Yale Center for Teaching and Learning

Writing Strategies that Improve Source Use

Many students who have trouble balancing their own voices with their sources also confuse the purpose of academic writing, which in brief is to add to an existing conversation rather than to generate entirely original ideas. The Poorvu Center website has a very full discussion of Using Sources in your research, and we strongly recommend that you read or review it again.

Based on some situations that can lead to poor use of sources, we can also recommend writing practices that are more likely to help you use sources robustly. You can read more about these suggestions at our site that highlights What Good Writers Know.

While working on a paper

1. Don’t cut and paste long quotations from your sources into a document. This practice leads to forgetting which parts of the document are your notes and which are the direct language of the source. Instead, type out quotations that you think might be valuable, mark them clearly as quotations, and immediately write some of your own notes, reflections, questions, and ideas. If you always write your own notes after copying out a piece of text, you are much less likely to get confused (or to confuse your reader) about which ideas are yours and which come directly from the source.

2. When reading sources that might inform your paper, take frequent breaks where you hide the source and write what you’re thinking in your own words. Not only will this practice help you mark the boundary between your ideas and the source, it will help you start to paraphrase—which is a key writing strategy of nearly all research writing.

3. Start sooner. Nearly every student who has a substantial problem with source use is working too close to the deadline. Not only will you add more of your own thinking if you give yourself time to mull things over, you’ll also be more likely to do #4.

4. Get some feedback on your draft or ideas. Having someone else read and ask you questions will help you distinguish your own ideas, and these distinctions are the key to more robust and ethical use of sources.