For many student writers, deciding on what source material to use in your research paper can be a daunting task. For a longer research paper, the amount of time you’ll spend sifting through source material can feel overwhelming, and then deciding from each source what is important enough to use in your paper is another formidable task. Some sources you’ll find can be useful for providing background or history on your topic. Other sources might support your thesis or illustrate a point. Depending on the differing purposes of how you will use the source material can often guide you in determining if you will directly quote, paraphrase, or summarize the source material.
Any type of source material, regardless if you summarize, paraphrase, or directly quote, must be integrated smoothly into your writing. Research that is stuck in to random paragraphs without careful integration with your own voice runs the risk of sounding like it doesn’t belong, creating paragraphs that are choppy and difficult to read, or worse, plagiarized. 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 should flow smoothly into your text.
How to Decide between Direct Quote, Paraphrase, or Summary
According to The St. Martin’s Handbook, direct quotes grab the reader’s attention more effectively than paraphrased information might. You “hear” the information in the original author’s voice, which makes it more compelling than simply a paraphrase. A direct quote also works best if you really want to emphasize the author’s opinion, or if the author is a respected authority on the subject.
A paraphrase works well if want to use the details of a passage that needn’t be used in its entirety. You can take the important details, put them in your voice, and avoid including irrelevant or extraneous information.
A summary, in contrast to a paraphrase, can be used when you have found a longer passage that has an important main point, but the details are less important for your purposes.
Quotes of 4 lines or less (MLA) can be presented in your text with a signal phrase, followed by an in-text citation. The signal phrase (According to Smith . . . ; Ford states that . . .) introduce the source for the reader:
The work of writing only begins with the first draft. 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 verbs such as says or stresses (as the example below) it would have a comma immediately after the verb:
Goldberg stresses, “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).
In academic writing, quotes must be smoothly integrated into the surrounding sentences and linked to those ideas. As you include your source material into your paragraphs, consider, what is the connection I need to make?
The following example fails to introduce the source effectively (or at all). There is no signal phrase in the sentence:
In Death of a Salesman, Willy Loman dreams the wrong dreams and idealized the wrong ideals. “He has lived on his smile and on his hopes, survived from sale to sale, been sustained by the illusion that he has countless friends in his territory, that everything will be all right . . .” (Brown 97).
This is considered a dangling quote. The quote makes up the entire sentence with no signal phrase or other contextualizing information. Below is an example of the same source utilizing a signal phrase:
In Death of a Salesman, Willy Loman dreams the wrong dreams and idealized the wrong ideals. His misguided perceptions are well captured by Brown: “He has lived on his smile and on his hopes, survived from sale to sale, been sustained by the illusion that he has countless friends in his territory, that everything will be all right . . .” (Brown 97).
In this example, the signal phrase His misguided perceptions are well captured by Brown ends with a colon, as it is a complete sentence.
As you learn to integrate sources, you’ll become more familiar with the use of the many different signal verbs. Deciding what signal verb to include in your introductory phrase will be dependent upon how you choose to use it. Do you agree with the source? Disagree?
Many different signal verbs are founds in introductory phrases, including the more common says, asserts, claims, describes, disputes, responds, and states. There are numerous signal verbs, and choosing which to use will help you illustrate the author’s opinion as well as your own.
Signal Phrase with Paraphrases and Summary
When you’ve chose to paraphrase or summarize, you’ll use your own words, structure and style to communicate the source information. Before you paraphrase or summarize, take great care to read the passage carefully and make sure you clearly understand its meaning before you put it into your words. You must prove to your readers that you understand the material. Your reader is relying on you to interpret the information accurately.
Even when you paraphrase or summarize, you’ll still introduce your source in a signal phrase. 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 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 (737).
Remember, you must identify the source of any paraphrase or summary, just as a direct quote; even unintentional failure to cite any type of source is a form of plagiarism. As you choose the source material you want to integrate into your paper, keep careful records of where you retrieved the information and any information you’ll need to cite it. It’s much easier and less time consuming to take down all the information as you go than to try and dig it up again and compile it when you’re done.
By following a few simple steps as you work to integrate your outside source material, your research will flow naturally and your voice will take center stage, as it should.