How Might I Avoid Letting Source Use Take Over?

Q: How can I Avoid Letting the Paper get Taken over by Sources?

A: This is a common issue.  We think we know what we are classifying or writing about, but once we begin drafting and using others’ ideas, the focus seems to get lost.

Q: In the typical body paragraph, how much should I write?

A: Over 75% should be from you.  Realize that summaries and paraphrases, though in your words, aren’t yours.  They’re from the sources.  So, we have this tough standard of having to write a lot of commentary.  Without using “you” or “I,” you should be able to handle this at the ENG 101 level.  Read on!

  • Integrating supporting sources without offering them chances to take over the paper is a huge issue.  We’ll confront it for the rest of our writing lives.  I can offer you some suggestions.  They are in no particular order. Please read this carefully, though, as it might help you avoid either plagiarism or an extremely low grade.  I’ll follow up on this with other postings, too.
  • Freewrite what you think about the topic as soon as you decide on it.  When you outline the paper’s reasons, be sure to write out what you think.  (I like to hand write what I think and then type it.  Typing allows me to add things and to think about them.  At this point, at least I have something of my own, though I know it’ll change significantly.)
  • Force yourself to write out topic sentences that are directly related to the thesis.
  • Let your thesis change after you’re in the midpoint of the essay.  It’s smart not to try and fit the paper to one sentence; it’s easier by far to fit one sentence to the paper you write than vice versa!  Refine your working thesis repeatedly.  It’s a messy process and it should be!
  • Support needs to remain in support.  Condition yourself to write two or more sentences of commentary for every piece of source information.  You know you must cite summaries, paraphrases, and quotes, right?  To do less would be to plagiarize.  But, once we do this so carefully, we end up with paragraphs taken over by sources.  Unless you provide commentary on these summaries, paraphrases, or quotes, you are not writing actively.  You can create integrated paragraphs by handling the material, saying things about it.

Q: What might I do after the citation?

A: Question the source information, extend it, offer examples examples, respond by adopting any of various tones toward it, relate it to the topic sentence, relate to thesis, or relate it to what happens next.  A power move is to show another example and then compare/contrast, discuss the examples (analysis, synthesis, evaluation skills).  If you take a tone toward the material, you might be “accepting,” “skeptical,” “in agreement with” it.  These are attitude words.  It’s okay to have attitude as long as you don’t sound as if you are speaking or writing a newspaper editorial!  In fact, avoid sounding like you’re chatting (which is something I am doing here.)

  • Treat the citations as excuses for you to argue something.  That “something” is up to you, but realize that readers expect your commentary to matter more than the cited information.  Play the game, but realize that in college, these rules are radically different from what one could get away with in high school.  (You are doing well with responses to the photos and essays, so do that some sort of logical, detailed thinking after citations.)
  • If good things must occur after citations, they also must happen before the citations.  Review the handbook and my information about signal phrases.  Your job is to establish the context of what’s being said and why it matters.  You handle this with exact verbs like “contends,” “refutes,” “suggests,” “defends,” rather than blah verbs like “is” or “says.”  We call this setup a signal phrase. The signal phrase introduces a source.  Use signal phrases to signal a shift from your words to theirs.  This is part of a well-integrated paragraph.
  • Where?  Why should I care?  When?  Writer’s credentials?  Why does it matter?  Establish that credibility.
  • Save author for signal phrase if you have no page to cite.  For website and database sources, no page number goes into parentheses, so you’d better save the author for the signal phrase.
  • Offer enough examples and logical discussion to take over those paragraphs that are in danger of being run by sources.
  • Don’t start or end paragraphs with source material.  I say this because sources take over if they begin or end.  (That’s not an absolute rule, but you recognize its practicality.
  • Readers are easily distracted.  After a citation, it is okay to restate the paraphrase’s meaning.
  • Writers hurt their chances at success with topic sentences that don’t get followed, paragraph endings that are vague, and a lack of transitions.  You know that people notice the beginnings and endings the most, so be sure these are excellent.  Transition smoothly from idea to idea, both within sentences and between paragraphs.  (Many writers think well but cannot start sentences at all well.  Be sure you don’t fit that category.)
  • Read your work aloud with an “ear toward” hearing the transitions from you to the source and back.  If there are big chunks of source use, you must break up those and provide sufficient commentary.  That’s where that general “25% or more yours” rule fits in, since you can break up paragraphs and offer sufficient commentary to regain control.

Remember that good readers want to be able to appreciate what you bring to the discussion.