Incorporating Sources Into Your Research Paper

| Guidelines | Quoting | Paraphrasing | Summarizing | Using Too Much Source Material

When you sat down to take notes from your sources, you made some preliminary decisions on whether you would quote, paraphrase or summarize that material. When you sort through your notes, deciding which specific notes you'll use and how you'll use them once you begin writing your research project, you often decide to use the notes differently - for example, you may decided to summarize in an essay what you paraphrased in your notes, to use only a quotation you included in the midst of a summary, or not to use a particular quotation at all.

Guidelines on When to Quote, Paraphrase or Summarize:


  • wording that is so memorable or powerful, or expresses a point so perfectly, that you cannot change it without weakening the meaning.
  • authors' opinions you wish to emphasize
  • authors' words that show you are considering differing points of view
  • respected authorities whose opinions support your ideas
  • authors whose opinions challenge or vary greatly from those of others in the field


  • passages where the details, but not the exact words, are important to your point


  • long passages where the main point is important to the point you are making, but the details are not

**Note: Although quotations can add interest and authenticity to an essay, be careful not to overuse them: your research paper is primarily your own work, meant to showcase your ideas and your arguments.

Working with Quotations:

Brief quotations:

Short prose quotations should be included in with your text, but enclose them in quotation marks that show where someone else's words begin and end. Use both signal phrases and parenthetical references or notes when you include quotations or other source material, making sure to follow the requirements of the documentation style you are using. Signal phrases introduce the material, often including the author's name. Parenthetical references and notes direct your readers to full bibliographies entries included elsewhere in your text.

The following brief quotation follows MLA style:

In Miss Eckhart, Welty recognizes a character who shares her "the love of her art and the love of giving it, the desire to give it until there is no more left" (10).

In this example, the signal phrase that introduces the quotation (In Miss Eckhart, Welty recognizes) includes the author's name, so MLA style requires only the page number in parentheses.

Long quotations:

According to MLA style, set off a prose quotation longer than four lines (APA and Chicago style differ - the rule for APA is quotes 40 words or longer and the rule for Chicago is 5 or more lines). For information on how much to indent a block quote for each style, check out the Purdue OWL's Research and Citation Resources section. Introduce long quotations with a signal phrase or a sentence followed by a colon.

The following long quotation follows MLA style:

A good seating arrangement can prevent problems, however, "withitness" as defined by Woolfol, works even better:

Withitness is the ability to communicate to students that you are aware of what is happening in the classroom, that you "don't miss anything." With-it teachers seem to have "eyes in the back of their heads." They avoid becoming too absorbed with a few students, since this allows the rest of the class to wander. (358)

*Note that the parenthetical citation comes after the period at the end of the quotation and does not have a period after it.

Though long quotations are often necessary in research projects, use them cautiously. Too many of them make your writing seem choppy - or suggest that you have not relied enough on your own thinking.

Integrating quotations smoothly:

Carefully integrate quotations into your text so that they flow smoothly and clearly into the surrounding sentences. Use a signal phrase or signal verb, such as those underlined in the following examples:

As Eudora Welty notes, "learning stamps you with its moments. Childhood's learning," she continues, "is made up of moments. It isn't steady. It's a pulse" (9).

Some instructors claim that the new technology is a threat to the English language. "Abbreviations commonly used in online instant messages are creeping into formal essays that students write for credit, said Debbie Frost, who teaches language arts and social studies to sixth graders." ("Young Messagers," par 2)

Remember that the signal verb must be appropriate to the idea you are expressing. In the first example, the verb notes tells us that the writer probably agrees with what Welty is saying. If that were not the case, the writer might have chosen a different verb, such as asserts or contends. In the second example, the research paper author uses the signal phrase Some instructors claim to introduce the remarks by Frost. The verb claim tells readers that Frost's opinion is open to disagreement -- that other authorities might disagree with it or that the paper's author disagrees him/herself. If the research paper's author supported Frost's point, he/she might have used entirely different wording, such as Many instructors agree. Notice that these examples also use neutral signal verbs -- continues and said -- where appropriate. The signal verbs you choose allow you to characterize the author's viewpoint or perspective as well as your own, so choose them with care.

Signal Verbs


Indicating changes in quotations with square brackets and ellipses:

Sometimes you may wish to alter a direct quotation in some way -- to make a verb tense fit smoothly into your text, to replace a pronoun with a noun, to eliminate unnecessary detail, to change a capital letter to a lowercase or vice versa. Enclose any changed or added words or letters in square brackets, and indicate any deletions with ellipsis points. Do not use ellipses at the beginning or end of a quotation unless the last sentence as you cite it is incomplete.

Here is an example including the original passage and the essay author's note recording a quotation from it. Notice how he/she uses ellipses to mark omitted words and brackets to show additions and other changes.


Even terms that cannot be expressed verbally are making their way into papers. Melanie Weaver was stunned by some of the term papers she received fro a 10th-grade class she recently taught as part of an internship. "They would be trying to make a point in a paper; they would put a smiley face in the end," said Ms. Weaver, who teaches at Alvernia College in Reading, Pa. "If they were presenting an argument and they needed to present an opposite view, they would put a frown." -- Jennifer Lea, "I Think, Therefor IM"

Research Paper's author's note:

IM shortcuts in school assignments:

Lee: "I think." NY Times (web site)

[Speaker is Melanie Weaver, now prof. at Alvernia College, talking about her students when she taught tenth-grade English as an intern]

"[When t]hey sold be trying to make a point in a paper, they would put a smiley face in the end [:)]. . . . If they were presenting an argument and they needed to present an opposite view, they would put a frown [:(]."


Here are two examples of quotations that have been altered with bracketed information or ellipsis points and then integrated smoothly into the surrounding text.

"There is something wrong in the [Three Mile Island] area," one farmer told the Nuclear Regulatory Commission after the plant accident ("Legacy" 33).

The brackets indicate that this information was added by the writer and is not part of the original quotation.

Economist John Kenneth Galbraith pointed out that "large corporations cannot afford to compete with one another. . . In a truly competitive market someone loses " (qutd. in Key 17).

Whenever you change a quotation, be careful not to alter its meaning. In addition, use brackets and ellipses sparingly; too many of them make for difficult reading and might suggest that you have removed some of the context for the quotation.

Please note, these examples are in MLA style - see the Purdue OWL's Research and Citation Resources sections on APA and Chicago Style for information on making changes to quotations for those styles.)

Working with paraphrases:

Introduce paraphrases clearly in your text, usually with a signal phrase that includes the author of the source. Here are two passages -- an original excerpt from a book and a student's integrated paraphrase of it into her text.


Understanding genderlects makes it possible to change -- to try speaking differently -- when you want to. But even if no one changes, understanding genderlects improves relationships. Once people realize that their partners have different conversational styles, they are inclined to accept differences without blaming themselves, their partners, or their relationships. The biggest mistake is believing there is one right way to listen, to talk, to have a conversation -- or a relationship. Nothing hurts more than being told your intentions are bad when you know they are good, or being told you are doing something wrong when you know you're just doing it your way. -- Deborah Tannen, You Just Don't Understand: Women and Men in Conversation (298)

Paraphrase Integrated into Research Paper:

One observer of the battle of the sexes, linguistics professor Deborah Tannen, is trying to arrange a cease-fire. Tannen illustrates how communication between women and men breaks down and then suggests that an awareness of what she calls "genderlects" can help all speakers realize that there are many ways to communicate with others and that these differing styles of communication have their own validity. Understanding this crucial point can keep speakers from accusing each other of communicating poorly when they are in fact communicating differently (298).

In the preceding passage, notice how the student writer brings authority to the point she makes in the first sentence. She introduces the author by name and title and then paraphrases her work. Note also that a page number is included in parentheses at the end of the paraphrase.

In the following paraphrase, the research paper author introduces an authoritative source for his information -- the College Board -- and then identifies the authors of the College Board report in parentheses:

The fact remains, however, that youth literacy seems to be declining. What, if not IMing, is the main cause of this phenomenon? According to the College Board, which collects data on several questions, from its test takers, enrollment in English composition and grammar classes has decreased in the last decade by 14 percent (Carnahan and Coletti 11).

Working with summaries:

Summaries, too, need to be carefully integrated into your text. Indicate the source of a summary, including the author's name and the page number, if any. Here is how the research paper author might have integrated his/her summary of the passage from David Crystal's Language Plus

David Crystal, an internationally recognized scholar of linguistics at the University of Wales, argues that various kinds of language play contribute to awareness of how language works and to literacy (180).

Note that in this hypothetical example, the research paper writer introduces his/her source (Crystal), establishes the source's expertise by identifying him as a recognized scholar in the field of linguistics, and uses the signal verb argues to characterize Crystal's passage as making a case, not simply offering information. The research paper author also includes the page number in the parentheses for the passage he/she has summarized.

Whenever you include summaries, paraphrases, or quotations in your own writing, it is critically important that you identify the sources of the material; even unintentional failure to cite material that you drew from other sources constitutes plagiarism. Be especially careful with paraphrases and summaries, where there are no quotation marks to remind you that the material is not your own.

Check If You're Using Too Much Source Material:

Your text needs to synthesize your research in support of your own argument; it should not be a pathwork of quotations, paraphrases, and summaries from other people. You need a rhetorical stance that represents you as the author. If you cite too many sources, your own voice will disappear, a a problem the following passage demonstrates:

The United States is one of the countries with the most rapid population growth. In fact, rapid population increase has been a "prominent feature of American life since the founding of the republic" (Day 31). In the past, the cause of the high rate of population growth was the combination of large-scale immigration and a high birth rate. As Day notes, "Two facts standout in the demographic history of the United States: first, the single position as a receiver of immigrants; second, our high rate of growth from natural increase" (31).

Nevertheless, American population density is not as high as in most European countries. Day points out that the Netherlands, with a density of 906 persons per square mile, is more crowded than even the most densely populated American states (33).

Most readers will think that the source, Day is much too prominent here and that the author of the essay is only secondary. Using three different sources rather than one in this short passage would also overwhelm the writer's voice.

(Lecture and examples taken from the St. Martin's Handbook, 6th edition, Andrea Lunsford, 2009)

How do I incorporate academic sources into my paper?

Return to Student Resources

Sources are an important part of any paper.

Whether you are referencing a primary text from your class or a secondary text that supports your argument, sources lend credibility to your ideas and give your reader the impression that you are trustworthy; knowledgeable; and experienced when it comes to your topic. There are a variety of ways to include sources in your paper:


Involves selecting a brief excerpt from a source in order to enhance your own argument.

  • When quoting, you may not insert words to alter the meaning of the quote or take the quote out of its original context, and you must properly credit the source in your paper and provide a full citation at the end of your work.
  • If you make a slight alteration to a quote in order to ensure that it is grammatically coherent with your overall sentence, you must offset anychange with the use of brackets [ ], and if you skip over any part of a quote, you must note it with an ellipsis ( . . . ) so the reader knows you made an adjustment.


Involves the detailed explanation of a source's ideas in your own words.

  • Successful paraphrasing means using your own words to convey an idea and presenting that idea with a sentence structure that is your own, not the author's.  In addition, you must still cite the author and the pages you are paraphrasing.


Involves a concise account of an author's overall claims.

  • This integration of a source is meant to demonstrate you are familiar with an author's central ideas. Again, summarizing requires an acknowledgment of an author's name and work but might not require a page number if it is addressing a writer's ideas at large.

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