How do I Use Sources in an Essay?

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Answered by: Allison, An Expert in the Writing Quality Essays Category
Using and citing sources is one of the most important components of writing an essay. More often than not, an essay can be strengthened by others' words "backing up" what you have to say with their own research, opinion, or conclusion. Once the research is done, however, how do you implement your sources into your essay?

Regardless of what you're writing, outside sources can offer a sense of legitimacy to your essay. Using sources requires a balance, though. You definitely don't want to use too much of your sources, nor do you want to use too little. Finding that balance means that your voice is the loudest voice in your essay. Sources are only there for support, and they shouldn't lead the entire essay. If you find that you're using quotes every few sentences, then the source is speaking louder than the writer.

A good way to find that balance is to explain why you're using that source. Say, for example, you're writing an essay on Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, and you're consulting a literary academic article. Why have you chosen that article? What specific quote stood out for you, and why do you plan on using it? Once you have found a quote to use, connect the dots for your reader. Use techniques such as reiterating what the quote is saying in your own words (paraphrasing), connecting it with the "point" you may be trying to make, and concluding with the importance of the relationship between the quote and your own thoughts. Once you can understand and illustrate why this quote is an appropriate one, you have found a good balance of voices.

The physical appearance of quotes can be done two ways: direct quotations and paraphrasing. When using direct quotations, you take the exact words of the person you're quoting, and use them in quotation marks. It is alright to use a part of a sentence in a direct quotation. For example, if the sentence is "Congress has a 90-92% turnover rate," you can use part of this sentence by blending it into your own writing. Your sentence might read something like: In America, our lawmakers usually have a "90-92% turnover rate." By using the blending technique, you don't compromise your own voice in the essay, and you can make your quote work for you--not the other way around!

The other method, paraphrasing, takes the blending technique to the next level. Let's use the same example sentence as before. Instead of saying "Congress has a 90-92% turnover rate," you can paraphrase the sentence by saying: Usually, constituents reelect their congresspeople 90-92% of the time. The meaning of the quote is in tact, and you have shared the information in your own way. Despite the fact that you aren't using direct quotes, however, you still must cite your information. Citations are not only for the words, but also ideas, and it is very important that you give credit to those who came up with those ideas.

To summarize, using sources should only be used for support, and shouldn't overshadow your own voice. Only used a quote when you're sure why you're using it, and remember to switch between paraphrasing and using direct quotations. The most important thing about using sources, though, is to cite them however your format requires you to. An improper citation can result in anything from a bad grade to accusations of plagiarism, so it is very important to cite everything you use! Once you find the balance of voices, sources will become just one more thing that helps make your essay a strong essay.

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