Tips on How to Properly Use Sources and References in Academic Essays

    Academic Essays
    Academic Essays

    Writing an essay in the humanities usually involves defending an argument. To successfully accomplish this task, it is necessary to support these arguments with evidence. In the humanities, evidence takes the form of other people’s positions and arguments: essays, commentaries, critical analyses, and refutations. This means that to write a good humanities essay, you need to know how to refer to sources, include them in your argument, and properly cite them.

    You can buy an argumentative essay if you need help. If you want to do it yourself, read this article. Let’s start!

    Search and good use of sources

    The best place to start is with your instructor’s recommendations – did he or she mention specific books, articles, or authors that you should refer to when writing your paper? It is also important to consider the length of the paper: a longer paper will naturally require you to consult more sources than a shorter one. Google Scholar and university library electronic resources are invaluable resources for finding sources.

    • Learn to distinguish between a primary source and a secondary source. As a general rule, you should not cite a secondary source more often than a primary source. Try to spend more time on the primary source than on the secondary sources. If, when you finish your paper, you find that there are more references to critical commentary than to the primary source, for example, that is a sign that you should go back and restructure your argument.
    • Read to write. Once you have found your primary and secondary sources, take the appropriate time to read and analyze them. Many students make the mistake of not devoting enough hours to preparatory reading, which all research papers require. Think about the number of sources you select and the time you will need to study each source. Take notes as you read: write down not only the main points but also your doubts and reactions (what does the word mean? What did the author mean?). These reactions will help you determine what argument or position you want to take on what you read.

    References within the text

    Now that you have identified the various positions and arguments that support the thesis of your essay, how should you present them in your text? A common mistake is to simply list the positions of various authors and expect your teacher to see how they relate to what you are trying to convey.

    Remember that the evidence does not speak for itself: it is up to you to clearly show the connection between the evidence and your argument. When including the positions of different authors, think: Why is this information important? How does it relate to my argument? Does it support it? If so, how does it do so?

    There are different ways to include the sources used in the body of the essay:

    • Verbatim citation: This is the reproduction of the author’s words as they appear in the primary source. Use verbatim quotations if you don’t think you could have said it better yourself, if the particular language the author uses is important to your argument, or if it is a particularly important or persuasive quote. If it is a short quote, “it can be incorporated into the statement using inverted commas in this way”. In the case of a longer quote:

      It is usually separated from the main text in this way. It all depends on the style guide you use. You have to ask your teacher if he or she has a preference and try to be consistent.

    • Paraphrasing: This is reproducing parts of a text in your own words. Knowing how to paraphrase correctly is very important to avoid plagiarism: it’s not just finding a pair of synonyms and rearranging the author’s words. It is important to point out when you are paraphrasing someone else’s position and to refer to the source in the same way as when quoting a text.

      Paraphrasing is useful, for example, when the author’s original words are not particularly relevant, or when you want to quickly introduce and comment on a position.

    Gradually you will learn to balance between paraphrasing and quoting and will instinctively decide when to use one or the other.  Try not to overuse citations just yet, and remember that citations are evidence of your arguments, so they should never be the bulk of your work.

    Final Bibliography

    If you include information from a source in your text, you must cite it correctly, citing the title of the work, the author’s name, the year and place of publication, the edition (if more than one), and the publisher.

    There are many citation styles: APA, Chicago, MLA, MHRA, etc. Always ask your teacher if they have a preference. However, the most important thing is to choose a style and stick to it consistently.  As a rule, you should include a final bibliography: a list of all the sources you have consulted.

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