Guided Tour Step Nine: Checking Your Use of Research

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Checking Your Use of Research

If you've done a good job of finding a variety of strong sources and you've incorporated them into your paper through an effective organization, you'll still want to examine the individual instances in which you've used thoughts from outside sources within your own argument. Consider the following:

1. My paper uses quotes, paraphrases, and summaries effectively and is no more than 1/3 quotes.

2. My quotes, paraphrases, and summaries of outside sources are introduced and/or followed by my own sentences that explain my use of the sources.

3. My in-text citations are clear and correct.

4. I have correctly written my "Works Cited" or "Bibliography" page(s).

5. I have not used anyone else’s words or ideas without giving them credit. (I have not plagiarized.)


1. Quotes, Paraphrases, and Summaries: What They Are and How to Use Them


What is "quoting"?
Quoting a source brings the exact words of the source into your paper and encloses them in quotation marks.

When should I use a quote?
Though there are many reasons you might want to use direct quotes in your essay, in most instances you should use them to:

  • Argue with and/or extend an argument – use a direct quote when you have already laid out an argument but need an outside voice to push against or to help you take the argument to a new place.
  • Lend authoritative support to your own argument – use a direct quote when you want to bolster your claim with the aid of an authoritative voice. Bringing in the voices of experts to corroborate your claims shows that your claim is sound and can be trusted.
  • Add eloquence or power – use an eloquent or powerful direct quote when you need to paint a vivid picture, make a lucid point, or provide stunning punctuation to an idea.

Whatever the reason you choose to use a direct quote, it should be distinctive enough that it would lose something essential if it was paraphrased or summarized.

What should I keep in mind when I use quotes in my essay?
Because quotes highlight outside voices, they should be used sparingly to prevent your voice from getting lost. Ideally, your essay should never consist of more than 1/3 quotes. Beware, too, of exceedingly long quotations. In general, try to keep your direct quotes to 3 or fewer lines of text at a time. If your quote exceeds three lines, you will need to block it – that is, you will need to set it off from the flow of the main text by indenting the entire quote 1 inch (or ten spaces). Use blocked quotes only when you must.


What is “paraphrasing”?
Paraphrasing is restating a source's ideas in your own words. Paraphrased material tends to be roughly the same length as the passage being paraphrased and does not use quotation marks.

When should I use a paraphrase?
Paraphrase a source when a good chunk of information is needed, but you want to limit your quotes and maintain your own voice in the essay. 

What does a paraphrase look like?
Compare the original and paraphrased passages below:

Original Passage:

Once the food industry saw there was a profit to be made,'organic' stopped being a guarantee of attention to flavor or individual care.   --Corby Kummer’s “Back to Grass.

Paraphrased Passage:

Unfortunately, when big business realized how much interest was developing in "organic" beef, the emphasis turned away from health and reverted back to making a profit (123).

The paraphrased passage contains none of the exact language of the original passage, yet manages to convey the same information in roughly the same space and maintains the writer’s own voice.

How do I make sure I’m not plagiarizing when I paraphrase a source?
Even though the language in a paraphrase may be your own, you should take special care to ensure that the style of the paraphrase is also your own.  In other words, do not attempt to simply reproduce the original passage by plugging different words into an existing framework.  For example, notice how the passage below bears too similar a resemblance to the original passage:

Original Passage:

Whatever the current troubles of McDonald's and other burger purveyors, beef remains America's most popular meat.

Faulty Paraphrase:

Despite the recent problems of McDonald’s and other fast-food sellers, beef is still America's favorite meat.

To avoid a faulty paraphrase which veers too close to plagiarism, try reading through the passage twice, setting it aside so it is completely out of your line of vision, and writing it in your own words as if you were explaining it to a friend. You might also try this same strategy by first explaining the information to yourself verbally before you write it down. In either case, do not look at the original passage when you are trying to paraphrase it, no matter how tempting it might be to do so.


What is "summarizing"?
Summarizing is condensing a source's main ideas into your own words. Summarized material is shorter than the passage being summarized and does not use quotation marks. 

When should I use summary?
Summarize a source when readers need to know the essential details, but not all the details. 

What does a summary look like?
Compare the original with the summarized passage below:

Original Passage:

Whatever the current troubles of McDonald's and other burger purveyors, beef remains America's most popular meat. Many meat lovers…have decided to go organic—a choice always to be applauded, for the benefits that chemical-free farming brings to the environment and the health of farm workers, and a choice made easier by the adoption last October of a national organic standard. But organic, vexingly, will not necessarily satisfy people who care about flavor and freshness. Once the food industry saw there was a profit to be made, "organic" stopped being a guarantee of attention to flavor or individual care.  --Corby Kummer's "Back to Grass."

Summarized Passage:

In his essay, "Back to Grass," Corby Kummer comments on the demise of the organic beef ranching industry, painting a picture of how organic farming has been corrupted by the never-ending search for profit (123).


2. Introducing and Following Up On Quotes, Paraphrases, and Summaries: The "Quote Sandwich"

What does it mean, this “Quote Sandwich” of which you speak?

In your essay, your words directly preceding and following your source’s serve to show the source’s purpose. Here at the Writing Center we call this the Quote Sandwich, because each quote (and often paraphrases and summaries, too) should be sandwiched between your introduction and interpretation of the quote.  Sources don’t speak for themselves; it is up to you, the writer, to clarify for your audience why you have included a source and how it strengthens your thesis.

What does it look like to “introduce, interpret and contextualize” a source?

Consider how this student writer introduces, contextualizes and interprets ideas from a source to strengthen his essay:

However, Psychologist Thomas Brown, who avidly supports Ritalin use, puts it this way:

“…there is research evidence supporting the idea that a structured program of consistent behavior modification can be affective in getting most young children, including many with ADHD, to refrain from being disruptive in classrooms and at home. But it is difficult to see how even the best behavioral treatment program can modify an individual’s impairment of ADD syndrome […].” (248-249).

This student tells us first who is talking  (Thomas Brown) who Brown is and why we should listen to him (because he’s a psychologist) and his position/context in the discussion (he’s an avid supporter of Ritalin use).

But the student doesn’t just let the quote speak for itself.  He goes on to tell us what we’re supposed to understand from Brown’s quote, and then he argues with it, points out the flaws in the Brown’s point of view, and uses Brown’s ideas to extend his own argument:

Here’s the student again:

Simply put, Brown is suggesting that the outward behavior is improved, but the actual inward cognitive ability to retain information still lacks with such treatment programs. He goes on to describe how Ritalin (and other ADHD drugs) is a tool that allows children to be put in a more teachable mode. With medication, children can sustain focus, which in turn, gives teachers and parents the opportunity to teach. Children can then “…use their learning in ways that were never possible for them while their ADD symptoms were untreated [with medication]” (248).

Brown suggests that it is best to use a combination of both drugs and alternative treatment. In fact, his claims tend to point out that a strictly non-medication approach, actually allows parents and doctors to shape children into a forced social mold. On the contrary, it is for this very reason that I oppose seemingly hasty diagnoses and over-use of psychotropic drugs.

Material that has be introduced, interpreted, and contextualized has greater clarity for readers, and serves as stronger support for a writer's argument.


3. Giving Credit Inside the Paper (In-Text Citations)

What is an in-text citation?

An in-text citation gives the reader enough information within the essay to find the full source citation in the list of works cited at the end of the essay.  Use in-text citations for all quotes, paraphrases and summaries. 

What information do I need for an in-text citation?

In-text citations always require a parenthetical citation – that is, information contained in parentheses at the end of a sentence or passage obtained from a source. In-text citations often need a signal phrase as well.  On the most basic level, if the author is named in a signal phrase, the parenthetical citation does not need to include her name.  In contrast, if the author is not named in the signal phrase, her name should be included in the parenthetical citation.  Compare the following passages:

In-text citation with signal phrase:

In his essay, “Back to Grass,” Corby Kummer comments on the demise of the organic beef ranching industry, painting a picture of how organic farming has been corrupted by the never-ending search for profit (123).

In-text citation without signal phrase:

As experts make clear, the organic beef ranching industry, as well as other organic farming ventures, have been corrupted by the never-ending search for profit (Kummer 123).

Why are there differences between APA and MLA styles for in-text citations?

APA, or the American Psychological Association has different citation rules than does the MLA, or Modern Language Association. These rules may seem random, but they are actually meant to help readers and researchers quickly find the most important information about a source that they will need in their field of study. 

What does an APA in-text citation look like and why does it look this way?

Because APA is used in the sciences, which rely on scientific studies as source material, the most important information a reader will need to know is who authored study and the date it was conducted.  These are important issues in the sciences because subsequent studies and theories – including yours – change often and rely on the accumulated information from previous studies.  As a result, in-text citations for APA format favor the author and date.  Below is an example of an in-text citation in APA format:

Schuller (2005) found that children who watched more than five hours of television a day before the age of three were twice as likely to show signs of ADD and ADHD in their adolescent and teen years, a finding that “places serious health burdens on the television industry” (26).

Notice that the passage gives precedence to the author and date of the study by locating them at the beginning of the passage in the signal phrase.  The page number is not as important, but because the passage includes a direct quote, the page number is included parenthetically.

What does an MLA in-text citation look like and why does it look this way?

As you might imagine, publishing dates matter less to folks working in fields such as Literature, Art, or Philosophy.  What matters more to readers, writers and researchers in these fields are ideas and arguments about pieces of art, works of literature, or patterns of thought. As a result, MLA in-text citations highlight author’s names and page numbers.  Below is an example of an in-text citation in MLA format:

Though Pauline Kael found Julie Andrews to be “annoyingly fresh-faced” in her exuberant performance as Maria in The Sound of Music, it is, in fact, this cherubic, scrubbed-clean quality that gives the film its contagious power (36).

Aren’t there more rules about how to cite sources in the text than you’ve shown me here?

Yes. Problems always arise in the citation process (i.e. what to do if there are multiple authors, how to cite web sources with no author, what to do if there are no page numbers, etc.), but solutions to those problems do exist. Make sure you consult a writing handbook or style manual when you cite sources.

4. Giving Credit at the End (The List of Works Cited)

What is a list of works cited?

At the end of an essay that includes sources, you should always have a separate sheet (or sheets) of paper with a list of the sources you cited within the essay. 

What should I include in my list of works cited?

You should consult many more sources than you end up quoting, paraphrasing or summarizing, but on your works cited pages, list only those sources you actually ended up using in the essay. Both APA and MLA require the same information in an entry, but it will be in a different order according to which style you use. Make sure to include the following relevant information in your entries, but please consult a style manual or writing handbook in order to put the information in the correct order:

  1. The last name of the author of the essay, book, or web document should appear first in the entry
  2. date of publication
  3. titles (i.e. of essay, journal, web site, and/or book)
  4. publication location
  5. page numbers for articles and essays
  6. For web documents you will also need to include the date you accessed the information and the URL. 

How should I format my list of works cited?

As with in-text citations, in the list of works cited it matters which citation style you use.  However, both APA and MLA styles adhere to a few of the same basic rules:

  • Center the title of the page at the top – for MLA it is called Works Cited; for APA, it is called References
  • Entries should be alphabetized according to the last name of the author.  If there is no author, alphabetize according to the first word of the title of the essay, book or web site.
  • For entries that exceed one line, indent all subsequent lines so that only the last name of the author hangs out at the left margin.
  • Keep your list of works cited double spaced with no extra spaces between entries
  • Do not number your entries

What does a list of works cited look like when it’s all put together?

See a short example below, in MLA format:

Works Cited

Abbot, James D. “Pinning Down a Cloud: Solving the Problem of Maria.” Film Talk 11.4 (2002): 245-267.

DeVane, Jessica. American Musicals of the Sixties. New York: Harcourt, 1995.

Kael, Pauline. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. London: Little, Brown. 1968.

Patterson, Jeremy. “Art That Puts a Shine on War.” Looking Lives 42.5 (1999): 92-102. 7 Feb. 2008 <>.

5. Plagiarism

What is plagiarism?

Plagiarism is the use of someone else’s words or ideas without properly attributing them to their original source. Acknowledging the original source when borrowing ideas or words from others is called “citing sources.” Whether you work with sources or not, you should be aware of the following forms of plagiarism, all of which carry serious consequences in academic and professional settings:

  • Quoting, paraphrasing or summarizing without giving the author credit.
  • Copying word for word whole pieces of writing and passing them off as your own.
  • Mixing your own writing with segments of word for word copying that is unquoted and uncited.  This is known as Mosaic Plagiarism.
  • Having another person, such as a friend or family member, write a paper for which you claim credit.
  • Turning in a paper for an assignment in one class that was originally written for a different class.  It is possible to do this, but you must first obtain the consent of both instructors; otherwise it is considered plagiarism.

What is considered “common knowledge” and should it be cited?

When a piece of information is considered common knowledge it does not need to be cited. However, it’s not always easy to determine what common knowledge actually is. Especially in the areas of history and science, there is a wide range of facts that could be considered common knowledge. “George Washington was the first president of the United States of America” is common knowledge. If, however, you read somewhere that Washington’s favorite writer was William Shakespeare, this idea would need to be cited. Similarly, in science, a statement such as, “Hydrogen is an element which, combined with two molecules of oxygen, produces water,” is common knowledge, but if you were discussing postulations about hydrogen that you found in someone else’s research, you would need to cite the information. When in doubt, use citation.

What if I don’t know I’m plagiarizing?

Not all plagiarism is an intentional act of direct copying.  Quite often, it is an unintentional mistake. Differing cultural norms for composition can sometimes account for unintentional plagiarism. Different cultures have different ideas about the proper documentation of sources. In any culture, people sometimes assume that ideas concerning intellectual property are world-wide, when, in fact, attitudes about using source material vary widely. Rigidly upheld notions of plagiarism are actually new even in Western culture and only began to blossom with the invention of the printing press a few hundred years ago. Western ideas about intellectual property are already changing as a result of information disseminated via the Internet. Even in light of these varied norms, plagiarism is still considered a serious offense.

What do instructors know?

Plagiarism is generally extremely easy for instructors to spot. Instructors develop a sense of their student’s written voices, and when plagiarism is attempted – whether intentionally or not – it is easy to see the difference between the writer’s own voice and the voice of copied material. If instructors suspect a case of plagiarism, they can turn to the Internet, which has equipped instructors with highly effective tools for discovering plagiarism. Do not assume that your instructor will not notice your plagiarized material.

What are the consequences of plagiarism?

The Western perspective is that plagiarism is no different than stealing. Each institution has its own protocol for dealing with cases of plagiarism, so it is in your best interest to familiarize yourself with the plagiarism rules at your university. PSU dictates its policy on plagiarism and academic dishonesty in the student code of conduct. Generally, cases of plagiarism can be expected to result in anything from a failing grade to academic suspension. A scholar accused of plagiarism may lose his or her job and will certainly lose the respect of other scholars in the community. In short, it is not acceptable to remain ignorant of the possibility of plagiarism in your own writing or to attempt to consciously deceive your reader about the source of your material – it is simply not worth it.