Brandel Library

BTS 3250: John (Seversen)

Using Your Sources

Using Your Sources

  • See William B. Badke, Research Strategies: Finding Your Way through the Information Fog, 5th ed. Bloomington, IN: iUniverse, 2014.
  • Record the entire citation for every source you consult, even if you think that you won’t want or need to use the item in your paper.
    • Compile your bibliography throughout the entire process of your research and writing.
    • This will save you the frustration, later in your writing process, of trying to relocate the resource for the missing information.
  • It might be wise to outline fundamental items, such as reference work articles that overview your subject, to gain an understanding of basic elements, the history, and current shape of the question.
  • A preliminary outline for your paper helps you to order the growing body of materials as you gather them.
    • It helps you know what you want to gather, what you have gathered already, and what remains to be gathered.
  • What are the principal scholarly viewpoints on your issue?
    • Who are the principal representatives of each viewpoint?
    • What are the current trends of scholarship?
    • Is there consensus on any aspects of the issue?
    • Which aspects?
    • How many?
    • What is contested?
  • Be clear about what kind of material you are copying into your notes: description? analysis? summary? argument? etc.
  • Who is the implied speaker in the material that you note? the author? another viewpoint she is describing? or?
    • Be careful not to attribute statements to the wrong speakers, that is, when a writer is summarizing someone else's view, not their own.
  • Carefully note the key analysis statements found in your sources and compare/contrast them with alternative analyses.
  • Note apt descriptions and distinctive claims.
  • Note statements which you want to challenge or on which you want to build.
  • Taking too many notes is as much of a problem as taking too few.
    • Too many notes are difficult to manage and usually mean that you have not been selective enough.
    • Too few notes means you have not adequately worked through the material and that your argument will be inadequately rooted in the scholarly literature.
  • Exact wording in your notes is valuable in case you later need to consult the original source, not just your notes about the original source.
    • Summarizing is also important, for your understanding and for the processing that makes the argument your own, not simply a quotation of another person’s judgment.
  • Always include in each of your notes some indication of the source of that note, even if you use some form of shorthand, so that you don’t lose track of the source of each piece of information or interpretation.
  • Badke (Research Strategies, 198-208) compares strengths and weaknesses of major alternatives for gathering information from sources:
    • photocopying,
    • scanning,
    • hand copying verbatim selected portions,
    • summarizing selections from the material,
    • or paraphrasing the selections.
    • He calls paraphrasing the most dangerous, because paraphrases entail implicit plagiarism.

Quotations, Citations, Arguments

  • EVERYTHING that you use, from any source, that you did not know previously and is not widely/commonly known, must be footnoted, even if you write that information or interpretation in your own words.
    • In research such as this, that means that much of your paper should be supported with footnotes.
  • Quotations serve a variety of purposes.
    • They can
      • illustrate a point you are making,
      • provide an analogy,
      • provide a supporting judgment,
      • or introduce a theme that you will then develop.
    • In scholarship, they rarely constitute a demonstration or proof of a contested issue and rarely settle a disputed issue, because quotations can always be countered with a contrary quotation from another scholar.
    • A sound argument is constituted by proper reasoning that uses good evidence in appropriate ways.
    • Why should your reader affirm what you claim?
    • Why should the view of scholar X be affirmed, in your judgment, rather than the claim of scholar Y?
  • See, for example, Anthony Weston, A Rulebook for Arguments, 5th ed. (Indianapolis: Hackett, 2018) for help in constructing and evaluating arguments (your own and those of the authors you read). [Brandel Library has an e-book of this ed. and print copy of the 4th ed.]
  • It also matters whether the quotation/citation is from a primary source or a secondary source.
    • Primary source quotations/citations can carry more force than secondary sources, though it depends on whether there are other primary source materials that provide divergent or contradictory evidence.
  • Your paper must carry its own weight by the logical and evidential force of your argument.
    • Any quotations or citations must serve your purposes rather than the reverse.
    • Your writing should not merely connect the quotations or citations, like stringing beads.
  • Block quotations (except perhaps primary source quotations) should be avoided as much as possible.
    • You should process the information into your own words, in the flow of your argument, adding a footnote indicating from whom you learned the information or interpretation.
    • Sometimes you will add more than one source in a note, because more than one source provided the information to you.