Making Use of Sources
The most common question college professors ask their students is not “What do you have to say about X?” but rather “What do others have to say about X, and how do you respond to them?”
If there is a single feature that nearly all forms of academic writing have in common it is the use of the work of others, most often explicitly referred to in the academic writer’s text. This makes sense since nearly all academic writing is composed in response to other experiments, other findings, and other arguments and analyses that precede the moment of an academic discourse’s composition. If all disciplinarians share something in common it is the fact that we all make judicious and ethically-sound use of others’ work. Intertextuality is the term linguists use to describe any document that brings two or more discourses together to serve a single purpose. When our students summarize another’s work, they are doing intertextual writing, which they are also doing each time they cite or quote from another’s work in order to enhance their own analytic essay or argument.
Many instructors find that students aren’t very practiced at this skill. They see students quoting indiscriminately from others’ work, sometimes appropriating chunks of material that have the appearance of simply being “dumped” into the writer’s prose, with little or no explanation of its function. Raiding a source is not the same as reading it. As it turns out, making fair and effective use of the terms, phrases, passages, and data of others is a complex rhetorical skill that involves sensitivity to context, prudent appropriation, and fairness. The Davidson Writer website explains this skill by using an extended metaphor of “transplanting.” Additionally, you may want to ask students to consult these materials:
Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein, They Say I Say The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing 4th Edition.c2
To avoid what Graff and Birkenstein call “hit and run quoting,” students can learn to offer contextualizing statements–however brief–that direct the reader to attend to the quoted material in a particular way. Some instructors refer to this combination of discourses: the orienting context + the quoted material + the writer’s analysis as The Quotation Sandwich. Another way to teach students the art of framing quoted material is to use the Extract | Transplant | Recontextualize approach, described under the “Ethical Use of Sources” tab of the Davidson Writer.
- the use of academic topoi
- a taxonomy of contradictions to call into question the results of previous research
- the application of the stases
- key “moves” that writers make in response to the work of others
The Writing Program has prepared this document on how students can use sources while keeping their own agency intact. The key question is: “Are you using the sources, or are they using you?”
For a scholarly discussion of intertextuality which examines students’ tendency to patchwrite rather than to paraphrase and thereby demonstrate their command of another writer’s argument or analysis, see Rebecca Moore Howard et al., “Writing from Sources, Writing from Sentences,” Writing & Pedagogy,” 2.2 (2010): 177-192.