Citing Sources

[From Writing Center at Colorado State]

Using Outside Sources in Your Writing

Many academic writing assignments ask you to refer to and incorporate outside source material related to your chosen topic. Source material can take many forms: articles or books on the subject, films, Interviews, surveys, web sites, etc. As a writer, you will have to make decisions about how best to include this material in your essay.

Why Use Outside Sources?

Generally, the main reason writers include outside source material in their work is to establish their credibility with their audience. Credibility is the level of trustworthiness and authority your reader perceives you as having. It is one of the key characteristics of effective writing, particularly argumentative writing. If your readers do not see you as credible, they will likely dismiss your ideas, no matter how stylishly presented.

Establishing Credibility with Source Material

Source material helps you establish your credibility in several ways. When you include outside sources in your writing it indicates to your reader that you are basing your opinions on more than a personal, surface knowledge of the subject. It shows that there are others who agree with your ideas, that experts in the field corroborate your reasoning, and that there is hard evidence to support your opinion. Including source material shows your reader you are at least somewhat knowledgeable about the facts and background of your subject. Your reader knows that you've put time and effort into making sure you "know whereof you speak." By including source material in your writing, you tell your reader, in effect, that there is a "chorus" of agreement on your ideas, and a chorus of voices is louder than a single voice.

In order to establish credibility with a jury, attorneys often call witnesses to the stand who have expertise in a given field. The attorneys recognize that the jury won't accept that they, the attorneys, have the medical expertise, for instance, to judge whether a certain type of brain injury would lead to loss of memory. The attorneys hope though, that the jury will trust the opinions of these "expert witnesses." Asa student, you may be put into a position similar to the attorneys where you are asked to discuss subjects that you have little expertise in. By including source material in your writing, you, too, can call on "expert witnesses." When you include statements from authorities within your paper, the ideas you express are no longer merely the opinions of a student, but those of experts who have studied and worked with your subject for years. In effect, you "borrow" their expertise for the length of your paper.

Some Basic Rules for Quoting

(a) Use quotations economically. Quote only what you need or is really striking. Whenever possible, keep your quotations under a sentence, short enough to embed gracefully in one of your own sentences.

(b) Construct your own sentence so the quotation fits smoothly into it. If you must add or change a word in the quotation to make it fit into your sentence, put brackets J around the altered portion. A source comment like "I deeply distrust Freud's method of interpretation" might become: he writes that he "deeply distrust[s] Freud's method of interpretation. "But always try to construct your sentence so you can quote without this cumbersome apparatus.

(c) Usually announce a quotation in the words preceding it so your reader enters the quoted passage knowing who will be speaking and won't have to reread the passage in fight of that information. Withholding the identity of a source until a citation at the end of the sentence is acceptable only when the identity of the quoted source is much less important than, or a distraction from, what the source says. As for example when you are sampling opinion. In a History paper, for instance, you might give a series of short quotations illustrating a common belief in the divine right of kings; in an English paper you might quote a few representative early reviews of Walt Whitman. In neither case would the identity of the quoted individuals be important enough to require advance notice in your sentence. Otherwise, set up quotations by at least saying who is about to speak.

(d) Use ellipses correctly. Wherever you omit words from the middle of a quoted passage, insert three spaced periods to indicate the omission: "Even to take drugs once or twice," Diamond writes, "I must be strong enough to get past ... the misery of my first hangover"~199). If a sentence ends within the omitted portion, add a fourth period after the ellipsis to indicate this. Make sure you don't, by omitting crucial words, give a false sense of what the full passage says. Do not use an ellipsis at the start of a quotation.

Blending in Source Material

One of the goals of effective writing is to create a sense of unity--where all parts of the text are clearly related to your overall focus and smoothly connected to one another. To help achieve this goal, you must be sure to "blend in" your source material so that it reads as an integral part of the paragraph in which it is included, rather than as an aside. When a quote, paraphrase or summary is simply "dropped" into the middle of a paragraph, without any connection made between it and the surrounding text, your writing feels choppy and unfocused.

Whether you are inserting a quotation, a paraphrase, or a summary, framing and transitions can help to blend the source material into the focus of the paragraph. You must set up your information so its source and context is clear. Frames and transitions should signal your readers what function the source material serves in the paragraph.

A frame or signal phrase is simply an introduction at the beginning of the material that tells your reader who made the original statement or where it originated from, and an explanation at the end of the material of how it is relevant to your ideas. The introductory part of the frame is known as "the beginning frame" while the explanatory statements made after the inserted material is known as the "end frame."

Beginning frames or signal phrases inserted before source material, are important to establish the credibility of your sources. Declaring who made the statement you are quoting, paraphrasing or summarizing, establishes for your reader that you are calling on authoritative, reputable sources. Without the beginning frame, the reader may question whether the source of the material has any expertise in the subject, or is possibly biased(and that's why you hesitate to name him or her).


1. Set up quotations. An essay writer always wants to make clear to the reader where a quotation comes from, who is speaking, and in what context. Make sure the reader knows who the author of the quotation is. If the person is recognizable (either by fame or through your text) give a name. Otherwise, an identifying "tag" or signal phrase is useful: "one expert said," "as one reporter put it," etc.

LACKING SET UP: College athletic programs are too commercial. The "emphasis on commercial interests over academics compromises the fundamental mission of higher education" (Suggs, "How the Knight," par. 1).

BETTER: Many college athletic programs have been excessively commercialized. As Chronicle of Higher Education reporter Welch Suggs explains in a recent article, "last month's report from the Knight Foundation Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics" clearly demonstrates that "college athletics is in crisis, and its emphasis on commercial interests over academics compromises the fundamental mission of higher education"(par. 1).

ALSO OK: Many college athletic programs have been excessively commercialized. The recent Knight Foundation Commission report on intercollegiate athletics makes clear that "college athletics is in crisis, and its emphasis on commercial interests over academics compromises the fundamental mission of higher education" (Suggs, "How the Knight," par. 1).

NOTE: When citing etexts, which do not have page numbers, refer to paragraph numbers. If the sentence does not make clear what textthe quotation is taken from, then include the author's name with the paragraph number. If an essay discusses more than one work by a single author, give anabbreviated form of the title along with the paragraph number (as in the Suggs examples above).


Ellen Laird argues that internet plagiarism "feels different" than older forms of cheating and is "more dangerous" than many of us realize (par. 12, 13). BETTER: Based on her twenty years of teaching experience, community college instructor Ellen Laird has determined that internet plagiarism “feels different” than older forms of cheating and is "more dangerous" than many of us realize (par. 12, 13).


Michael W. Grant told Chronicle of Higher Education reporter Welch Suggs, "It's a really big gray area. It's our job topush and motivate these kids farther than they've ever been pushed or motivated before" ("Players' Deaths" par. 11).

BETTER: Michael W. Grant, a strength and conditioning coach at Mississippi State University, expressed the difficulty many NCAA Division I A coaches face when determining "what's pushing [student athletes] too far?" (Suggs, "Players' Deaths" par. 11). "It's a really big gray area," Grant observed, "Ifs our job to push and motivate these kids farther than they've ever been pushed or motivated before" (Suggs, "Players' Deaths" par. 11).

2. Avoid unnecessary phrases. With practice, it becomes possible to incorporate supporting quotations into one's writing without preceding them with phrases that identify them as evidence. Phrases such as, "This quotation demonstrates that," or "the following facts prove," are generally unnecessary and awkward.


The following fact supports my argument that plagiarism is prevalent on college campuses: "A 1999 study by the Center for Academic Integrity found that 69 percent of professors catch one or more instance of plagiarism each year" (Young par. 6).

BETTER: Recent research, such as the Center for Academic Integrity's 1999 study finding "that 69 percent of professors catch one or more instance of plagiarism each year," indicates that plagiarism is prevalent on college campuses (Young par. 6).

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