Probably the most difficult challenge during ENGL 122 will be how effectively you integrate your research into your paper. The challenge is real because you have to guard against your sources manipulating you. Your paper is just that: YOUR paper. While you research, the voices of the experts can be intimidating and can work to make you forget that the reason why you’re researching is to get outside opinions or information that will support your ideas. Your need to remind yourself throughout the research process that you need to be in command of your sources because they are working for you; you are, in a sense, in a position to manipulate them, not the other way around.

What Quotes to Use

Before taking on the task of using your sources in your paper, you must choose which citations you want working for you. An important point to keep in mind is that what quotes you decide to use is as important as HOW you use them. As Don Kraemer, a respected scholar on writing, says,

Citing your Aunt Judy or Tracy Chapman probably isn’t going to count for much in anyone’s academic discourse, but…just citing James Kinneavy won’t necessarily count for much either. What counts is why Kinneavy’s words are telling or how Aunt Judy’s words can critically recontextualize the academic discussion underway (556).

Kraemer’s point is that Kinneavy, as an established published expert, will carry much more weight than personal or pop-culture “experts.” That’s not to say that family, friends, and favorite musicians cannot be “good” sources; they can, but it will require more work on your part to make what you are quoting from them sound legitimate or “count” as Kraemer says. You will need to explain WHY that quote from Aunt Judy is relevant or important or how what Jay-Z or Lebron James has to say is significant. That’s not necessarily required when quoting someone from a respected and reliable newspaper journal, or magazine. But what is required is that you don’t let your “experts” stand on their own merit. Even if it is a knock your “socks off quote,” a quote that seems to “say it all” in exactly the way you want to say it, what’s more important is that you step in as the “writer in control” to explain WHY the quote is so important or WHY it is so essential to YOUR argument. Again, as the writer of your paper, you must maintain control of it by manipulating your sources and not letting them manipulate you.

(Kraemer’s quote above is taken from “Abstracting the Bodies of/in Academic Discourse in Rhetoric 10.1 (1991): 52-69.

Paraphrasing or Direct Quotation

Another challenge is making the decision to quote someone in your own words (summarizing or paraphrasing or indirect quotation) or word for word (direct quotation). Most ENGL 122 instructors use Joseph F. Trimmer’s A Guide to MLA Documentation, eighth edition, as a class reference text. If this is your text, refer to pages 23-25 (make sure you have the eighth edition or these pages will not match up) for a crisp and concise display of using direct quotation, summarizing, and paraphrasing. What is very helpful about Trimmer’s instruction and examples is that he uses the same passage by Toni Morrison (see page 24 for the full quote and get its meaning into your head so you can appreciate how it is used in each citation form). By doing so, reader’s get a complete picture of the variety of ways a passage from a text can be worked into their own texts.

Now, what goes into the decision to use indirect or direct quotation? Let’s face it folks … variety IS the spice of life. The more you can show off the many ways you know how to quote the better your paper will be received and the less mundane it will appear.

Another consideration for your decision might be style. On the whole (watch out … big generalization coming), academic writing encourages paraphrasing anything that is merely statement or fact and direct quotation of something that is someone’s opinion or point of view.

For instance, look at these two sentences from a student’s paper on sex education:

According to the Sex Education Information Council, 45 states last year required or recommended sex education, and 47 states required or recommended AIDS education (Sidney 40). Former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop said, “There is no doubt that we need sex education in schools and that it must include information on heterosexual and homosexual relationships.”

In this brief excerpt, the first sentence presents two bits of factual information in the form of statistics. Since these are merely facts (albeit important facts), the student has wisely chosen to write the sentence in her own words. The second sentence, however, is different. There, an opinion is being expressed by someone who has an informed point of view on the subject. As Surgeon General, Dr. Koop’s words carry great weight and may be considered quite persuasive the student has quoted him directly.

Proper Documentation of Sources

The Modern Language Association (MLA) is THE institution of humanities disciplines that decides proper form and style for documenting sources within your paper and in your Works Cited. Just like traffic rules, the MLA’s rules help to keep us abiding by the same “laws” for unity and avoiding violations by keeping on top of the most convenient and least redundant ways to present research documentation. Since the regulations change sometimes often rapidly (especially regarding citing web site sources) the best place to go for accuracy, consistency, and current status for documenting sources for parenthetical citation and in your Works Cited is to the horse’s mouth.

The University of Purdue’s online writing lab (OWL) has a webpage dedicated to properly documentating sources using MLA format. It can help you to properly handle quotes in your writing and when creating your Works Cited. Click below to get there.

Using MLA Format