Skip to main content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

Academic Writing and Referencing Style: Make Your Sources Speak

Stratgies for Making Your Sources Speak

In source-based or synthesis writing, we try to not only express our ideas using our own voice, but to also express our ideas through the voices of those we are citing. In their book Wriiting Analytically, Rosenwasser and Stephen offer six strategies to use in researched writing to make our sources speak, to make them come alive.

Here are some typical problems we encounter when using primary and secondary sources:

     - Leaving quotations and paraphrases to speak for themselves

     - Not differentiating your own voice from the voices of your sources (ventriloquizing)

     - Resorting to overly agreeing and disagreeing as your only means of responding to a source (other than summary)

Primary and secondary sources are nothing to fear. Many times we either leave sources to speak for themselves or ignore them altogether because we are afraid of losing our own voices. These strategies, listed below, are designed to help us know when and how to use quotes, and how not to become lost in the process.

Strategy 1: Make Your Sources Speak

v Quote, paraphrase, or summarize in order to analyze, as opposed to in place of analyzing.  Don’t assume that the meaning of your source material is self-evident.  Instead, explain to your readers what the quote, paraphrase, or summary means.  For example, what aspects do you find interesting or strange?  And relate these aspects to your overall thesis.   Your focus here in analysis should be on how the source leads you to your conclusion – beware of generalizing or putting two quotes next to each other without explaining the connection.

Using Strategy #1How are you using your sources?  Are you taking the time to develop points from your sources, or are you just using evidence – and is it clear why you are using it?  Highlight/bracket analysis, mark in a different color where analysis is not present immediately following source.  


Strategy 2: Use Your Sources to Ask Questions, Not Just to Provide Answers

v Use your selections from your sources as a means to raise issues and questions; avoid the temptation to use selections that provide answers without any commentary or further elaboration.  If you feel stuck with this, consider the source alongside other contexts (other sources, for example) and compare and contrast them to see if there are aspects of your topic that your source does not adequately address.

Using Strategy #2: Again, ask: how are you using your sources as question generators?  What how/why questions do your sources generate?  Look over the evidence you’ve used, and jot down the how/why questions you think your evidence creates.  Next, go through your paper.  Do you see yourself addressing these questions?  Mark your analysis appropriately so you can see how you’re addressing these questions (or not).  


Strategy 3: Put Your Sources in Conversation with One Another

v This is an extension of strategy 2.  Rather than limiting yourself to the only conversationalist with each source, aim for conversation among them.  Although it is not wrong to agree or disagree with your sources, it is wrong to see these as your only possible moves.  You should also understand that although it is sometimes useful and perhaps even necessary to agree or disagree, these judgments should 1) always be qualified and 2) occur only in certain contexts.  Instead of looking just at how you agree or disagree, try to imagine what these critics might say to one another.  Looking at sources in this way may prove useful as you explore your topics further in depth.

Using Strategy #3:

    This is a way for your sources to address one another directly, while also giving you more room to expand on your ideas through a slightly different form of analysis.  For example: what might the person you interviewed think about the secondary sources you found?  Would they agree with the claims you see your sources making, or would they disagree?  Why – what about their interview suggests this?  Make a list of possible dialogues your sources could have with one another.  

Strategy 4: Find Your Own Role in the Conversation

v Even though it’s important to not be the only person in the essay agreeing and disagreeing with the texts, it is important that you establish what you think and feel about each source.  After all, something compelled you to choose it, right?  In general, you have two options when you are in agreement with a source.  You can apply it in another context to qualify or expand its implications, or you can seek out other perspectives in order to break the hold it has on you.  In the first option, to do this, instead of focusing on the most important point, choose a lesser yet equally interesting point and work on developing that idea to see if it holds relevance to your topic.  The second option can also hold new perspectives if you allow yourself to be open to the possibilities of other perspectives that may or may not agree with your original source.

Using Strategy #4: While it’s important that you create a distinct voice for all the different kinds of sources you’ve used (interview, fieldwork, scholarly journals/books, etc.), it’s perhaps even more important that you have a clear role in this conversation that is your research essay.  Look over your paper: is it clear what you think?  Is it clear what is your voice, and what are the ideas/opinions of your sources? (Hint: your voice should still be clear in the midst of your sources, if you are taking the time to analyze them and develop your analysis as fully as possible.)  Highlight places where you voice – what you think – is clear.  Highlight in a different color places where your voice is unclear, or needs to be expressed more fully.


Strategy 5: Supply Ongoing Analysis of Sources (Don’t Wait Until the End)

v Instead of summarizing everything first and then leaving your analysis until the end, analyze as you quote or paraphrase a source.  This will help yield good conversation, by integrating your analysis of your sources into your presentation of them.

Using Strategy #5:

Are your sources presented throughout the paper with careful analysis attending to each one?  Or are you presenting all your sources first, and analyzing them later?  Look through your paper, and mark places where you see yourself not analyzing your sources as you go.  Also: are there places where you see too much analysis, and not enough evidence?  Be sure to mark those places as well.  


Strategy 6: Attend Carefully to the Language of Your Sources by Quoting or Paraphrasing Them

v Rather than generalizing broadly about the ideas in your sources, you should spell out what you think is significant about their key words.  Quote sources if the actual language they use is important to your point; this practice will help you to present the view of your source fairly and accurately.  Your analysis will also benefit from the way the source represents its position (which may or may not be your position) with carefully chosen words and phrases.  Take advantage of this, and use the exact language to discuss the relevance (or not) of the quote to the issue you’re using it for.

Using Strategy #6: When paraphrasing or quoting a source, it’s important that you use the language of the source to help explain it – it keeps the reader in the moment with you, and helps him/her understand the key terms of that source – why you chose, why these words are so important, etc.  Look over your evidence, both quoted and paraphrased: are you using the language of the quote to help explain it?  Or is your analysis removed from the “moment of the source” (i.e. the language which the source uses to illustrate its point)?  Mark places where you think it’s important to use the language of the source to help analyze and develop the evidence more completely.