Outside Sources: Selecting and Integrating Direct Quotes and Paraphrase

Heather Torrie

As a teacher of advanced, academic writing for the past ten years in an intensive English program, I thrive on finding ways to prepare students for authentic writing in their future undergraduate and graduate programs. An essential piece of academic writing is effective implementation of outside sources. A great deal of literature has been written discussing the importance of integration of reading material in academic tasks in university settings (e.g. Jordan, 2012), as well as the need for authentic assessments which include integrated reading and writing (Knoch & Sitjalabhorn, 2013). To this end, our curriculum for advanced writing includes the student learning outcome of being able to correctly quote, paraphrase, and cite outside sources (using the MLA style). My fellow instructors and I have worked diligently to create materials and activities to meet this objective. Yet, it still seems that this is one part of academic writing that remains extremely challenging. After several years of using the same types of activities, it occurred to me that I needed to look closely at what specific challenges students were actually having with source integration. As part of a self-driven, internal classroom research project, I collected and analyzed student samples from in-class writing assessments in our advanced writing classes. This exercise was quite enlightening, providing several instructional implications.
To provide context, it is important to understand that we have generally been teaching students to quote, paraphrase, and cite outside sources in our writing program. First, a major emphasis has been on teaching the correct format for citation, including the author’s last name, page number, correct punctuation, and introducers. For instance, writing “According to Smith, “There are…” is more effective than a naked quote that has no grammatical connection to the writer’s own sentences. Paraphrasing has been another major hurdle, and much time is spent on practicing putting ideas in different words. Additionally, we have worked to help students respond to and discuss a quote to effectively integrate it as support to the essay, which has often been an argument essay. Also, in order to help build research skills, we sometimes guide students in the process of sifting through online material to find quotations or facts that could be used as support in their papers.
Classroom Research
So, how effective has this instruction been? To answer this question, I gathered and analyzed attempts at source integration from 22 essays over the course of one semester. These essays were written in response to a prompt which required students to use excerpts – one direct quote and one paraphrase – from a provided 500-700 word article on the topic. 10 essays were from an in-class argument-style prompt: Should study abroad be a requirement of all university students? Another set of 6 essays were from an in-class process-style prompt: Describe the process that companies use to hire new employees. Because I was also anxious to see how students performed at source integration for out-of-class, multi-draft essays, I gathered a set of 4 essays written from a process prompt: Describe the product life cycle. The number was fairly arbitrary, and based on practicality and availability. In my analysis, I pulled one source use from each paper, including the sentence directly before and after the quote itself.
In examining and evaluating these samples, I identified three main types of weaknesses related to source integration of direct quotations (DQ). Type 1 weaknesses involve DQ that are not integrated with the sentences before and/or after. Or, the student attempts to integrate the DQ, but there is still a wide gap in ideas. This was the most common problem, identified in 19 of the 22 samples.
Example: In addition, if the students don’t have the language skills, finding a job will be a problem for them. As Taft says, “These students leave with fond memories of a fun time partying it up in an exotic country, but no real language skills, no real understanding of another culture, and no strong ties or relationships with the country and its people.” What’s more, not all the countries give students the opportunities to find a job. Such as in America, international students just can find an on-campus job.
Discussion: It seems that the point she was trying to make was about job opportunities, possibly back in their own country, but also (and she clearly states this) in the host country. The quote, however, does not seem to fit, other than mentioning “no real language skills.” More connections need to be made. 
Type 2 weaknesses involve DQs that are not clearly explained, leaving the reader to wonder what the original source truly meant and whether or not the student understood the meaning of the source. This weakness was seen in 4 of the samples.
Example: The final stage of the product life cycle is decline… Most companies do not make a profit and they find a new product. Youngme Moon says, “As marketers instinctively embrace the old life cycle paradigm, they needlessly consign their products to following the curve into maturity and decline.” In other words, companies can use each of these strategies to alter a product’s competitive environment to their advantage.
Discussion: We are left to wonder a) what the article truly said – what did she suggest instead? And b) whether the writer understood Moon’s point and read the whole article. The sentence following the quote does not connect at all.
Finally, Type 3 weakness, evident in 5 of the 22 samples, was that the DQ does not fit stylistically/grammatically. Common examples include using inconsistent voice, such as using “you” or imperatives. This can especially be a challenge if the source material was written in a less formal style than the academic essay.
Example: The first step is advertising the position… In this step, many applicants would measure which company can give them good benefits. According to Martin, who is one of the best business columnists, “Put more of the focus on what your company can do for potential employees, and you’ll attract candidates who better fit your need.” That’s why it is the most important step for hiring new employees.
Discussion: The quote does fit adequately with the sentence before it, though it is not integrated grammatically.
Overall, this analysis suggests that while students can format a direct quotation correctly or effectively paraphrase a sentence, they generally struggle to effectively integrate the source into their paragraph. Of these samples, only 2 of 22 included effective integration of a direct quotation. For more familiar topics, such as study abroad, students all seemed to understand their selected passage, but were not able to adequately connect it to their ideas. Often students should have made more of a transition from general to specific, or vice versa. For example, one student wrote that study abroad is helpful, after which he/she quoted the article giving a very specific advantage. The student would have more successfully integrated the quote by inserting an additional sentence or phrase beforehand suggesting the advantage that will be more fully explained in the quote.
With less familiar topics, such as the product life cycle and employment, some students experienced additional challenges in understanding the passage and also being able to integrate it grammatically and stylistically. For instance, in the hiring assignment, the focus is on the process more than advice, so students need to learn how to introduce an imperative or quote only part of the passage so that it will more appropriately fit together.
As a result of this study, I have formulated four main pedagogical suggestions to the way we teach source integration:
  1. Show students more examples of correctly formatted direct quotations and paraphrases effectively placed and integrated into a short passage. It may also be beneficial to show less effective examples and have students discuss the weakness in connection or interpretation of the source.
  2. Help students understand the purpose of using direct quotes or paraphrases/summarized information in various types of writing. For instance, statistics or anecdotes can provide evidence for an argument; additionally, providing details from an outside source is often used to provide credible theoretical background in academic writing.
  3. Provide more practice with bottom-down, intensive reading. Students need to learn to examine a passage before putting it in their paragraph by asking questions, such as:
In other words, what is the author trying to say here? (This question should be asked even if the intention is to include the sentence as a direct quote)
What does this tell us about ____?
Does this sentence have the same idea as my ideas in my essay?
Is this sentence more general or more specific compared to the point in my paragraph (or the sentence I want to add the quote after)?
So, what? What are the implications? Why is this important?
What are the consequences of this idea?
  1. Provide students with direct quotes/paraphrases to practice integrating, rather than requiring them to spend too much time searching for sources on their own.
Although I have not had a chance to do any post-intervention analysis, from my observations it appears that source integration has improved as I have worked to focus on more than just format. At this early stage, as we introduce students to using sources, it may be sufficient to emphasize that citation is critical, and that there are various citation styles, according to the department, course, or professor. But formatting errors can be more easily corrected, whereas effective integration takes time, thoughtfulness, and above all, a lot of practice and guidance.
Knoch, U., & Sitajalabhorn, W. (2013). A closer look at integrated writing tasks: Towards a more focused definition for assessment purposes. Assessing Writing, 18(4), 300e308.
Jordan, R. R. (2012). English for academic purposes: a guide and resource book for teachers.

ITBE Link : Spring 2018 - Volume 46 Number 1