Integrating Sources into Your Research Paper

Any type of source material, regardless if you summarize, paraphrase, or directly quote, must be integrated smoothly into your essay. Research that is taken from an outside source and just stuck into random paragraphs without careful integration runs the risk of sounding like it doesn’t belong, creating paragraphs that are choppy and difficult to read. Writers who aren’t used to utilizing outside sources often have a difficult time making outside research sound like it belongs in their research paper, but with careful preparation, your sources will flow smoothly into your text.

First Things First: Draft

Before you begin to integrate your sources, you need something to integrate them into. Writers who try to compose a paper at the same time they are integrating sources find they lose their “voice,” and begin to sound like the voice of the research they are quoting. To avoid this, write a first draft of your paper, with only your words and your voice doing the talking. By taking this first step in getting your ideas on paper, you’ll avoid letting the research take over your paper. Instructors often require a rough draft before even integrating source material.


Author tags, or attributive tags, let the reader know that information about to be presented is from your source, and not you. You must make clear throughout your paper what information is coming from outside sources. Failing to use attributions is often a one-way ticket to plagiarism violations.

Use an introductory phrase, followed by the quotation:

Natalie Goldberg, in Writing Down the Bones, says that “It is a good idea to wait awhile before you reread your writing” (162).

Note that in the previous example, there is no comma after “that” as it reads as a continuous thought. If the attribution ended with the word “says,” it would have a comma immediately after “says”:

Natalie Goldberg, in Writing Down the Bones, says, “It is a good idea to wait awhile before you reread your writing” (162).

Hillocks (1986) argues that “the teaching of grammar has no appreciable effect on the development of students’ writing abilities” (p. 183).

Use an assertion as a complete independent clause, followed by a colon:


Goldberg believes writers must show feelings and avoid telling at all costs: “The writer takes the reader’s hand and guides him through the valley of sorrow and joy without ever having to mention those words” (68).

The rule for using a colon following an attribution is if the attributive tag is a complete sentence, an independent clause, it must be followed by a colon. Dangling quotes, or quotes that stand alone as a sentence, are considered incorrect, as the quote has no attribution. You can often (though not always) correct this mistake by taking the previous sentence and place a colon at the end instead of a period:

Incorrect:  Cameron believes artists should stop making excuses for not following their dreams. “Stop waiting until you make enough money to do what you really love” (168).

Correct: Cameron believes artists should stop making excuses for not following their dreams: “Stop waiting until you make enough money to do what you really love” (168).

Attributions with Paraphrases and Summary

In the examples below, the writer includes the name of the source, even though it is a paraphrase and not a direct quote. By doing this, the reader knows the information is coming from research and not the writer:

In Talking from 9 to 5, Deborah Tannen explains that for women in the workplace, the situation is changing, whether we talk about it or not (130).

Nickerson (1999) argues that clear communication hinges upon what an audience does and does not know. It is crucial to assume the audience has neither too much nor too little knowledge of the subject, or the communication may be inhibited by either confusion or offense (p. 737).

Final Thoughts

As you work on integrating your source material, keep in mind the following:

• Do not use two quotations in a row without intervening (explanatory) material of your own.

• Introduce a quote either by indicating what it is intended to show or by naming its source, or both.

• Avoid referring to your sources as quotes. Don’t write, “In this quote,” but instead, “Here we see” or “As Eliot points out.”

By following a few simple steps as you work to integrate outside source material, your research will flow naturally, creating a finished paper that will read like soft churned butter: smooth.



3 thoughts on “Integrating Sources into Your Research Paper

  1. These are excellent ideas, and I’m glad that you put this together with numbered points. My students struggle with in-text citations, I believe, because they’re simply new to non-fiction. But what’s most shocking are the writing teachers who instruct students to cite sources in ways that go against basic MLA conventions.

    (If you could add something, please add this to your “In-Text Citation” checklist: Do not cite facts or general knowledge.)


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