An exercise to improve my use of academic sources.


During my previous projects I have spent some time making notes on the given essay/article, and answering the BLOG questions. I d like to try and achieve these goals in a more efficient and skilled manner- and perhaps a little quicker than my previous attempts. I decided to read a little about the ideas behind summarising, paraphrasing, and direct quotation, using the  Harvard Guide to Using Sources (Harvard College Writing Program, 2016).

As I read it struck me that here was a way that I could consider, experiment and improve my use of these techniques, and broaden my goal towards the best use of sources in general. Using sources will be so fundamental and common in my work for this module, that to take time to learn (or relearn) about the techniques would be time very well spent –especially near the beginning of the course. I therefore made a few notes on the ideas before beginning the next project

A summary of the Harvard Guide to using sources


Reading this introduction, I realised that during this OCA course I will be engaging in debates, through my written work, about various academic topics. During these debates I will metaphorically stand alongside, argue and discuss with other authors and academics. In order to efficiently engage, and with integrity, I will need to use sources correctly. Developing skills to use resources is not easy, and it will be an ongoing process, but as my use becomes more sophisticated it will allow me to develop stronger and more complex arguments. (Harvard guide to using sources, 2016: 1)

Why use sources

During an academic course one may use several different kinds of source, including letters, images, verbal conversations, quantitative data, or articles and analyses. One major distinction between source types is Primary and Secondary. Primary sources include fiction, poetry, original letters, photos, collected data etc, whilst secondary sources comprise data, writing and analysis that has been undertaken previously by another scholar. Some differences do exist between disciplines in the correct way to handle sources, though many principles are the same between areas of study. (Harvard guide to using sources, 2016)

What are you supposed to do with sources?

Most academic work will entail the posing of a question or series of questions, identification and understanding of different sources and opinions (which may agree or disagree with your ideas),the use of these sources to skilfully argue a position for yourself on the questions, which, importantly, involves your original thinking (my italics).

When considering sources one should ask how they help you understand a subject, whether they can be used as evidence for your argument, or against, and whether they require you to change/broaden your argument, or take new lines of enquiry. Your sources allow you to make original opinions and thoughts on debates that other scholars have also engaged upon. (Harvard guide to using sources, 2016: 3)

Writing ‘Original’ papers

Try to come up with some original thoughts in everything you write. If this seems challenging it may be that your expectation of original is too high.

Evaluating a source

Not all sources are created equal. The most reliable are those produced in peer reviewed journals or academic books, where there has been a process of review by experts. ( ? but what if the experts are censoring information ?). Not all written information is worth discussing. When you evaluate a source examine

  • How you will use it
  • The qualifications of the author
  • Why it was written –context , bias, function
  • What’s its scope- its width and depth
  • Is the information up to date?

When evaluating web sources- can you identify the author? If not can you identify where the information resides – is it a .gov, .com, .edu, .org ? Are there adverts on the sites? How may they be biasing the info? Does the author cite other sources for corroboration? Is the language used suggestive of extreme views? Can you find when the source was produced? Some sources can be timely even if years old. Others may be out of date quickly.


Using wiki has dangers. The website can be added to by anyone, regardless of credentials, knowledge, bias, or reason. You must always corroborate information from wiki with other sources. It is ok to use wiki to take a preliminary broad look at ideas, but its probably better to use an encyclopaedia which takes a broad view of things too.

Avoiding Plagiarism

Plagiarism is the act of submitting work that was done by someone else, whether intentionally or unintentionally. It’s serious. In order to avoid this you must use citations and references. This allows you to credit other authors for their hard work, and to provide information for those who want to consider the subject in more detail themselves. The ease with which we can get data from the internet makes it easy to commit plagiarism, especially if you are cutting and pasting information. Whilst it’s more obvious that an academic book or journal needs crediting, its also the same with every website, including dictionary websites.

( what are the rules about websites from extremists, pornography, or illegal websites?).

  • Verbatim Plagiarism occurs when you directly quote someone else’s words without quotation marks, and a citation, even if they are within your own ideas.
  • Mosaic Plagiarism occurs if you use many sources, and inadequately paraphrase, or lose contact with which ideas come from which author and which are your own.
  • Inadequate paraphrasing: You must completely reword the ideas of the source. It’s a good idea to put away the source whilst you think of your version, and check afterwards for any plagiarism. Don’t use a source if you don’t understand what it says- you are more likely to quote verbatim, or misrepresent someone’s ideas.
  • Using other student’s work: If you discuss work in a group situation it is ok to get feedback, and to bounce ideas off one another, where ideas are thought of as from the group/collaborative and not individual. It may be appropriate to say something like ‘I acknowledge the help of Group X in generating ideas around the subject’. Although it is ok to have collaborative discussions, it is usually not ok to collaborate directly in the production of particular answers to questions/ data analysis.
  • Also: Not referencing paraphrased work, or referencing direct quotes,
  • Common knowledge: The only things that don’t need referencing are facts and figures which are common knowledge. These are widely known by educated people, or a group of people, and are not someone’s  own ideas. So, water =H2O, Hastings= 1066, etc do not need citing. Ideas and concepts well known to others are usually not considered common knowledge however. Only direct quotes of universal knowledge need not be cited

(can i think of an example?)

PS If in doubt provide a reference- better than the trouble you’ll find if you don’t !


Avoiding plagiarism

  • Keep track of your sources, and save a copy of electronic sources
  • Don’t reword sources so many times that you lose track of the original source info
  • Paraphrase carefully and always give citations immediately (not later)
  • Set enough time aside for dealing with sources
  • Don’t cut and paste directly into your work.
  • Keep sources and your own work separately
  • Keep careful copies of Source-notes-draft-finished essay, and keep track of the route you took from left to right.


Integrating Sources

Every source must be used for a specific purpose and the reader should know what that is (check again before submitting). In order to know what you will do with the source think about what it meant to you as you encountered it. Was it context for the debate, evidence for or against an opinion, did it complicate the argument and make you think again? If so- it will probably be taken as such by the reader too. Choosing the relevant parts of a source is important. The work should primarily be about what YOU think, and so others’ work should not swamp the piece. Always think about the source’s role- and you may then need to quote or use less of it in your work. Think of an essay as a conversation in which you participate with other academic’s who you will need to represent correctly!

Summarising, Paraphrasing and Quoting

  • Summarising: you will need to provide the reader with just as much detail as you think is necessary for your argument. Don’t provide too much which will make your points obscure. Reference and citations needed
  • Paraphrasing will give more detail than a summary ( about the same level as the original text). Unless for a specific reason, you should paraphrase rather than quote directly. Make sure you are using your own words and are referencing correctly.
  • Quotations should be used only for specific functions, such as giving a reader an idea of the language used or the authority provided by the quotation. Use short quotes and only to add to your argument, use a long quote only when arguing about the quote in detail.

The nuts and bolts of integrating

  • Topic sentences: Introduce the topic of each paragraph with text in your own voice about what the paragraph is about.
  • Framing source material: when you use a source you should begin with a sentence explaining why you are using it, and end with one about what you take from the source in forwarding your argument- both in your own words/voice.
  • Signal phrases: these show the reader that you have changed from your voice to another’s eg. Spelke argues , Sandel notes , Lue confirms (the exact wording can tell the reader about the attitude of the source).
  • Using quotations in your own sentences. This can be done, and you may need to add your own words in brackets to allow the quote to fit your text. Don’t use too many brackets- instead alter the quote or sentence.
  • Ellipsis: three points (…), can be used to indicate that you have omitted some of the text in a quote. If used you must not change the meaning or idea behind a source.
  • Block quotations: use these if more than 4 lines long, and don’t use quotation marks-use indentation to the right and left. Introduce and follow your quotation as described previously. Use double quotation marks for a source, and if there is a quote or speech within it, use an additional set of marks eg. At this point, the man has criticized the girl for her attitude. She responds, “‘I was trying. I said the mountains looked like white elephants. Wasn’t that bright?'” (182).
  • Use of [sic]. Use this to show the reader that an error in the quotation was in the original text, and is not your own.Bibliography
  • Harvard College Writing Program. (2016). Harvard Guide to Using Sources [online] At : (Accessed on 13 November 2016).
  • eg. In his letter to the editor, Harding admonishes his audience to “rite [sic] while you can, no matter the sacrifice” (23).

Reflection on the exercise

Completion of this exercise has made me feel much more confident about the process of using sources within my work. I have been writing essays in various capacities for a good many years (on and off), but this work has clearly shown me that there is a way of summarising and paraphrasing effectively and using sources correctly. It has also reinforced the idea that sources should be used with care and for a reason, and that they should not obliterate my own voice during an argument, and this is exceptionally important.

From a very practical sense, I have been worried that I have been taking far too long to complete each of the projects in Part one.  I now feel happier and more confident that in future projects I can summarise text and answer BLOG questions more succinctly and skilfully, which will maximise my efficiency and save valuable time. Additionally the process of evaluating, selecting, and integrating sources for my final assignments will be less daunting. All this would comprise a significant improvement in my work, and I will keep these issues under consideration and review over the next projects and assignment 1.


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