Adapted by Liz Delf, Rob Drummond, and Kristy Kelly
Finding Your Position, Posture, and Perspective
As you begin drafting your research essay, remember the conversation analogy: by using other voices, you are entering into a discussion that is much bigger than just you, even bigger than the authors you cite. However, what you have to say is important, so you are bringing together your ideas with others’ ideas from a unique interpretive standpoint. Although it may take you a while to find it, you should be searching for your unique position in a complex network of discourse.
Here are a few questions to ask yourself as you consider this:
- How would I introduce this topic to someone who is completely unfamiliar?
- What are the major viewpoints on this topic? Remember that very few issues have only two sides.
- With which viewpoints do I align? With which viewpoints do I disagree? Consider agreement (“Yes”), disagreement (“No”), and qualification (“Yes, but…”).
- What did I know about this issue before I began researching? What have I learned so far?
- What is my rhetorical purpose for this project? If your purpose is to argue a position, be sure that you feel comfortable with the terms and ideas discussed in the previous section on argumentation.
Situating Yourself Using Your Research
While you’re drafting, be diligent and deliberate with your use of other people’s words, ideas, and perspectives. Foreground your thesis (even if it’s still in progress), and use paraphrases, direct quotes, and summary in the background to explain, support, complicate, or contrast your perspective.
Depending on the work you’ve done to this point, you may have a reasonable body of quotes, summaries, and paraphrases that you can draw from. Whether or not you’ve been collecting evidence throughout your research process, be sure to return to the original sources to ensure the accuracy and efficacy of your quotes, summaries, and paraphrases.
A direct quote uses quotation marks (“ ”) to indicate where you’re borrowing an author’s words verbatim in your own writing. Use a direct quote if someone else wrote or said something in a distinctive or particular way and you want to capture their words exactly.
Direct quotes are good for establishing ethos and providing evidence. Quoting is a good choice when how something is said matters; it gives readers a sense of the tone, style, and perspective of the original source.
In a humanities essay, you will be expected to use some direct quotes; however, too many direct quotes can overwhelm your thesis and actually undermine your sense of ethos. Your research paper should strike a balance between quoting, paraphrasing, and summarizing—and articulating your own perspective!
Summarizing refers to the action of boiling down an author’s ideas into a shorter version in your own words. Summary demonstrates your understanding of a text, but it also can be useful in giving background information or making a complex idea more accessible.
When we paraphrase, we are processing information or ideas from another person’s text and putting them in our own words. The main difference between paraphrase and summary is scope: if summarizing means rewording and condensing, then paraphrasing means rewording without drastically altering length. However, paraphrasing is also generally more faithful to the spirit of the original; whereas a summary requires you to process and invites your own perspective, a paraphrase ought to mirror back the original idea using your own language.
Paraphrasing is helpful for establishing background knowledge or general consensus, simplifying a complicated idea, or reminding your reader of a certain part of another text. It is also valuable when relaying statistics or historical information, both of which are usually more fluidly woven into your writing when spoken with your own voice.
Whether you are quoting, paraphrasing, or summarizing, you must always include an appropriate citation; see chapters 29, “Deconstructing Plagiarism,” and 30, “Giving Credit Where It’s Due: Why and How to Cite Your Sources,” for more on how to do this ethically.
Each of these three tactics should support your argument: you should integrate quotes, paraphrases, and summary with your own writing. Below, you can see three examples of these tools. Consider how the direct quote, paraphrase, and summary could each be used to achieve different purposes:
It has been suggested (again rather anecdotally) that giraffes do communicate using infrasonic vocalizations (the signals are verbally described to be similar—in structure and function—to the low-frequency, infrasonic “rumbles” of elephants). It was further speculated that the extensive frontal sinus of giraffes acts as a resonance chamber for infrasound production. Moreover, particular neck movements (e.g. the neck stretch) are suggested to be associated with the production of infrasonic vocalizations. (Baotic et al. 3)
|Style of Reference||Example|
|Quote||Some zoological experts have pointed out that the evidence for giraffe hums has been “rather anecdotally” reported (Baotic et al. 3). However, some scientists have “speculated that the extensive frontal sinus of giraffes acts as a resonance chamber for infrasound production” (3).|
|Paraphrase||Giraffes emit a low-pitch noise; some scientists believe that this hum can be used for communication with other members of the social group, but others are skeptical because of the dearth of research on giraffe noises. According to Baotic et al., the anatomy of the animal suggests that they may be making deliberate and specific noises (3).|
|Summary||Baotic et al. conducted a study on giraffe hums in response to speculation that these noises are used deliberately for communication.|
There are infinite ways to bring evidence into your discussion. For now, let’s revisit a formula that many students find productive as they find their footing in research writing:
front-load + quote/paraphrase/summarize + (cite) + explain/elaborate/analyze
|Set your reader up for the quote using a signpost (also known as a “signal phrase”). Don’t drop quotes in abruptly: by front-loading, you can guide your reader’s interpretation.|
|Quote/paraphrase/summarize +||Use whichever technique is relevant to your rhetorical purpose at that exact point.|
|(Cite) +||Use an in-text citation appropriate to your discipline. It doesn’t matter if you quote, paraphrase, or summarize—all three require a citation.|
|Explain, elaborate, analyze
|Perhaps most importantly, you need to make the value of this evidence clear to the reader. What does it mean? How does it further your thesis?|
This might feel formulaic and forced at first, but following these steps will ensure that you give each piece of evidence thorough attention.
What might this look like in practice?
 Humans and dolphins are not the only mammals with complex systems of communication. As a matter of fact,  some scientists have “speculated that the extensive frontal sinus of giraffes acts as a resonance chamber for infrasound production” ( Baotic et al. 3).  Even though no definitive answer has been found, it’s possible that the structure of a giraffe’s head allows it to create sounds that humans may not be able to hear. This hypothesis supports the notion that different species of animals develop a sort of “language” that corresponds to their anatomy.
Humans and dolphins are not the only mammals with complex systems of communication. As a matter of fact,
some scientists have “speculated that the extensive frontal sinus of giraffes acts as a resonance chamber for infrasound production”
(Baotic et al. 3).
Even though no definitive answer has been found, it’s possible that the structure of a giraffe’s head allows it to create sounds that humans may not be able to hear. This hypothesis supports the notion that different species of animals develop a sort of “language” that corresponds to their anatomy.
A quick note on block quotes: sometimes you may find it necessary to use a long direct quote from a source. For instance, if there is a passage that you plan to analyze in-depth or throughout the course of the entire paper, you may need to reproduce the whole thing. You may have seen other authors use block quotes in the course of your research. In the middle of a sentence or paragraph, the text will break into a long direct quote that is indented and separated from the rest of the paragraph.
There are occasions when it is appropriate for you to use block quotes too, but they are rare. Even though long quotes can be useful, quotes long enough to block are often too long. Using too much of one source all at once can overwhelm your own voice and analysis, distract the reader, undermine your ethos, and prevent you from digging into a quote. It’s typically a better choice to
- abridge (omit words from the beginning or end of the quote or from the middle using an ellipsis […]),
- break up (split one long quote into two or three shorter quotes that you can attend to more specifically), or
- paraphrase a long quote, especially because that gives you more space for the last step of the formula above.
If, in the rare event that you must use a long direct quote, one that runs more than four lines on a properly formatted page, follow the guidelines from the appropriate style guide. In MLA format, block quotes (1) are indented one inch from the margin, (2) are double-spaced, (3) are not in quotation marks, and (4) use original end punctuation and an in-text citation after the last sentence. The paragraph will continue after the block quote without any indentation.
Signposts are phrases and sentences that guide a reader’s interpretation of the evidence you are about to introduce. Readerly signposts are also known as “signal phrases” because they give the reader a warning of your next move. In addition to foreshadowing a paraphrase, quote, or summary, though, your signposts can be active agents in your argumentation.
Before using a paraphrase, quote, or summary, you can prime your reader to understand that evidence in a certain way. For example, let’s take the imaginary quote “The moon landing was faked in a sound studio by Stanley Kubrick.”
- [X] insists, “The moon landing was faked in a sound studio by Stanley Kubrick.”
- Some people believe, naïvely, that “the moon landing was faked in a sound studio by Stanley Kubrick.”
- Common knowledge suggests that “the moon landing was faked in a sound studio by Stanley Kubrick.”
- [X] posits that “the moon landing was faked in a sound studio by Stanley Kubrick.”
- Although some people believe otherwise, the truth is that “the moon landing was faked in a sound studio by Stanley Kubrick.”
- Although some people believe that “the moon landing was faked in a sound studio by Stanley Kubrick,” it is more likely that…
- Whenever conspiracy theories come up, people like to joke that “the moon landing was faked in a sound studio by Stanley Kubrick.”
- The government has conducted many covert operations in the last century: “The moon landing was faked in a sound studio by Stanley Kubrick.”
What does each signpost do to us, as readers, encountering the same quote?
The original chapter, Interacting with Sources by Shane Abrams, is from EmpoWord: A Student-Centered Anthology and Handbook for College Writers
- What is the value of bringing in sources that you disagree with?
- Paraphrasing can be a difficult point for student writers. What makes it challenging?
- Find an example of a scholarly article in your major. Skim through and count how many quotes and paraphrases/summaries it contains (they should all have citations, which makes them easy to find). What did you learn? Share in class. Why might there be variation across the disciplines?
- Using the table below, create a signpost for each of the quotes in the left column that reflects the posture in the top row.
|The position||Complete faith||Uncertainty||Cautious disbelief||“Duh”|
|“Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are a nutritious part of a child’s lunch.”||Complete Faith:||Uncertainty: Most parents have wondered if “peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are a nutritious part of a child’s lunch.”||Cautius disbelief:||“Duh:”|
|“The bees are dying rapidly.”||Complete Faith:||Uncertainty:||Cautious disbelief: Even though some people argue that “the bees are dying rapidly,” it may be more complicated than that.||“Duh:”|
|“Jennifer Lopez is still relevant.”||Complete Faith: We can all agree that “Jennifer Lopez is still relevant.”||Uncertainty:||Cautious disbelief:||“Duh:”|
|“Morality cannot be learned.”||Complete Faith:||Uncertainty:||Cautious disbelief:||“Duh:”It should be obvious that “morality cannot be learned.”|
Baotic, Anton, Florian Sicks, and Angela S. Stoeger. “Nocturnal ‘Humming’ Vocalizations: Adding a Piece of the Puzzle of Giraffe Vocal Communication.” BioMed Central Research Notes, vol. 8, no. 425, 2015, pp. 1–11.