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Academic Coaching & Writing

VI. Use Sources Judiciously

Feb 28, 2011 by Caroline Eisner

As discussed in the last blog about the progression of your ideas and the evidence to support your ideas, work hard to use only the evidence you need to support your ideas, no more than you need and no less than you need. It should be strong and compelling, not weak and unconvincing. You will want to consider how to order the information, so that each piece of evidence builds from the one before, and as I just said, you want the information to be the most compelling evidence you can find. Don’t use bits of weak information to try to make a strong point. Instead find one or two very strong points to make the argument.

As you work to develop your argument, your paper begins to look like an inverted triangle, where your review of relevant information begins broad and eventually narrows to the fine point where your readers know and understand what they need to feel as expert as you are, and therefore are able to understand and judge your argument, based on the evidence you provide and analyze.

There needs to be enough evidence to be persuasive; the right kind of evidence to support the thesis (with no obvious pieces of evidence overlooked); sufficiently concrete for the reader to trust it (e.g. in textual analysis, it often helps to find one or two key representative passages to focus on); and if summarized, summarized accurately and fairly. Use reputable and ample sources that are concrete, so that readers feel capable of judging your analysis. Don’t dwell on any one source or topic for too long. A common trap is that you will feel as if you are working—by reading everything available on your topic--but you are also putting off the intellectual thinking work of writing and moving your argument forward. Likewise, your evidence needs to connect directly to your ideas, so that readers always know what inferences you are making and how the details support an idea.

Selecting and quoting relevant and important textual evidence for your argument, also requires that you:

  • Show the reader why the quotation makes sense in the argument.
  • Choose quotations that are relevant to the points you are making, and are quoted because something will be lost in translation if you were to paraphrase the quotation.
  • Introduce and integrate quotations into the text by providing the reason for the upcoming quotation and, after the quotation, your analysis of it.
  • Focus on the language of quotations in your interpretations.

Remember, if your ideas are at the center of your writing, you are integrating into your document quotations that support your argument. If you do the reverse, using your ideas to support quotations, your own ideas and voice will be lost in the voices of others, and your readers will not be able to find you in your paper.


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