Writing with other voices
In most of your college writing, which is evidence-based writing, you’ll need to incorporate sources. In some writing assignments, you’ll be asked to interpret and analyze a text or texts. The text is the subject of your writing, and your interpretation of the text will need to be supported with evidence from the text. In other writing assignments, you’ll need to support a thesis with evidence from texts and sources. When you incorporate a text or source should generally be performing one of four functions:
- Helping to provide context for your inquiry or argument
- Supporting a claim you are making
- Illustrating a claim you are making
- Providing a different perspective or counterargument to a claim you are making
When you incorporate other voices–texts and sources–into your writing, you will either summarize, paraphrase, or quote them in order to distinguish them for your voice and ideas.
Overview of Summarizing, Paraphrasing, and Quoting Texts and Sources
Quotations must be identical to the original, using a narrow segment of the source. They must match the source document word for word and must be attributed to the original author.
Paraphrasing involves putting a passage from source material into your own words. A paraphrase must also be attributed to the original source. Paraphrased material is usually shorter than the original passage, taking a somewhat broader segment of the source and condensing it slightly.
Summarizing involves putting the main idea(s) into your own words, including only the main point(s). Once again, it is necessary to attribute summarized ideas to the original source. Summaries are significantly shorter than the original and take a broad overview of the source material.
Writers frequently intertwine summaries, paraphrases, and quotations. As part of a summary of an article, a chapter, or a book, a writer might include paraphrases of various key points blended with quotations of striking or suggestive phrases as in the following example:
In his article “What’s The Matter With College?,” Rick Perlstein argues that college, in American society and individual lives, is not as significant as it was in the 1960s, because colleges are no longer sites of radical protest, heated intellectual debate, or freedom from parental authority for students. Perlstein waxes nostalgic over the 1966 California gubernatorial race between Ronald Reagan and Pat Brown when the University of California’s Berkeley campus—a locus for “building takeovers, antiwar demonstrations and sexual orgies”—became a key campaign issue. These days, “[c]ollege campuses seem to have lost their centrality,” according to Perlstein, and do not offer a “democratic and diverse culture” that stood apart from the rest of society and constituted “the most liberating moment” in a student’s life (par. 1).
Use the following pro tips as you read texts and sources so when it comes time to write you have quotations, paraphrases, and summaries ready!
- Read the entire text, noting the key points and main ideas.
- Summarize in your own words what the single main idea of the text is.
- Paraphrase important supporting points that come up in the text.
- Consider any words, phrases, or brief passages that you believe should be quoted directly.
Summarizing Texts and Sources in Your Writing
Generally speaking, a summary must at once be true to what the original author says while also emphasizing those aspects of what the author says that interest you, the writer. You need to summarize the work of other authors in light of your own topic and argument. Writers who summarize without regard to their own interests often create “list summaries” that simply inventory the original author’s main points (signaled by words like “first,” “second,” “and then,” “also,” and “in addition”), but fail to focus those points around any larger overall claim. Writing a good summary means not just representing an author’s view accurately but doing so in a way that fits the larger agenda of your own piece of writing.
The following is a two-sentence template* for a summary adapted from the work of writing scholar Katherine Woodworth that captures 1) info on the author/text and the text’s main point; and 2) the point or example that relates to the point you’re making:
[Author’s credentials] [author’s first and last name] in his/her [type of text] [title of text], published in [publishing info] addresses the topic of [topic of text] and argues/reports that [argument/general point]. [Author’s surname] claims/asserts/makes the point/suggests/describes/explains that _____.
See the two-sentence summary template in action:
Example. English professor and textbook author Sheridan Baker, in his essay “Attitudes” (1966), asserts that writers’ attitudes toward their subjects, audiences, and themselves determine to a large extent the quality of their prose. Baker gives examples of how negative attitudes can make writing unclear, pompous, or boring, concluding that a good writer “will be respectful toward his audience, considerate toward his readers, and somehow amiable toward human failings” (58).
NOTE that the first sentence identifies the author (Baker), the genre (essay), the title and date, and uses an active verb (asserts) and the relative pronoun that to explain what exactly Baker asserts. The second sentence gives more specific detail on a relevant point Baker makes.
Example. In his essay “On Nature” (1850), British philosopher John Stuart Mill argues that using nature as a standard for ethical behavior is illogical. He defines nature as “all that exists or all that exists without the intervention of man.”
Example. In his essay “Panopticism,” French philosopher Michel Foucault argues that the “panopticon” is how institutions enforce discipline and conformity by making every subject feel like they are being watched by a central authority with the capability of punishing wrongdoing. He concludes that it should not be “surprising that prisons resemble factories, schools, barracks, hospitals, which all resemble prisons” (249).
Example. Independent scholar Indur M. Goklancy, in a policy analysis for the Cato Institute, argues that globalization has created benefits in overall “human well-being.” He provides statistics that show how factors such as mortality rates, child labor, lack of education, and hunger have all decreased under globalization.
NOTE that the above examples prompt the writer to develop a more detailed interpretation and explanation of the point/example made in the second sentence. That’s the work of developing a paragraph with a text or source! You can see what that looks like more fully in Integrating Quotes and Paraphrases into Your Writing.
The summary template is adapted from Woodworth, Margaret K. “The Rhetorical Précis.” Rhetoric Review 7 (1988): 156-164.
Integrating Quotes and Paraphrases into Writing
Image: Sculpting from raw material; Piqsels
“Integrating” means to combine two or more separate elements or things into a cohesive whole. Obviously, as you bring other perspectives (readings and texts) into your writing, you’re combining the work and words of others with your own original ideas. However, you should be strategic in the choices that you make–not every author needs to be quoted directly, not every passage of text needs to have every word or phrase quoted directly, and not every source will contribute multiple quotes or paraphrases to your essay. That’s why we like the analogy of a sculptor at this point in the writing process. Now that you’ve collected the raw material you need to support your argument through thorough research, it’s time to shape it carefully and deliberately so that it combines with your own writing to create an appealing experience for your reader. On to the sculpting!
When to Paraphrase:
- When you need to communicate the main idea of a source, but the details are not relevant/important
- When the source isn’t important enough to take up significant space
- Any time you feel like you can state what the source claims more concisely or clearly
- Any time you think you can state what the source claims in a way that’s more appealing to the reader
When to quote directly:
- When incorporating an influential or significant voice into your essay
- The words themselves clearly back up your claims, and come from a good authority
- The words are unique/original, and already clearly express your key concepts in a compelling or interesting way
- There’s no better way to present those main ideas to the reader than how the original author has stated them
- When engaging with a source that disagrees with you, so you can state the argument fairly
A note on “cherry-picking”: Cherry-picking is a pejorative term that refers to writers using quotes or paraphrases to support their own argument, even though the source would likely disagree with how their words or ideas are being used. Responsible academic writing means presenting evidence in a context that’s consistent and appropriate with the source’s original use of the quote or paraphrase.
Placing Direct Quotes in Your Essay
Here’s a helpful acronym that will remind you of the steps to take to most effectively incorporate direct quotations into your argument: I.C.E (Introduce, Cite, Explain). I’ll use it as a verb to remind myself when constructing a paragraph: “Did I make sure to ICE my quotes?”
Image: Ice, Ice, baby; Pexels, CC0
Introduce the quote before providing it. Sometimes this is as simple as “Author X states” or some variation of that phrase. If it’s the first time you’re quoting an author, it’s a good idea to give the author’s full name, but you can rely on the surname in subsequent quotations. If there is context you’d like the reader to know about source, it’s generally wise to provide that before the quote, as part of its introduction. Avoid using “says” when introducing quotations unless you are citing a speech, interview, or other spoken text; “writes,” “states,” “explains,” “argues,” etc. are better options.
Every style (MLA, APA, Chicago) has different formats for citations, but anything that isn’t common knowledge–whether you’re directly quoting or paraphrasing, must come with a citation. We’re using MLA format in this class, so make sure you understand the rules of MLA Citations and Formatting.
Example: In the “Higher Laws” chapter of Walden, Henry David Thoreau seems to become despondent over his inability to overcome what he calls “this slimy beastly life” (148).
(For reference, the introduction of the quote is underlined, while the citation is bolded; you won’t do this when you actually cite. If you introduce a quote by using the author’s name, you only need to provide the page number where the quote can be found. Otherwise, their last name will also need to appear in the citation.)
You should always take time to explain quotations, paraphrases, and other types of evidence that you include. Readers look for your analysis of evidence in academic writing, and without it, a reader may draw different conclusions about the relationship between evidence and claim than you do. This is why the basic format for making an argument in academic writing is claim –> evidence to support claim –> reasons why you think the evidence supports the claim.
The Explanation of a quote or paraphrase is where you’re showing the reader your critical thinking, analytical skills, and ability to present your original ideas clearly and concisely. It is the part of the essay where you’re really presenting your original ideas and perspectives on a topic–that makes it very important!
Template for a Paragraph with Direct Quotes
As you read the following example, note where we are Introducing, Citing, and Explaining the quote.
Example: As I argue above, Thoreau is burdened by the implications of his animal appetites, of the intrinsic sensuality of living in the material world. However, Thoreau’s own language may be creating a heavier burden than he realizes. In Philosophy of Literary Form, Kenneth Burke writes: “. . .if you look for a man’s burden, you will find the principle that reveals the structure of his unburdening; or, in attenuated form, if you look for his problem, you find the lead that explains the structure of his solution” (92, emphasis in original). As this quote suggests, Burke believes that the answer to the problem often lies in the way that the problem is presented by the author or poet. His description of life as “beastly” and “slimy” is an ironic reframing of similar natural elements as those that brought him to Walden Pond in the first place. Thoreau’s choice of terminology to describe something results in the shifting of his attention and priorities.
To think about how I’m structuring this body paragraph, let’s break it down into its constituent parts:
- Topic sentence: As I argued above, Thoreau is burdened by the implications of his animal appetites, of the intrinsic sensuality of living in the material world. This is what the paragraph will be about–Thoreau’s burdens–and I’m telling the reader in one quick phrase how this connects to another part of the essay.
- Paragraph’s Main Claim: However, Thoreau’s own language may be creating a heavier burden than he realizes. This is the main claim I’m making to my reader and is what the rest of the paragraph needs to focus on supporting with evidence and my own analysis. Each paragraph should generally only have one main claim so the reader can stay focused on the argument at hand.
- The Evidence: In Philosophy of Literary Form, Kenneth Burke writes: “. . .if you look for a man’s burden, you will find the principle that reveals the structure of his unburdening; or, in attenuated form, if you look for his problem, you find the lead that explains the structure of his solution” (92, emphasis his). Whether a direct quote or a paraphrase or both, there should be evidence of some sort in all of your body paragraphs (and sometimes in your intro and conclusion, too). It should clearly support the main claim and be cited, whether a quote or a paraphrase. Note that this evidence has the “I” and the “C” of ICE. The next step has the “E.”
- The Explanation: As this quote suggests, Burke believes that the answer to the problem often lies in the way that the problem is presented by the author or poet. His description of life as “beastly” and “slimy” is an ironic reframing of similar natural elements as those that brought him to Walden Pond in the first place. As mentioned above, this is arguably the most critical part of the paragraph. Depending on the evidence and your audience, your explanation might need to summarize the quote in your own words (if it’s complex), but it absolutely needs to analyze the evidence (quote or paraphrase) and explain its relevance or connection to the main claim of the paragraph. It may take one sentence, it may take several.
- The Concluding Sentence: Thoreau’s choice of terminology to describe something results in the shifting of his attention and priorities. Like a conclusion paragraph, this final sentence summarizes the main take-away for the reader of that paragraph its located within.
These parts of the paragraph should be present in any standard body paragraph, but besides the topic and concluding sentences, the other elements can actually be re-ordered (evidence can come before the main claim, if it’s clear which is which!). Use signal phrases and transitions to help guide the reader so they know the purpose of each of your sentences.
A Note on Direct Quotes and Syntax
Quotes (and this can be tricky!) have to be integrated into the correct syntax of your sentences, which may occasionally mean adding a word or clarifying a pronoun. Syntax refers to the ordering of words and expressions within a sentence. Brackets [ ] are useful for maintaining a smooth flow in the syntax of a sentence while integrating a quotation. Brackets are a signal to the reader that you are inserting a word or phrase into into a quotation for the purposes of clarity and correct syntax.
Example: Buell claims that “[Thoreau’s] point was not that we should turn our backs on nature but that we must imagine the ulterior benefits of the original turn to nature in the spirit of economy, both fiscal and ethical” (392).
Pro Tip: Here is what happens to your reader’s attention and understanding of your argument when you don’t match a direct quote’s syntax with the rest of the sentence that you’re placing it into: