Skip to main content

Navigating the Research Process

Incorporating Sources

Now that you have found, read through, and evaluated the sources you need for your research assignment, it's time to put it all together. A lot of times this will mean writing a paper, but it could be something else depending on the prompt you were given. Hopefully, you had this in mind since the beginning!

One of the biggest problems students seem to have when working on a research paper is knowing how to incorporate the different resources into their writing. There is the question of direct quotations, summarizing, and paraphrasing, along with other, more grammatical questions, which are things the JLC Writing Center can help you with more thoroughly. 

Right now we're talking about purpose and that is something that can be difficult to remember after trudging along in the research process. 

The best piece of advice we can give you is this:

Each source you use in a paper should be there for a reason. Your reader should not have to guess what that reason is. 

Often, the "reader" is your professor, but you don't want him or her to guess either.

When you use sources in a paper, remember that the main focus of your paper should always be on what you are saying. Sources should always be discussed in relation to your own argument. In order to make the strongest argument you can, you should try to strike a balance between your sources and your own voice.

Remember that your paper is yours and you don't want it to be overwhelmed by someone else's voice (source material). 


Direct quotes, summarizing, paraphrasing

There are several ways to actually incorporate sources into your paper. The way you do so depends on various factors, including the discipline or subject about which you are writing and how you want to represent the source itself.

  • Direct quotes are verbatim, meaning you are copying something word for word into your own paper. You use direct quotes because you don't want to lose any of the original author's words or intentions and you plan on discussing this language or the author's point of view. 
  • Paraphrasing can be tricky. You are restating what the author said but using your own words and you want to be accurate. You don't want to put words into the author's mouth. A paraphrase is not going to be shorter than the original quote or idea, and you will want to provide the same level of detail. 
  • Summarizing is when you distil down the author's key points. Summaries can be longer but often are much shorter than the original source. You don't want to go too crazy with summarizing your sources, though. Make sure you keep in mind the purpose of the source in your research and more specifically in the part of your paper you are wanting to put it in. 

This was a very quick overview on how to incorporate sources into your paper. Please visit the Writing Center to get even more awesome help!

For more information, check out The Nuts and Bolts of Integrating.

Citations, part II

Citations. The biggest time suck of research but so very important.

Why?

It may be hard to imagine, but through your research for a class you are participating in a wider conversation. Even if your paper is only ever read by your professor, you have put your two cents into the mix. 

  • Citations allow you to give credit where it is due. Look at all the work you put into your research. Would you appreciate someone using it without acknowledging that work?
  • Citations also allow your reader to see where they can read more about the topic. Maybe your paper inspires them to jump into the conversation too. 

Citations and plagiarism are not limited to the academic world. Let's take a real world example to help illustrate the issues revolving around the concept of giving credit where credit is due. 

Read the following article from the Washington Post: 'Remix' or plagiarism: Artists battle over a Chicago mural of Michelle Obama

Image source: http://www.cnn.com/2017/04/25/us/michelle-obama-mural-chicago-trnd/index.html

The question of plagiarism in art and music is quite complex, but you can see how much of an effect it has on the creators involved. How would you feel if you were in Mesfin's shoes? Does Devins' claim that he just was not able to find the original artist of the piece he found on Pinterest excuse him? 

In academic writing, it can be easy to make the same mistakes. Even accidental plagiarism is wrong, because there is really no excuse. There are so many resources on campus to help you be a responsible participant in the scholarly conversation. Talk to your professor, the Writing Center and come to the library for help!


Back in About Sources we suggested to you that you start using something like Easy Bib or Zotero to help you keep track of your sources and citations. If you took our advice, you're well on your way to creating a Works Cited, References, or Bibliography page as well as incorporating citations into your paper or project. 

If you did not do this at the beginning of your research, all is not lost! You can still totally use these citation tools. You can also create your citations from scratch, but leave yourself some time to do this. Citations are a pain to put together and formulate. That might make you think you can just wing it or even forget about it, but trust us, DON'T.

Style

There are many different citation styles and each one is relevant to a specific subject or discipline. Each one also has its own set of rules and guidelines. The most common styles are: MLA, APA and Chicago. 

Pro tip: Nearly all of our databases have tools that automatically generate citations for you in the style you need. All you need to do it copy and paste, and then do a quick check to see if everything looks right. Check out our Citation Style Guides to help you double-check your citations!