Building Paragraphs with Research


Recently here at Writing Center Underground, we’ve been discussing the research paper process. We began with explaining how to formulate a research question, how to write a thesis, and last week we discussed how to begin building paragraphs. For a research paper assignment, a large part of developing paragraphs requires knowledge of how to smoothly integrate your sources’ quotations, as well as paraphrases and summaries.

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. Remember that quoting should be done only sparingly; be sure that you have a good reason to include a direct quotation when you decide to do so.


Before you begin to integrate source material, you need something to integrate 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 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.

Quote, Paraphrase or Summary?

Just to review, the difference between quotes, paraphrases, and summarizes are

Quotations must be identical to the original, using a narrow segment of the source. They must match the source document word for word and must be attributed to the original author.

Paraphrasing involves putting a passage from source material into your own words. A paraphrase must also be attributed to the original source. Paraphrased material is usually shorter than the original passage, taking a somewhat broader segment of the source and condensing it slightly.

Summarizing involves putting the main idea(s) into your own words, including only the main point(s). Once again, it is necessary to attribute summarized ideas to the original source. Summaries are significantly shorter than the original and take a broad overview of the source material. (Purdue Owl Online)


While you might prefer paraphrasing over directly quoting to avoid the headache of signal phrases or quotation marks, a mix of both is often preferred, and very short quotations work well when integrated into sentences.  However, overusing direct quotes, or using very long quotes, actually shows that you have not done your homework and only copied quotes to make it seem you understand the material.  An effective paraphrase or summary is often more effective than a direct quote and shows you understand the material.


When to Use Quotes

Remember that quotes cannot take the place of your voice, but are meant to support your argument. Use quotes sparingly, and avoid long quotations when possible. According to The Bedford Handbook, use quotes

  • When language is especially vivid or expressive
  • When exact wording is needed for technical accuracy
  • When the words of an important authority lend weight to an argument

Integrating Quotes into Paragraphs

The first rule to remember is that quotes should never stand alone as a sentence. For example, the following quote has no other words in the sentence outside of the direct quote:

“A paragraph is a self-contained unit of a discourse in writing dealing with a particular point or idea” (57).

This is often referred to as a “dangling quote” and when inside of a paragraph, will seem disconnected not only from your thoughts but the rest of the sentences. To integrate the quote into the paragraph, introduce the quote with a signal phrase, an introduction of the author with a few words. In the example below, the signal phrase is in italics:

According to Doug Smith, consultant with WordMix Writing Labs, “A paragraph is a self-contained unit of a discourse in writing dealing with a particular point or idea” (57).

In the following example, note that 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 that “It is a good idea to wait awhile before you reread your writing” (162).

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

Smoothing Transitions

It’s important for readers to move from your words to the source’s words fluidly. Utilizing signal phases with at the least the author’s name, creates a smooth transition:

There are numerous types of student loans available, but not all are in the best interest of borrowers. Student advocate Diane Bennett says, “Students need to understand the intricacies of all available loan programs” (89). Bennett believes students are often taken advantage of by scrupulous private lenders.

In this example, the direct quote is surrounded by sentences leading up to, and leading away from, the quoted material. The information in the quote is contextualized for the reader.

In the following example of an integrating a source, the signal phrase is a full, explanatory sentence:

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).

Paraphrases and Summary

When integrating a paraphrase or summary, be careful to change all language and phrasing, putting it in your own words. Even half-copying can be considered plagiarism. Also, make certain you have created a “boundary” between your words and the research, especially when it’s paraphrased.

Just like direct quotes, paraphrases and summaries require signal phrases as well. Otherwise, readers will not understand the words are from research and not the writer’s own words.

As Matt Fox has noted, not all professors utilize rubrics in their classrooms.

John Snow claims that not all distracted driving can be blamed on cell phones.


Final Thoughts

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 fluidly.


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