Bringing Sources into the Conversation

Learning Objective

  • Use the “source sandwich” and signal phrases to integrate sources into your writing

Integrating Material from Sources

Four puzzle pieces fitting together.

Figure 1. Correctly utilizing and synthesizing your sources is much like fitting together the pieces of a puzzle.

Integrating others’ ideas and words materials into your own text can be tricky. Consider the metaphor that writing a paper and including sources is a kind of conversation about a topic. When you’re discussing a topic in person with one or more people, you will find yourself referencing others’ ideas (outside sources):

“When I was watching the news, I heard them say that . . . I read in the newspaper that . . . John told me that . . .”

Notice how we automatically shape our sentences to work references to others’ ideas into the flow of conversation. Think about this next time you try to work a source into a piece of writing: if you were speaking this aloud in conversation, how would you introduce the material to your listeners? What information would you give them to help them understand who the author was and why his or her views were worth referencing? After giving the information, how would you then link it back to the point you were trying to make? Just as you would do this in a conversation if you found it necessary to refer to someone else’s ideas on a topic, you also need to do this in your writing.

And when you reference someone else’s ideas, whether you use a direct quotation, a summary, or a paraphrase, it is important to distinguish source material from your own ideas, to explain how the cited source fits into your argument, and to properly cite that material.

You’ll want to 1) transition into and introduce the source, 2) use a signal phrase to actually move into the material from the source, 3) provide a citation that can be easily connected to the full citation material in your bibliography or works cited list, and 4) explain how this material fits into your argument. This method of source integration is sometimes called a “source sandwich.”  An illustration of the “source sandwich” appears below.

The Source sandwich

 Transition and Introduction Remember that this is your writing, so your use of a source is based on your argument or claim. So begin your quote sandwich with a sentence that focuses on your idea, ideally with a clear transition linking to your overall thesis or to the argument in the previous section. 
 Signal Phrase  A signal phrase is an action verb phrase that connects the source’s author with its content.
 Quotastion, Paraphrase, or Summary The source’s content comes after the signal phrase. This content can be summary, paraphrase, or direct quotation.
 Citation The in-text citation identifies the source and connects the body of your paper with the references or works cited page.
 Explanation of the Material's Relevance The explanation of the source content’s relevance is your synthesis or analysis of the content and an illustration that shows how it relates to your own work.

Use the source sandwich convention to integrate material from sources into your own writing so that your readers will understand the material’s importance and purpose. The activity below will provide practice in constructing a source sandwich. Read the passage about “mindful me” rooms in elementary schools and answer the questions that follow.

Try It

Read the following passage and answer the questions below.

Reflective practice has also started to replace detention in schools across the country. Robert W. Coleman Elementary School is one of the first to adopt this method. As of 2014, this school has had no suspensions. When students fight or misbehave, they are sent to a “mindful me” room instead of the principal’s office, and they learn to peacefully solve these conflicts themselves (Khorsandi). Administrators at the school claim to have seen a marked improvement in student behavior.
Coleman Principal Carillian Thompson explains, “The mindfulness practices have actually taught the students how to redirect that negative energy into something positive” (Khorsandi). The changes have resulted in more focus on academics and extracurricular activities at Coleman, which has made parents in the district happy. In fact, many parents have switched their thinking from once believing punitive measures are necessary to modify children’s behaviors to now seeing reflective practices as meaningful alternatives to detention. The experience at Coleman Elementary School is not unqiue; many parents across the country have switched their thinking from once believing punitive measures are necessary to modify children’s behaviors to now seeing reflective practices as meaningful alternatives to detention.

Signal Phrases

When you incorporate a quotation, at least the first time you use a source, you should provide some kind of signal phrase (set-up for your quote) that guides your reader into understanding that you are going to be presenting ideas from another person. Typically, we address the credibility of the source’s author and the relevance of the quotation. Often this means including the author’s credentials the first time they are introduced. For example, consider these examples of how Grace Chapman could be introduced for the first time:

  • Chapmen explains – no credibility
  • Grace Chapmen, Curator of Human Health & Evolutionary Medicine at the Springfield Natural History Museum, explains – credibility based on position as curator
  • Grace Chapman, as Curator of Human Health & Evolutionary Medicine at the Springfield Natural History Museum, offers a different perspective on this subject and argues – credibility and relevance based on a different perspective 

The signal phrase works as a signpost to alert the reader of your paper to the incorporation of another’s ideas. Signal phrases are used to clearly differentiate between your thoughts and those of the authors who you quote, paraphrase or summarize. For example, in introducing a quote, paraphrase, or summary, you could use the following signal phrases:

  • Jones states that…
  • Miller argues that…
  • According to the Pew Research Center, …

Other commonly used verbs in signal phrases are:

acknowledges comments describes maintains reports
adds compares disputes notes responds
admits concedes emphasizes observes shows
agrees confirms endorses points out states
argues contends illustrates reasons suggests
asserts declares implies refutes summarizes
claims denies insists rejects writes

The important thing is to make sure you don’t leave your audience wondering why a quotation has been used and/or if the source for the quotation is trustworthy.

Providing Context

Quotations should always be introduced and incorporated into your argument rather than dropped into your paper without context. Consider this first BAD example:

There are many instances of people being taken in by fake news stories. “One voter from Mississippi said that he read about millions of illegal aliens voting in the 2016 primaries and thought it was true” (Myers).

This is a potentially good piece of information to support a research writer’s claim, but the researcher hasn’t done any of the necessary work to explain where this quote comes from or to explain why it is important for supporting her point. Rather, she has simply “dropped in” the quote, leaving the interpretation of its significance up to the reader. Now consider this revised GOOD example in which an effective signal phrase is used to better introduce the quote into the essay:

There are many instances of people being taken in by fake news stories. In her Los Angeles Times article on how fake stories impact voters in America, Geena Myers identifies how one particular voter in the South “read about millions of illegal aliens voting in the 2016 primaries and thought it was true” (Myers).

In this revision, the writer uses the signal phrase to gracefully introduce the source and the quotation into the argument. As a result, the reader can more easily understand both the point the writer is trying to make and how this source serves as evidence for that point. 

Finally, try to use variety in how you introduce quotations. For example, instead of writing:

In the opening line of his short story, “The Open Boat,” Stephen Crane writes, “None of them knew the color of the sky” (339). This implies the idea that “all sense of certainty” in the lives of these men is gone (Wolford 18).

There is nothing wrong with the signal phrasing in the first sentence above. But you don’t always have to use the same formula for introducing a quotation. Try writing instead:

“None of them knew the color of the sky” (Crane 339), the opening line of Stephen Crane’s “The Open Boat,” implies that “all sense of certainty” (Wolford 18) in the lives of these men is gone.

The combination of these two sentences into one is a more sophisticated approach to integrating a quotation. Every quotation does not need to be introduced with the same exact formula.

Adding Credibility through Source Integration

We know that using effective signal phrases when introducing sources adds credibility and relevance to your argument. You can also enhance your credibility by choosing effective sources, including complete citations, and providing supporting evidence for your claims. The table below will help you see the application of different markers of credibility. Think about your strategy for maintaining credibility and authority in your own writing: you will most likely rely on all four markers in some combination.

Marker Explanation Application
Signal Phrases Signal phrases point the readers to the information from a source. Good signal phrases can highlight the credentials of an author or source. For example, notice how in the following example, the writer establishes the source’s strong credentials:

  • John Smith, the Distinguished Professor of Economics at the University of Northern Mississippi, argues that the senator’s flat tax plan is regressive.
Complete, Accurate Citations Citations help demonstrate that you are trustworthy as an author and provide a clear way for a reader to verify your evidence. Each part of a citation provides a piece of searchable information. For example, a reader can search for the author’s name to find other things that he or she has written. If readers search for John Smith, they will find that he has been publishing articles on taxation for 45 years.
Demonstration of Relevance Critical thinking and reasoning demonstrate to your reader the significance of your evidence and enhance your credibility. Don’t assume that your reader can figure out why you are using a particular source. It’s your job as the writer to explain your reasoning. John Smith’s article may be highly technical and difficult to understand. Your job is to use paraphrase and summary to make the ideas accessible to your readers and to show them why those ideas are important.
Supporting Evidence Evidence is required for any claim. The more relevant evidence that you include, with accurate citation, the more credible your writing will be. Even if John Smith is a distinguished professor of economics, his word alone isn’t enough to prove your claim about the senator’s flat tax plan. You must support your argument with specific evidence.


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