How can I use sources as I develop my ideas?

Sources–the ideas and arguments of other writers–can sometimes feel unwieldy during the revision process. You might find yourself wondering how to incorporate other writers’ voices effectively, why you need to include their voices to begin with, or how to strike a balance between your voice and the voices of other writers. Zeinab talked to us at length about how the research process takes a good deal of time, and that a lot of this time gets devoted to synthesizing and collecting the ideas of others who have made their own arguments on your topic.

As you listen to Zeinab, ask yourself:

  • What does she mean when she talks about synthesizing sources? What might that look like in a research paper? How do you know when you’re synthesizing versus summarizing? 
  • How much time does Zeinab usually allow for revision? How might this change depending on the assignment, the research requirements, or the length of the paper?

One thing that we have noticed in our students’ writing and that both Zeinab and Meaghan mentioned was the tendency for early drafts to be summaries of other authors’ work. The hard part when it comes to using sources is, ironically, the temptation to use them! Both Zeinab and Meaghan noted that in earlier drafts, they quoted too much of other authors, relying too much on what others said. As a result, they lost their own arguments in tangle of ideas from other writers.

Listen to Meaghan and Zeinab talk about this phenomenon and then do the activity below to analyze your own use of other writers in your research-based assignments:

Go find a research paper that you wrote for a course recently. With a highlighter, go through your paper and highlight places where you either quote or paraphrase other writers’ ideas. Then, step back and look at your paper. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Where does your specific, unique argument come through? Is it strongly stated in multiple places or does it get masked by the ideas of others?
  • Are you engaging in synthesis as Zeinab mentioned above, or are some authors being quoted in isolation from other writers?
  • How many drafts did you do of this paper? If you were to revisit it now, what would you change about your use of sources?
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