Practice Attributing & Using Sources

Quotations, paraphrases, and summaries all need to be attributed, or identified as “belonging” to their original authors.  Attribution is both an ethical practice and a legal necessity, to avoid “stealing” another person’s specific ideas.  Keep one basic rule about using sources in mind: your reader needs to be able to distinguish, at all times, which information is yours and which information comes from sources.

Quotations are relatively easy to attribute – you use quotation marks to begin and end the quotation, and put a citation in parentheses at the end. The citation at the end of a quotation occurs in parentheses.  (In MLA citation format, you put the author’s last name and the exact page number inside the parentheses; APA format uses the author’s last name and year of publication.)

Paraphrases and summaries are easy to attribute as well, as long as you remember to use identifying information at the start and a citation in parentheses at the end.  Identifying information at the start usually consists of the author’s last name, although it can be the name of an editor or the title of an article if there is no author listed.

One standard method of attributing and introducing paraphrases and summaries is to use a phrase such as “according to,” or “Smith states that.” However, relying on “states” or “says” is not always your best choice as a writer. Here’s a list of 15 useful alternatives.

  • Claims
  • Asserts
  • Relates
  • Recounts
  • Complains
  • Reasons
  • Proposes
  • Suggests (if the author is speculating or hypothesizing)
  • Contests (disagrees)
  • Concludes
  • Shows
  • Argues
  • Explains
  • Indicates
  • Points out
  • Offers

More precise choices such as these carry a lot more information than “says,” enabling you to relate more information with fewer words. For one thing, they can quickly convey what kind of idea you’re citing: a speculative one (“proposes”), a conclusive one (“determines”), a controversial one (“counters”). You can further show how you’re incorporating these sources into your own narrative through your word choice. For example, if you write that an author “claims” something, you’re presenting yourself as fairly neutral about that claim. If you instead write that the author “concludes” something, then you signal to your reader that you find that evidence more convincing. “Suggests” on the other hand is a much weaker endorsement.

Practice attributing and using sources with the brief exercise below, which includes quotations, paraphrases, summaries, and attributions.  The exercise is based on a short passage from a world history textbook.

Textbook passage:1

decorative imageLike so many things desired by Europeans and supplied by Asians—at first luxury items for the elite such as silk or porcelain, but increasingly products like tea from China for the mass market—cotton textiles were produced well and cheaply in India. The British textile manufacturers focused on the “cheap” part and complained that with relatively higher wages, British manufacturers could not compete. India had a competitive advantage in the eighteenth century, being able to undersell in the world market virtually any other producer of textiles. Some thought the reason for cheap Indian textiles was because of a low living standard, or a large population earning depressed wages, but all of those have been shown to not be true: Indian textile workers in the eighteenth century had just as high a standard of living as British workers. So, if it was not a low standard of living that gave India its competitive advance, what did?

In a word: agriculture. Indian agriculture was so productive that the amount of food produced, and hence its cost, was significantly lower than in Europe. In the preindustrial age, when working families spent 60-80 percent of their earnings on food, the cost of food was the primary determinant of their real wages (i.e. how much a pound, dollar, a real, or a pagoda could buy). In India (and China and Japan as well), the amount of grain harvested from a given amount of seed was in the ration of 20:1 (e.g., twenty bushels of rice harvested for every one planted), whereas in England it was at best 8:1. Asian agriculture thus was more than twice as efficient as British (and by extension European) agriculture, and food—the major component in the cost of living—cost less in Asia.

1Robert B. Marks, The Origins of the Modern World: A Global and Ecological Narrative from the Fifteenth to the Twenty-first Century (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2007), 95.


Practice Exercise

Drawing on this passage, try out different quoting, paraphrasing and summarizing options for a research essay on the economics of food supply:

  1. Select a portion of the text that you’d use to support your own argument if you were writing an essay about the economics of food. Quote a part of a sentence or multiple sentences, incorporating the quotation appropriately into your own sentence/s. Identify why you chose this portion of text to quote.

  1. Create an unacceptable paraphrase of part of the passage, copying a couple of sentences and changing just a few of the key words.

  1. Create an acceptable paraphrase of part of the passage.

  1. Rewrite the acceptable paraphrase changing the verb of attribution.  How does the new verb change the meaning or tone of the paraphrase?

  1. Summarize the entire passage.