Using Sources Effectively

by Kathryn Rummell
Associate Professor of English
Cal Poly University, San Luis Obispo


The following guidelines are designed to supplement your knowledge from English 215. Please refer to a writing handbook if you are still confused about these terms.

Three ways to incorporate secondary sources in your writing:

  1. Summary: A summary involves condensing the main points of the original passage and putting those points in your own words. When, for example, you want to refer to an article’s main ideas, it would be smart to summarize them rather than try to quote them or paraphrase them. Be careful, though, not to alter the meaning of the original passage.
  2. Paraphrase: A paraphrase usually involves a smaller amount of original text that you want to incorporate into your paper. Paraphrasing means that you restate the information from the source in your own words. Paraphrases must always be documented since the ideas (but not the words) belong to someone else.
  3. Direct Quotation: You might want to quote phrases or sentences from an original source if they express an idea in a unique way, or if the words belong to an expert whose credibility is important to your argument (i.e. a literary critic). Be sure you are quoting exactly, and always document your quotations. In addition, quotations should be introduced or attributed, meaning that the text of your sentence should indicate where this quote is coming from. For example: Mary Vermillion agrees that Southerne uses the split-plot form to critique contemporary society, but she asserts that Southerne is "mourning" not the loss of heroic values, but instead the loss of the "strictly fraternal literary community" (28).

Finally, remember that quotes are not claims; be sure that you use quotes to support your points, not to make them.