Research is a major component of many genres of writing. During the research process, writers discover academic conversations and learn how to build on those conversations with their own ideas. However, creating an effective balance between these two things can be tricky.
One of the common questions that writers have about research-based assignments is how they can integrate evidence from appropriate academic sources effectively. This component of writing can be difficult because the writer knows it is their paper, and may not understand why they need to use other people’s work or how this can be done effectively. In the following chart from the Purdue Online Writing Lab, Stolley, Brizee, and Paiz suggest that some of the reasons writers have difficulty navigating the appropriate place of outside material in their writing is due to some seeming contradictions in assignment guidelines instructors give:
|Develop a topic based on what has already been said and written||BUT||Write something new and original|
|Rely on experts’ and authorities’ opinions||BUT||Improve upon and/or disagree with those same opinions|
|Give credit to previous researchers||BUT||Make your own significant contribution|
|Improve your English to fit into adiscourse community by building upon what you hear and read||BUT||Use your own words and your own voice|
These different perspectives may make you feel like you’re trying to perform a high-wire act. What does it mean to be original while entering the research conversations that others have had? When is the writer’s voice appropriate, and when will it lead to reader’s confusion? Some of the guidelines may even seem contradictory to each other.
However, in the middle of these different directives, there is a middle ground where writers can successfully integrate evidence without it overtaking their own messages. The process of writing a research paper becomes easier if you imagine it is like building a house. While writers use the blueprint established by others who write on the same topic, they nevertheless have to construct their house on their own. What kind of “upgrades” are you including–granite countertops or tile? Carpet or hardwood flooring? These choices make the house your own. Similarly, using source material and established conventions are important–you wouldn’t build a house without a roof and walls–but the paper still needs to be distinguishable from others.
As writers move into building their own “houses,” finding that middle ground for integrating evidence still might not be clear. Writers who are uncomfortable or unfamiliar with incorporating outside material into their own work may make some of the following common mistakes:
The Oxford English Dictionary defines “plagiarism” as “the action or practice of taking someone else’s work, idea, etc., and passing it off as one’s own; literary theft.” ” Plagiarism in writing occurs when writers use information they found in an outside source and don’t say where the information came from. In the United States intellectual system, plagiarism carries a significant stigma, and tends to be viewed as an intentional act of deceit (or dishonesty). As a result, the consequences of plagiarism in the American classroom are severe. When writers enroll in classes, they are expected to submit assignments that represent their own, honest efforts.
However, writers may still commit plagiarism for a variety of reasons, such as being unfamiliar with the conventions of citation, feeling uncomfortable writing academic discourse, and coming from a culture with a different philosophy on using other people’s words or ideas. Nevertheless, the prevalence of plagiarism detection sites, such as Turn It In or Safe Assign, make it likely that writers will be caught if they plagiarize, so it is best to avoid plagiarism and its inevitable consequences. For further information on how to avoid plagiarism, you might review your university’s handbook and your professor’s syllabus. Remember, it is always better to ask questions about plagiarism, rather than suffer the consequences.
Over- or mis-use of Quoted Material
Overuse of Quotes
Again, because some writers feel uncomfortable with constructing their own arguments, they feel compelled to overuse the writing that has already been done on the topic. This use of evidence, though, is rarely considered effective by readers. Writers should aim for the overwhelming majority–usually about 80% or more–of their paper to be in their own words. Direct quotations should only be used when the information quoted is representative. This might include when you’re citing a counterargument, for example, and it’s important to include the words as they were written to develop ethos, or when someone has coined a phrase or term.
This information sometimes confounds writers. How, they wonder, are they supposed to write RESEARCH papers without RESEARCH? What these writers have to learn is that direct quotes are only one type of evidence that can be used to support a claim. Other options for using outside material are paraphrases, summaries, data, and statistics. Remember, though, that even though these types of evidence are in your own words, you still have to give credit to the author who originally collected the data/had the thought.
Misuse of Quotes – Block Quotes
In your previous experience, you may have run into very long blocks of text from other sources that a writer has used.
The following is an example of a block quote in MLA style. The information is from a page of The Writing Center at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill’s website:
Use quotations at strategically selected moments. You have probably been told by teachers to provide as much evidence as possible in support of your thesis. But packing your paper with quotations will not necessarily strengthen your argument. The majority of your paper should still be your original ideas in your own words (after all, it’s your paper). And quotations are only one type of evidence: well-balanced papers may also make use of paraphrases, data, and statistics. The types of evidence you use will depend in part on the conventions of the discipline or audience for which you are writing. (par. 2)
There are specific conventions for integrating block quotes depending on the citation style. However, because of the nature of first-year writing courses, the use of block quotations for these classes is highly unusual. Because you are probably just learning how to use source material, realize that the use of block quotes may be a crutch. It’s better to paraphrase or shorten quotations to a length below that required for block quotes (four lines for MLA) whenever possible. This will ensure that the focus of your papers is your writing and ideas instead of the quotations you are using as support.
Misuse of Quotes – Dropped Quotes
Another issue that may arise with using quoted material is a dropped quote. A dropped quote happens when a writer places a quote in their paper without introducing it or giving any context for it. Unlike a block quote, a dropped quote is never considered effective. An example looks like this:
Writers may sometimes have an issue with integrating quoted material. “Because citation work is detail-oriented, requires great concentration, and is sometimes perceived as ‘drudge work,’ it often generates a high level of frustration” (Dickerson 477). This statement is true for all writers.
Because the quote in the middle has been dropped in as its own sentence, it could be interpreted differently by the reader than it was by the writer. Moreover, by pulling quotes without thinking about their context, a writer is more likely to misinterpret the meaning of the quote, therefore losing credibility.
To avoid dropped quotes, always use the “quote sandwich” model: begin by prefacing what is happening in the original work, information about the piece of writing, or information by the author. Then, integrate the quote. Finally, explain your interpretation of the quote and its significance, i.e., the reason you incorporated it.
The quote, then, is sandwiched by your own words.
Here’s what the example looks like after this process:
Writers may sometimes have an issue with integrating quoted material. Discussing her students who work at a law review journal, Stetson professor Darby Dickerson proposes that “because citation work is detail-oriented, requires great concentration, and is sometimes perceived as ‘drudge work,’ it often generates a high level of frustration” (Dickerson 477). Although she writes about her particular context, the frustration that she mentions translates to other writing situations as well.
Incorporating this material, the new example both better represents the purpose of the original article and borrows the credibility associated with the original’s author and position. While the first time the writer is introduced needs to be more thorough, each subsequent time that quotes from the same writer are introduced also needs to have an incorporation of the quote sandwich model.
Issues with Citation
Citation issues can result in accidental issues with evidence. Some writers think that only direct quotations need to be cited, whereas the writer’s own summaries or paraphrases of the same material don’t. However, this is not true. In order to incorporate evidence effectively, you must know that any information that you found in an outside source has to be cited appropriately in text, followed by a fuller bibliographic citation in the appropriate place (which depends on the citation style).
For MLA, the citation practice is to place the author’s name in parentheses for in-text citations, and the full entry on the Works Cited page. Here is an example of a summary of the chart at the beginning of this article:
Writers need to augment the existing conversation about a topic, but still need to provide adequate credit to existing sources (Stolley, Brizee, and Paiz, par. 3).
Notice that although this information has been changed significantly, it still requires citation because the ideas are the authors’, not mine.
Specific conventions are followed for citation depending on the style a writer uses. More information about citation can be found at Writing Commons or through the associated style manual.
By avoiding these three pitfalls and appropriately integrating evidence, writers can boost their credibility and improve the quality of their own claims.