Research Writing in Academic Disciplines
by Suzan Last and Candace Neveu
Writing in an academic context often entails engaging with the words and ideas of other authors. Therefore, being able to correctly and fluently incorporate and engage with other writers’ words and ideas in your own writing is a critical academic skill. There are three main ways to integrate evidence from sources into your writing: quoting, paraphrasing, and summarizing. Each form requires a citation because you are using another person’s words and/or ideas. Even if you do not quote directly but paraphrase source content and express it in your own words, you still must give credit to the original authors for their ideas. Similarly, if you quote someone who says something that is “common knowledge,” you still must cite this quotation, as you are using their sentence’s structure, organizational logic, and/or syntax.
Using direct quotations in your argument has several benefits:
- Integrating quotations provides direct evidence from reliable sources to support your argument.
- Using the words of credible sources conveys your credibility by showing you have done research into the area you are writing about and consulted relevant and authoritative sources.
- Selecting effective quotations illustrates that you can extract the important aspects of the information and use them effectively in your own argument.
Be careful not to over-quote. Quotations should be used sparingly because too many quotations can interfere with the flow of ideas and make it seem like you don’t have ideas of your own. Paraphrasing can be more effective in some cases.
So when should you use quotations?
- If the language of the original source uses the best possible phrasing or imagery, and no paraphrase or summary could be as effective; or
- If the use of language in the quotation is itself the focus of your analysis (e.g., if you are analyzing the author’s use of a particular phrasing, imagery, metaphor, or rhetorical strategy).
How to Integrate Quotations Correctly
Integrating quotations into your writing happens on two levels: argumentative and grammatical. At the argument level, the quotation is being used to illustrate or support a point that you have made, and you will follow it with some analysis, explanation, comment, or interpretation that ties that quote to your argument. Never quote and run: don’t leave your reader to determine the relevance of the quotation. A quotation, statistic, or bit of data generally does not speak for itself; you must provide context and an explanation for quotations you use. Essentially, you should create a “quotation sandwich” (see Figure 15.1). Remember the acronym I.C.E. → Introduce, Cite, Explain.
The second level of integration is grammatical. This involves integrating the quotation into your own sentences so that it flows smoothly and fits logically and syntactically. There are three main methods to integrate quotations grammatically:
- Seamless Integration Method: embed the quoted words as if they were an organic part of your sentence (if you read the sentence aloud, your listeners would not know there was a quotation).
- Signal Phrase Method: use a signal phrase (Author + Verb) to introduce the quotation, clearly indicating that the quotation comes from a specific source.
- Colon Method: introduce the quotation with a complete sentence ending in a colon.
Consider the following opening sentence (and famous comma splice) from A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, as an example:
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”
Seamless Integration: embed the quotation, or excerpts from the quotation, as a seamless part of your sentence.
Charles Dickens begins his novel with the paradoxical observation that the eighteenth century was both “the best of times” and “the worst of times” .
Signal Phrase: introduce the author and then the quote using a signal verb (scroll down to Table 15.2 to see a list of common verbs that signal you are about to quote someone).
Describing the eighteenth century, Charles Dickens observes, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” .
Colon: if your own introductory words form a complete sentence, you can use a colon to introduce and set off the quotation. This can give the quotation added emphasis.
Dickens defines the eighteenth century as a time of paradox: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” .
The eighteenth century was a time of paradox: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” .
When you use quotation marks around material, this indicates that you have used the exact words of the original author. However, sometimes the text you want to quote will not fit grammatically or clearly into your sentence without making some changes. Perhaps you need to replace a pronoun in the quote with the actual noun to make the context clear, or perhaps the verb tense does not fit. There are two key ways to edit a quotation to make it fit grammatically with your own sentence:
- Use square brackets: to reflect changes or additions to a quote, place square brackets around any words that you have changed or added.
- Use ellipses (3 dots): to show that some text has been removed, use the ellipses. Three dots indicate that some words have been removed from the sentence; 4 dots indicate that a substantial amount of text has been deleted, including the period at the end of a sentence.
Sample Quotation, Citation, and Reference
Engineers are always striving for success, but failure is seldom far from their minds. In the case of Canadian engineers, this focus on potentially catastrophic flaws in a design is rooted in a failure that occurred over a century ago. In 1907 a bridge of enormous proportions collapsed while still under construction in Quebec. Planners expected that when completed, the 1,800-foot main span of the cantilever bridge would set a world record for long-span bridges of all types, many of which had come to be realized at a great price. According to one superstition, a bridge would claim one life for every million dollars spent on it. In fact, by the time the Quebec Bridge would finally be completed, in 1917, almost ninety construction workers would have been killed in the course of building the $25 million structure” .
 H. Petroski, “The Obligation of an Engineer,” in To Forgive Design, Boston: Belknap Press, 2014, p. 175.
You are allowed to change the original words, to shorten the quoted material, or to integrate material grammatically, but only if you signal those changes appropriately with square brackets or ellipses:
- Example 1: Petroski observed that “[e]ngineers are always striving for success, but failure is seldom far from their minds” [3; p. 175].
- Example 2: Petroski recounts the story of a large bridge that was constructed at the beginning of the twentieth century in Quebec, saying that “by the time [it was done], in 1917, almost ninety construction workers [were] killed in the course of building the $25 million structure” [3; p. 175].
- Example 3: “Planners expected that when completed the … bridge would set a world record for long-span bridges of all types” [3; p. 175].
Integrating Paraphrases and Summaries
Instead of using direct quotations, you can paraphrase and summarize evidence to integrate it into your argument more succinctly. Both paraphrase and summary require you to read the source carefully, understand it, and then rewrite the idea in your own words. Using these forms of integration demonstrates your understanding of the source because rephrasing requires a good grasp of the core ideas. Paraphrasing and summarizing also make integrating someone else’s ideas into your own sentences and paragraphs a little easier, as you do not have to merge grammar and writing style—you don’t need to worry about grammatical integration of someone else’s language.
Paraphrase and summary differ in that paraphrases focus on a smaller, specific section of text that when paraphrased may be close to the length of the original. Summaries, on the other hand, are condensations of large chunks of text, so they are much shorter than the original and capture only the main ideas.
At the end of its construction, the large cantilever bridge cost $25 million dollars, but the cost in lives lost far exceeded the prediction of one death for each million spent. While the planners hoped that the bridge would set a global record, in fact its claim to fame was much more grim .
According to Petroski, a large bridge built in Quebec during the early part of the twentieth century claimed the lives of dozens of workers during its construction. The collapse of the bridge early in its construction represented a pivotal design failure for Canadian engineers that shaped the profession .
Regardless of whether you are quoting, paraphrasing, or summarizing, you must cite your source any time you use someone else’s intellectual property—whether in the form of words, ideas, language structures, images, statistics, data, or formulas—in your document.
Using Signal Verbs
Verbs like “”says,” “writes” or “discusses” tend to be commonly over-used to signal a quotation and are rather vague. In very informal situations, people use “talks about” (avoid “talks about” in formal writing). These verbs, however, do not provide much information about the rhetorical purpose of the author.
The list of signal verbs below offers suggestions for introducing quoted, paraphrased, and summarized material that convey more information than verbs like “says” or “writes” or “discusses.” When choosing a signal verb, try to indicate the author’s rhetorical purpose: what is the author doing in the quoted passage? Is the author describing something? Explaining something? Arguing? Giving examples? Estimating? Recommending? Warning? Urging? Be sure the verb you choose accurately represents the intention of the source text. For example, don’t use “concedes” if the writer isn’t actually conceding a point. Look up any words you don’t know and add ones that you like to use.
Table 15.2: Commonly used signal verbs
Making a claim
Disagreeing or Questioning
Additional Signal Verbs
Be careful with the phrasing after your signal verb. In some cases, you will use the word “that” to join the signal phrase to the quotation:
Smith argues that “bottled water should be banned from campus” .
But not all signal verbs can be followed by “that.”
We can use clauses with that after these verbs related to thinking:
Think I think that you have an excellent point.
Believe He believes that unicorns exist.
Expect She expects that things will get better.
Decide He decided that it would be best to buy the red car.
Hope I hope that you know what you are doing.
Know I know that you will listen carefully
Understand She understood that this would be complicated.
And after verbs related to saying:
Say She said that she would be here by 6:00 pm.
Admit He admits that the study had limitations.
Argue She argues that bottled water should be banned on campus.
Agree He agrees that carbon taxes are effective.
Claim They claim that their methods are valid.
Explain He explained that the rules are complicated.
Suggest They suggest that you follow instructions carefully.
But some verbs require an object (a person or thing) before you can use “that”:
Tell tell a person that… tell as story… tell the truth
Describe describe the mechanism
Convince convince an audience that you are credible
Persuade persuade a reader that this is a worthwhile idea
Inform inform a colleague that their proposal has been accepted
Remind remind the client that …
Analyze analyze a process; analyze a text; analyze the problem
Summarize summarize a text; summarize an idea
Support I support the idea that all people are created equal
It would be incorrect to write the following:
The author persuades that …x
The writers convince that … x
The speaker expressed that …x
He analyzes that …x
She informs that … x
They described that …x
I support that … x