Course Content
Chapter 3: Writing Mechanics Help
Chapter 12: Teaching Writing
Chapter 23: Teaching Reading
College English Composition: Help and Review
About Lesson

Research Writing

Writing is one of the main ways we communicate with each other, and we all practice this communication every day. Throughout the day, you probably write an email, update a social media account, or text a friend. This type of writing is very informal and done really just for fun. Chances are when you practice this type of writing, you do not worry too much about editing, revising, audience, or tone.

In a classroom setting, your writing is definitely more formal than when you are writing for your friends. However, there are different levels of academic writing. When you first started writing, chances are that you were given simpler assignments. You probably wrote a narrative, a personal story, or a personal reflection on literature. While these simple writing assignments are very helpful in discovering your writing process and abilities, academic research writing is different than these patterns of writing.

Research writing is the investigation and study of materials and sources to reach a conclusion. When you practice research writing, you are researching to find sources, evaluating those sources as credible, and then using the sources as evidence in your paper.

But how do you use these sources in your paper? How do you balance multiple sources in your research and findings? In this lesson, we will answer these questions.

Using Sources

Why are sources important? Using sources in your paper is important because they show that you have researched your topic, considered other viewpoints, and found experts in the field that support your point of view. As a writer, you want your audience to know that your paper is more than just your opinion and that there is strong evidence and facts that support your point of view.

When including sources in your paper, there are really just three ways to use them correctly. First, you can paraphrase your source. When you paraphrase, you are taking the author’s words and making them your own. For example, let’s say an author wrote, ‘On a cold, rainy night, John and Steve wrecked their car.’ You can paraphrase this statement by saying, ‘John and Steve crashed their car in the rain.’ As you can see, the main idea is still the same. Just be sure that you cite the source! The idea originated elsewhere and it needs to be cited correctly!

Second, you can directly quote your source. A direct quote copies the source line by line and then credits the information. You would use a direct quote when you feel it is important for the audience to hear it as the author wrote it.

Finally, you can summarize your source. When you summarize, you are reviewing the author’s thesis, key points, and overall argument. We may use a summary in a paper to present an author’s ideas before we present our argument. Just like when you paraphrase, you must credit your source.

When you use sources in your paper, it is important that you remember to document this information. Plagiarism occurs any time you use someone else’s words or ideas and fail to document them. To avoid this, be sure that you are following the correct rules of documentation any time that you paraphrase, directly quote, or summarize your source.

Using Multiple Sources

Now that we have an understanding of how to use sources, let’s discuss how to include them in your paper. After you complete your research, you will probably have multiple sources that you want to include. How can you do so?

First, decide how you want to use each source. What role does it play in the paper? Will it be used to introduce a fact or statistic? Is it a quote from an author that supports a statement that you made? Or, is it an attention grabber or closing strategy?

You will also want to decide if the source is there to help present the problem or present the solution. For example, let’s pretend that you have been assigned an argumentative paper on recycling. Does your source discuss the reasons we should recycle, or does it discuss the result of not recycling? Knowing the role that your source will play will help you decide how to organize it.

Second, decide how valuable each source really is. When we look at multiple sources, chances are there are going to be repetitive ideas. Do you have to include all of them or just some of the sources that you found? You want to ask yourself, ‘What new information am I presenting with this source?’

Third, make sure you are still the main voice of your paper. This is more challenging with multiple sources. When we write, we want the main focus of our papers to be what we are saying, not what others have written. Your sources should support or add to your argument. Do not overwhelm your paper with sources! Rather, piece your ideas together and use the sources within your own argument. When you use multiple sources, think of yourself as the guide that leads people through a discussion of your topic. The sources are the people having the discussion, and you have to show how each one plays a role in the dialogue.

Finally, plan how you will include your sources. While there is no real set of rules to follow, there are some helpful tips to use when you write a paragraph that includes a source:

  • Begin the paragraph with your topic sentence. This sentence should reflect what main idea you will introduce in that paragraph. This should be written in your own voice and should begin to set up your argument or research with your audience.
  • Introduce your source through a paraphrase or summary. This will be the start of the support of your ideas.
  • Follow this up with an analysis in your own words. Your audience should know what purpose the source had in your paper.

Remember when using multiple sources that your voice still guides the conversation. You may use more than one source in a paragraph but continue to follow the suggested model of introducing source in your words, summarizing or paraphrasing, and then analyze.

Lesson Summary

We all use writing as a way to communicate. The difference is how we communicate our ideas to our audience. In a less formal setting, we would not worry about our tone, audience, or presentation as we would in an academic setting. Even within an academic setting, the requirements of your papers will change as you grow as a writer.

When writing a research paper, you are investigating and evaluating sources to reach a conclusion. When you practice research writing, you will need to find and use sources to support your point of view and thesis.

When you use sources in your paper, you can either paraphrase, present ideas in your own words, summarize, review the author’s thesis and main details, or directly quote. Just remember to always give credit to your sources to avoid any form of plagiarism.

Before using a source, you should decide what role it would play, if the source is necessary and adds something new, and spend time planning how you would include the source. Remember that sources should be used in your paper to support your point of view. You should always be the main voice of your paper. Try to think of it as leading a conversation. If you have multiple sources, you would have to direct the conversation more actively. Your voice should never be buried among the sources you present!

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