Using Sources Effectively
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Using Sources Effectively

Strengthening Your Writing and Avoiding Plagiarism

Robert Harris

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  2. English
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eBook - ePub

Using Sources Effectively

Strengthening Your Writing and Avoiding Plagiarism

Robert Harris

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About This Book

Now in its fifth, expanded edition, Using Sources Effectively, Fifth Edition targets the two most prominent problems in current research-paper writing: the increase in unintentional plagiarism and the ineffective use of research source material. Designed as a supplementary textbook for both undergraduate and graduate courses, this book will help every student who uses research in writing. Included in this edition are coverage of research strategies and source selection (Chapter 2), a chapter on quoting sources effectively (Chapter 4), and a chapter on sentence patterns (Chapter 10). APA and MLA citation styles have been updated throughout the text.

To the student:

This book was written to give you the knowledge and tools you can use to make your research-based writing more powerful and effective. Here are some examples:

  • Mini-Research Projects at the end of each chapter to sharpen your research and evaluation skills

  • A set of practical, useful rhetorical devices to help improve the clarity and impact of your writing

  • Increased emphasis on synthesis writing—weaving source use into your own thinking—to give your writing more interest and persuasive power

  • Instruction in close reading to help you better grasp what an author is discussing or arguing

  • Strategies for organizing and positioning your sources to strengthen your central argument.

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The Importance of Using Sources Effectively

I don’t know what I think about something until I write about it. And I can’t write about something until I find out what others think about it.
You hold in your hands the key to unimaginable power. Do you think I’m exaggerating? Then consider this. The world is controlled by those few people—probably fewer than 5 percent—who can write really well. Think about it. Much of the information you encounter involves written text. Books and magazines and scholarly journals and newspapers and blogs and Tweets and laws and court verdicts and billboard advertisements and menus and product labels are obvious examples. However, speeches and TV shows and movies and Internet advertisements—all these also began as written documents, often based on research. The influence of those who can write well is inestimable.
Yes, this book will help you write better research papers and cite your sources accurately, but it’s also much more than that. It offers you the opportunity to write everything better, and it will help you to think better, too. Here’s what to look for in this chapter:
  • Writing a research paper helps to improve your writing skills.
  • Researching brings you new ideas and perspectives.
  • Using sources in a paper adds strength, interest, and context to your own ideas.
  • Citing sources aids your reader and helps you to avoid plagiarism.
  • Writing with sources develops your thinking and analyzing skills.

1.1 Why Learn to Write Well?

As a first question, let’s think about why you should put a major effort into learning to write. You might already consider yourself a pretty good writer, and perhaps you are. However, improving your writing—and researching—skills will prove valuable to you for the rest of your life. Whatever profession you pursue, you almost certainly will be writing heavily for your entire career. Regular writing needs include meeting minutes, reports, studies, survey analyses, and hundreds of e-mails a day that must be responded to quickly and efficiently—and clearly.

Writing Is a Thinking Process

It has been said that we really do not know what we think about something until we write about it. Writing requires a deeper and more careful thought process than does speaking or even meditating about a topic. By writing down your ideas, you clarify them to yourself or even discover them. More than one student has remarked, “I never knew I thought that,” after writing an essay. Writing, then, is an opportunity to strengthen your thinking ability and to extend your mind, to gain a wider view of a subject, to find personal engagement with the world of ideas, even to make the unknown interesting.
Just above I told you that the power brokers of the world are the people who can write well. Now let me tell you another secret. Once you learn to write well, not only will your formal, written ideas have more impact, but your off-the-cuff speeches, your on-the-fly YouTube videos, and even your everyday conversations will also be much more effective, focused, and, yes, powerful because you will know how to present your ideas more clearly and coherently. You might know from personal experience that the message you intended to send is not always the message that was received. Learning to write better, including working with the ideas you encounter through research, will improve your clarity of thought and give you the circumspection that will enable you to communicate more effectively.
If you wanted to become a good auto mechanic, you’d study hard to learn how to do it well. So, if you want to be a good writer, study hard to learn how.
And there is one more reason you should be eager to write well. That’s so other people will actually read what you write. The competition for people’s eyeballs is enormous. There are millions of books and more millions of journal articles published each year—and that’s not even mentioning everything on the Internet. Why should anyone read your stuff? If you put an effort into learning and applying the material in this book, your writing will stand out.
But if you don’t care enough to learn to write well, no one will care what you think because no one will read what you write.

Writing Is a Learning Process

Writing is a natural, inseparable part of learning, providing clarity to thinking and solidity to knowing. Writing involves the collection and organization of ideas and thoughts, the analysis of statements and evidence, and the comparing and contrasting of conflicting claims. All of these activities help you learn about a subject. Where before you may have believed that some fact had been clearly established, you discover by researching and writing about it that there are complications to the supposed fact or even more credible alternative explanations of the data behind it.
The act of wide reading, whether in an area of controversy or not, will help you add to your personal database of knowledge and your understanding of the world. When you write a paper that synthesizes your reading, you will learn even more about your topic as you sort out the better arguments from the weaker ones. You will also view the world with more understanding as you gain knowledge. As the proverb says, “The more you know, the better you can see.”

Writing Develops Lifelong Skills

The simple truth is this: As an educated person in an ever-more information-driven world, you will be writing for the rest of your life. By developing your writing skills now, you will acquire the competence you need to work effectively in the future. Whatever form your writing eventually takes—whether keyboard, dictation, or a new mind-reading software application—you will need to know how to use all the skills of writing. Thinking, analyzing, organizing, reasoning, using examples, exposing fallacies—all these and many others are the writing skills that will allow you not just to survive but to flourish.
Writing a research paper also gives you practice in making a subject interesting. In your future writing career, not every topic you are handed will be of interest to you. The subject may not even be immediately interesting to the targeted readers. It is important, then, for you to develop the ability to make a subject interesting both to yourself and to your readers. The more practice you have doing this now, the better you will become at it and the more you will be able to enjoy writing on any topic.

1.2 Why Learn Research-Based Writing?

Learning how to incorporate research sources into a coherent argument is one of the most amazing opportunities you will have in your educational experience. By improving your ability to frame a research problem, locate relevant sources, work with those sources, and write a persuasive paper based on them, you will be developing a host of skills that will serve you well for the rest of your life. Just as swimming is said to be such good exercise because it uses so many different muscles, research-based writing is excellent mental exercise because it develops your skills not just in writing, but in creativity, problem solving, and thinking.
When you work with sources, you learn better how to analyze what you are reading, how to evaluate the strength of arguments, and how to fit ideas together with other sources that may disagree. The process of writing a paper based on research materials broadens your understanding of how information is used and makes you more careful about accepting unsupported claims.

Research Makes Writing Easier

Instead of looking at a research requirement as a complication to a writing assignment, you should be thankful. Research actually simplifies your assignment because researching a topic helps you define the issues surrounding it. You may or may not have realized the causes, effects, unexpected consequences, failed remedies, and so on that research will uncover. Some robust searching will help you discover new options, refine your tentative thoughts, gather the evidence and arguments pro and con, and understand the context of the topic. All of this information will help you to shape your research question; this in turn will help you focus your research and develop a clear, suitable thesis. Why wander in the woods in the dark when some wise research can hand you a powerful flashlight that will help you on your way?

Research-Based Writing Allows You to Contribute to the Great Conversation

Writing represents mental work (creative, analytic, or persuasive) put down in a fixed form so that others can access it at any time and make use of it. Many readers make use of others’ writing simply as a means of learning, but many others use writing as building blocks for further knowledge and for their own writing and thinking. This has been true for thousands of years. As the saying goes, “We stand on the shoulders of giants.” Nearly every writer makes use of the creative, analytic, or persuasive work of previous writers, building on the thinking and discoveries that have gone before.
The Great Conversation takes place among those who share their ideas with others, who work with the contributions of each other to add steps to the advancement of the understanding of the world. You become aware that the pathway to knowledge that you are walking on has been walked on by others also, and you take the opportunity to learn from them, react to them, agree with them, and sometimes oppose them. Source A and Source B might have differing views or data, and you discover a grand synthesis that advances humanity along the path—a grand synthesis that neither Source A nor Source B has found, nor you by yourself could have found. The Great Conversation is the working together of many minds, doing the thinking for the progress of civilization. It is your opportunity to create a legacy that will benefit your own and future generations. And it starts here, now, by learning how to write a research paper.
Increasingly today, moreover, many writers are building their ideas together. Many corporations are developing knowledge-sharing cultures, where employees can use each other’s ideas either by direct collaboration or through the use of knowledge management databases. Developing your writing skills empowers you to become a significant contributor to this creating and sharing of knowledge. The better writ...

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