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Composition & Rhetoric


Using Sources

In order to create a successful essay, you must know how to use outside sources effectively. Selecting sources is the first challenge. Equally important, however, is knowing how to draw from those sources to enhance and support your argument.


Evaluating Sources

  • When judging the validity, usefulness, or relevance of a source, especially an Internet source, ask yourself these questions:

    • Who is the author? If the author is an institution, is it widely known? Respectable?

    • When was it published? Is the information still relevant?

    • Are there typos, instances of blatant misinformation, or sections that are poorly written?

    • Is the author connected to a specific political group, religion, or organization?

    • Is the source endorsed or recommended by a university, known authority, or respected publication?

  • Remember: Don’t believe everything you read. It’s your responsibility to pick good sources.


Direct Quotations

  • Adding other’s voices to your own can make your argument more convincing. However, you should consider carefully in each instance whether to quote directly or paraphrase.

  • Use a direct quote when:

    • The language of the speaker or writer is unique and vivid.

    • Exact wording is necessary to maintain technical accuracy. Paraphrasing may sometimes introduce confusion.

    • The voice or exact words of the original writer or speaker are important (e.g., a debate).

    • The speaker or writer is an important authority. Sometimes, a direct quote from an authority figure can add weight and authority to your argument.

    • Discussing language itself, as in poetry or literature. Paraphrasing is illogical when you’re analyzing the original language of a text.


Paraphrasing and Plagiarism

  • You paraphrase whenever you put a source’s ideas into your own words. However, if you fail to use citations to indicate which ideas you got from someone else, you are effectively claiming those ideas as your own, whether you intend to or not. Stealing an idea in this manner is called plagiarism, which is a serious academic offense that can result in failure, even expulsion

  • Plagiarism includes, but is not limited to:

    • Failing to cite ideas, expressions, or paraphrases that aren’t your own

    • Copying phrases, sentences, or paragraphs verbatim without citing the source

    • Simply replacing a source’s original words with synonyms

    • Copying or mimicking a source’s sentence structure

    • Submitting essays or parts of essays written by others as your own

    • Structuring an essay in a similar way without crediting the original author (if the ideas you use and conclusion you reach are similar)

  • For example, look at the following sentence from the SparkNote on The Grapes of Wrath: Rose of Sharon’s capacity to sustain life, paired with her suffering and grief for her dead child, likens her to the Virgin Mary and suggests that there is hope to be found even in the bleakest of circumstances.

    • Paraphrase: One writer compares Rose of Sharon to the Virgin Mary because both women lost children but continue to offer hope to others.

    • Plagiarism: Since Rose of Sharon keeps giving life, and since she is upset about her stillborn baby, she is similar to the Virgin Mary. This similarity suggests that hope can always be found no matter what.


Things to Remember When Using Sources

  • Use signal phrases to introduce a quotation. That is, don’t put a quote into the text that doesn’t begin with a brief introduction such as As one critic notes . . .

  • Use ellipses and brackets to indicate deviations from an original source.

  • Use block quotes when quoting more than four lines of text.

  • Any source that appears in your essay must appear in the works cited list at the end of your paper, and vice versa. Your readers may want to pursue additional reading, and they should be able to find the resource easily.

  • You must give a citation when you quote from a source, when you summarize or paraphrase a source, or when you borrow facts and ideas that are not common knowledge. If you don’t cite in these cases, you’re plagiarizing.