Grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation – these are all important.
But if you plan on studying at an American university, you also need to know how to read your textbook efficiently, listen to your professor’s lectures, participate in classroom discussions, and write according to U.S. academic standards. One of the most challenging skills that international students have to learn is how to quote, paraphrase, or cite information in their essays and presentation.
Using sources in Academic Writing
A source is a place or person that information comes from. We use sources in academic writing to participate in a larger conversation with educated people in our field. When we use a source, it’s important to show clearly where the information comes from.
According to Diana Hacker in A Writer’s Reference, we can use sources for many reasons including:
- giving background information or explaining previous research
- defining a term or important concept for the reader
- giving evidence to support our claim
- providing an argument that opposes our claim
Of course, to make our own writing more credible, it’s necessary to use reliable sources. A “good source” depends on who your readers are and what they expect. In general, peer-reviewed scholarly journals have the most reliability. Respected newspaper articles and websites from reputable organizations (such as Britain’s National Health Service site) have some reliability. Community forums, personal blogs, and sites with a strong commercial or ideological bias are the least reliable. Wikipedia, while it is respected, is not considered a good source for academic research. Although it can be useful for getting started, the writer should always check the facts and find a stable source for the same information. For example, check the “References” section at the end of a Wikipedia article, as this often includes reliable news and internet sources.
Once you find a source, you may want to paraphrase or quote the information to use in your paper. In APA citation style, writers often use a combination of reported speech and in-text citation to identify where information came from. All sources that are mentioned in the paper must be in the reference list. And all of the skills that you use in writing should also be used when you give a presentation.
Learn more about:
Hacker, D., & Sommers, N. (2011). A Writer’s Reference with Writing in the Disciplines. Boston: Macmillan.