it inside the text is also unethical. Both mistakes are a form of plagiarism.

    When Should I Use Direct Quotes?

    Generally speaking, direct quotes should be used sparingly because you want to rely on your own understanding of material and avoid over-relying on another’s words. You want your voice to be the dominant one in an argument. Over quoting does not reinforce your credibility as an author; however, according to the Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL) you should use direct quotes when “the author you are quoting has coined a term unique to her or his research and relevant within your own paper.”[4]

    The Basics of Directly Quoting

    1. All quoted material should be enclosed in quotation marks to set it off from the rest of the text. The exception to this is block quotes which require different formatting.
    2. Quoted material should be an accurate word-for-word reproduction from the author’s original text. You cannot alter any wording or any spelling. If you must do so, you must use a bracket or an ellipsis.
    3. A clear signal phrase/attribution tag should precede each quotation.
    4. A parenthetical citation should follow each quotation.

    The Hard Part of Directly Quoting: Integrating Quotes into Your Writing

    As the author of your essay, you should explain the significance of each quotation to your reader. This goes far beyond simply including a signal phrase. Explaining the significance means indicating how the quoted material supports the point you are making in that paragraph. Remember, just because you add a quote does not mean that you have made your point. Quotes never speak for themselves. When quoting material, ask yourself how and why does that quoted material make the point you think it does? Then, follow the quote with a sentence that adds clarity for your insertion of that quoted material. Table 6.3.2 contains some helpful phrases for explaining quoted materials where “X” represents the author’s last name.

    [table id=7 /]

    Sometimes, in order to smoothly integrate quoted material into your paper, you may need to remove a word or add a word to make the quote make sense. If you make any change to quoted material, it must be formatted correctly using an ellipsis or brackets. In the following, a portion of Hamlet’s “To Be, or Not To Be” soliloquy is used as the exemplar:

    Original quote: “To be, or not to be, that is the question”

    • Use brackets [these are brackets] to change a word or add additional information.

    As Hamlet states, “To be, or not to be, that is the [essential] question.”

    • Use an ellipsis (this is an ellipsis…) to indicate omissions in the middle of a quote, not at the beginning or ending of quoted material.

    As Hamlet states, “To be, or not to be … is the question.”

    When in doubt, strive to allow your voice – not a quote from a source – to begin each paragraph, precede each quote, follow each quote, and end each paragraph. Quotes that are integrated well into a paper allow you to control the paper. That is what a reader wants to see: your ideas and the way that you engage sources to shape and discuss your ideas.

    Paraphrasing and Summarizing

    While quoting may be the first thing that many people think of when they think about integrating sources, paraphrasing, summarizing, and citing data are also ways to incorporate information from outside materials into your essays or projects.


    1. Paraphrases allow you to describe specific information from a source (ideas from a paragraph or several consecutive paragraphs) in your own words.
    2. Paraphrases are like translations of an author’ original idea. You retain the detail of the original thought, but you express it in your own way.
    3. Paraphrases of the text should be expressed in your own words, with your own sentence structure, in your own way. You should not simply “word swap”; that is, replace a few words from the original with synonyms.
    4. If you must use a few of the author’s words within your paraphrase, they must have quotation marks around them.
    5. Paraphrases often include attributive tags (or signal phrases) to let your readers know where the paraphrased material begins.
    6. Paraphrased material should be followed by a parenthetical citation.
    7. As with a quote, you need to explain to your reader why the paraphrased material is significant to the point you are making in your paper.


    1. Summaries allow you to describe general ideas from a source. You do not express detailed information as you would with a paraphrase.
    2. Summaries are shorter than the original text.
    3. Any summaries of the text should not include direct wording from the original source. All text should be in your words, though the ideas are those of the original author.
    4. A signal phrase should let your readers know where the summarized material begins.
    5. If you are offering a general summary of an entire article, there is no need to cite a specific page number.
    Practice Activity

    The original version of this chapter contained H5P content. You may want to remove or replace this element.

    This section contains material from:

    Lanning, John, and Amanda Lloyd. “Signal Phrases.” In A Guide to Rhetoric, Genre, and Success in First-Year Writing, by Melanie Gagich and Emilie Zickel. Cleveland: MSL Academic Endeavors. Accessed July 2019. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

    Gagich, Melanie. “Quoting.” In A Guide to Rhetoric, Genre, and Success in First-Year Writing, by Melanie Gagich and Emilie Zickel. Cleveland: MSL Academic Endeavors. Accessed July 2019. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

    Jeffrey, Robin. “Paraphrasing and Summarizing.” In A Guide to Rhetoric, Genre, and Success in First-Year Writing, by Melanie Gagich and Emilie Zickel. Cleveland: MSL Academic Endeavors. Accessed July 2019. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

    OER credited in the texts above includes:

    Jeffrey, Robin. About Writing: A Guide. Portland, OR: Open Oregon Educational Resources. Accessed December 18, 2020. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

    1. Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard, 1737, Founders Online, National Archives, accessed December 18, 2020,
    2. Ellen J. Langer, The Power of Mindful Learning (Boston: Da Capo Press, 1997).
    3. The following examples come from: David Bartholomae, “Inventing the University,” Journal of Basic Writing 5, no. 3 (1986): 4-23.
    4. “How to Use Quotation Marks,” Purdue Online Writing Lab, accessed May 8, 2020,

    This page titled 7.15: Using Sources in Your Paper is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Terri Pantuso, Amanda Lloyd, Melanie Gagich, Robin Jeffrey, John Lanning, & John Lanning via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform.