By this time of the semester, you should already be writing your third essay. You might have found sufficient sources for your topic, or you might need more sources to diversify/back up your argument. The purpose of this blog is to help you with finding the right sources that apply.
Evaluating Sources: Some Key Principles to Follow
I’ve noticed that some students refer heavily to blogs/magazines/newspaper articles. While these sources are up-to-date and easy to read, they are generally not as fact-checked as academic papers are, thus having a lower level of accountability. The same applies to Wikipedia — while Wikipedia entries do require references, they are usually provided by Internet users and are rarely fact-checked. You could, however, scroll down to the reference section and find academic sources there. This is what I found in the article about “discrimination”:
Of course, you will need to evaluate these sources by yourself. Here are some key steps for evaluating a source:
In general, the most reliable sources are the ones from academic journals and books. Online publications on professional websites (e.g. #2, American Psychological Association), reputable magazines (e.g. The Economist), reputable newspapers (e.g. The New York Times) are generally trustworthy, but you need to ask yourself if they are news articles, research articles, or op-eds, etc. Make sure to evaluate if they provide enough factual support and summarize their sources fairly and accurately before you use them.
Many of you already know how to use the UH library’s EBSCO database. It is a useful database and has many sources that you can access. Sometimes, however, it doesn’t have what you’re looking for. In this case, you should use Google Scholar:
What I like about Google Scholar is that it tells you the number of citations of each article. The more citations an article has, the more academically important/trustworthy it is. You can also click on “related articles” for more articles on the same topic:
Sometimes Google Scholar’s sources aren’t accessible or can’t be downloaded. In this case, you can run the keywords through the UH database again and see if the same sources pop up. If not, you can try to find them on Z Library (https://z-lib.org/):
When/How to Use Quotes
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. There are three ways you can refer to a piece of text: quoting, summarizing, and paraphrasing.
Quoting: good for establishing ethos and providing evidence. In a research 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: demonstrates your understanding of a text, but it also can be useful in giving background information or making a complex idea more accessible.
Paraphrasing: processing information or ideas from another person’s text and putting it 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. Paraphrasing is also generally more faithful to the spirit of the original.
NOTE: Whether you are quoting, paraphrasing, or summarizing, you must always include an appropriate citation.
Here’s an example:
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.
These examples also demonstrate additional citation conventions worth noting:
- A parenthetical in-text citation is used for all three forms. (In MLA format, this citation includes the author’s last name and page number.)
- If you use the author’s name in the sentence, you do not need to include their name in the parenthetical citation.
- If your material doesn’t come from a specific page or page range, but rather from the entire text, you do not need to include a page number in the parenthetical citation.
- If there are many authors (generally more than three), you can use “et al.” to mean “and others.”
- If you cite the same source consecutively in the same paragraph (without citing any other sources in between), you can use “Ibid.” to mean “same as the last one.”
There are infinite ways to bring evidence into your discussion,2 but 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.
What might this look like in practice?
(1) Humans and dolphins are not the only mammals with complex systems of communication. As a matter of fact, (2) some scientists have “speculated that the extensive frontal sinus of giraffes acts as a resonance chamber for infrasound production” ((3) Baotic et al. 3). (4) 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
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.
Templates on How to Begin Your Discussion of a Quote
[X] insists, “The moon landing was faked in a sound studio by Stanley Kubrick.”
Some people believe, naively, 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.”
Whether you’re trying to refute counterarguments or find common ground before moving forward, it is important to include a diversity of perspectives in your argument. One highly effective way to do so is by using the naysayer’s voice.
Simply put, the naysayer is a voice that disagrees with you that you imagine into your essay. Consider, for example, this excerpt from Paul Greenough:
It appears that tigers cannot be accurately counted and that uncertainty is as endemic to their study as to the study of many other wildlife populations. In the meantime, pugmark counting continues. … In the end, the debate over numbers cannot be resolved; while rising trends were discernible through the 1970s and 1980s, firm baselines and accurate numbers were beyond anyone’s grasp.
CRITIC: Are you emphasizing this numbers and counting business for some reason?
AUTHOR: Yes. I find it instructive to compare the degree of surveillance demanded by the smallpox eradication campaign…with the sketchy methods sufficient to keep Project Tiger afloat. …
CRITIC: Maybe numbers aren’t as central to these large state enterprises as you assume?
AUTHOR: No, no—they live and die by them.
Notice the advantages of this technique:
- Greenough demonstrates, first and foremost, that the topic he’s considering is part of a broad conversation involving many voices and perspectives.
- He is able to effectively transition between ideas.
- He controls the counterargument by asking the questions he wants to be asked.
Revisiting Your Research Question, Developing an Introduction, and Crafting a Conclusion
During the research and drafting process, it is likely that your focus will change, which should motivate you to adjust, pivot, complicate, or drastically change your path of inquiry and working thesis.
Introductions are often the most difficult part of any paper. It’s OK to write the entire body of the essay before returning to the top to draft an introduction. Remember the introduction to a paper is your chance to make a first impression on your reader. You might be establishing a conceptual framework, setting a tone, or showing the reader a way in. Furthermore, due to the primacy effect, readers are more likely to remember your intro than most of the rest of your essay.
- Starting with fluffy, irrelevant, or extremely general statements. “Many people in the world think XXXX”, “History tells us that XXX”, etc.
- Offering a definition for something that your audience already knows.“Merriam Webster defines x as….” You’ve probably heard it before. There is an exception to this point, though! You can analyze the definition you give: does the definition reveal something about our common-sense that you want to critique? Does it contradict or overlook connotations? Do you think the definition is too narrow, too broad, or too ambiguous? In other words, you can use the definition technique as long as you’re doing something with the definition.
- Telling a story. Not only will this kick your essay off with pathos and specificity, but it can also lend variety to the voice you use throughout the rest of your essay. A story can also provide a touchstone, or a reference point, for you and your reader; you can relate your argument back to the story and its characters as you develop more complex ideas.
- Describing a scene. Similarly, thick description can provide your reader a mental image to grasp before you present your research question and thesis. This is the technique used in the model below.
- Asking a question. This is a common technique teachers share with their students when describing a “hook.” You want your reader to feel curious, excited, and involved as they start reading your essay, and posing a thought-provoking question can bring them into the conversation too.
- Using a striking quote or fact. Another “hook” technique: starting off your essay with a meaningful quote, shocking statistic, or curious fact can catch a reader’s eye and stimulate their curiosity.
- Considering a case study. Similar to the storytelling approach, this technique asks you to identify a single person or occurrence relevant to your topic that represents a bigger trend you will discuss.
- Relating a real or imaginary dialogue. To help your readers acclimate to the conversation themselves, show them how people might talk about your topic. This also provides a good opportunity to demonstrate the stakes of the issue—why does it matter, and to whom?
- Establishing a juxtaposition. You might compare two seemingly unlike ideas, things, or questions, or contrast two seemingly similar ideas, things, or questions in order to clarify your path of inquiry and to challenge your readers’ assumptions about those ideas, things or questions.
Here’s an example of a student’s placeholder introduction in their draft, followed by a revised version using the scene description approach from above.
Every year over 15 million people visit Paris, more than any other city in the world. Paris has a rich, artistic history, stunning architecture and decadent mouth-watering food. Almost every visitor here heads straight for the Eiffel Tower (“Top destinations” 2014). Absorbing the breathtaking view, towering over the metropolis below, you might notice something missing from the Parisian landscape: tall buildings. It’s easy to overlook but a peculiar thing. Around the world, most mega cities have hundreds of towering skyscrapers, but here in Paris, the vast majority of buildings are less than six stories tall (Davies 2010). The reason lies deep below the surface in the Paris underground where an immense cave system filled with dead bodies is attracting a different kind of visitor.4
On a frigid day in December of 1774, residents of a small walled district in Paris watched in horror as the ground before them began to crack and shift. Within seconds a massive section of road collapsed, leaving behind a gaping chasm where Rue d’Enfer (Hell Street) once stood. Residents peeked over the edge into a black abyss that has since become the stuff of wonder and nightmares. What had been unearthed that cold day in December, was an ancient tunnel system now known as The Empire of the Dead.5
- Look back to your introduction. If you told a story, shared a case study, or described a scene, you might reconsider that story, case study, or scene with the knowledge developed in the course of your paper. Consider the “ouroboros”—the snake eating its own head. Your conclusion can provide a satisfying circularity using this tactic.
- Consider what surprised you in your research process. What do those surprises teach us about commonsense assumptions about your topic? How might the evolution of your thought on a topic model the evolution you expect from your readers?
- End with a quote. A final thought, meaningfully articulated, can make your readers feel settled and satisfied.
- Propose a call-to-action. Especially if your path of inquiry is a matter of policy or behavior, tell the reader what they should do now that they have seen the issue from your eyes.
- Gesture to questions and issues you can’t address in the scope of your paper. You might have had to omit some of your digressive concerns in the interest of focus. What remains to be answered, studied, or considered?
Here’s an example of a placeholder conclusion in a draft, followed by a revised version using the “gesture to questions” and “end with a quote” approach from above. The original version simply restates the main points of each paragraph. The revised version tries to give the reader more to chew on: it builds from what the paper establishes to provoke more curiosity and lets the subject continue to grow.
In conclusion, it is likely that the space tourism industry will flourish as long as venture capitalists and the private sector bankroll its development. As noted in this paper, new technology will support space tourism and humans are always curious to see new places. Space tourism is currently very expensive but it will become more affordable. The FAA and other government agencies will make sure it is regulated and safe.
It has become clear that the financial, regulatory, and technological elements of space tourism are all within reach for humanity—whether in reality or in our imaginations. However, the growth of a space tourism industry will raise more and more questions: Will the ability to leave our blue marble exacerbate income inequity? If space tourism is restricted to those who can afford exorbitant costs, then it is quite possible that the less privileged will remain earthbound. Moreover, should our history of earthly colonization worry us for the fate of our universe? These questions and others point to an urgent constraint: space tourism might be logistically feasible, but can we ensure that what we imagine will be ethical? According to Carl Sagan, “Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were. But without it we go nowhere” (2).