Using Sources Effectively

Tips & Strategies

A source is any outside information that you have to seek out. Use sources to emphasize and support a point you’ve made, but let your own ideas, rather than research, drive your paper. Incorporating sources helps build credibility throughout your paper by showing that you have taken an academic look into the issues surrounding your topic. It is important to consider your audience when using sources: what information do they need? There are three ways to use sources effectively: summarizing, paraphrasing, and quoting directly.

Note: Any time you use information from a source, you must cite that source to give the author credit for their ideas, even when you introduce the author or the article with a signal phrase so the reader knows where your source came from. Failing to do so is plagiarism, which is copying someone else’s work and claiming it as your own. It is a serious offense that could result in failing a course or even expulsion from the university. (See our handout on plagiarism for more information) This handout will use the following excerpt from Jonathan Oosting’s article “Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder Pushes Vote on Federal Partnership for ‘Obamacare’ Health Exchange,” MLive, March 19, 2013, for examples:

  • Under a partnership model, federal the government would run the exchange itself while Michigan would be responsible for plan management, and customer assistance. The state would also be required to develop information technology infrastructure. Snyder said that failure to approve the partnership would result in worse customer service for Michigan residents required to have health insurance.


What Summarizing is necessary when you present an entire work or section of that work in a condensed form. It should provide a broad overview of all the material, as opposed to a single idea. A summary should have no more than half the words of the material being summarized.

When Summarize when you don’t need everything that the author has said, such as examples that don’t directly apply to your topic or would take up too much space, when paraphrasing or quoting adds too much length to your text, or when you can say it “better” than the author or use it in a different way.

How Give a brief overview of what you are summarizing. Summaries are not long, but the length depends on the importance of the source within your own paper. Ask yourself: How much space do you think you should allocate to your source material? At what point will your summary start distracting readers from your purpose?

  • Ex: An article written by Jonathan Oosting on MLive discussed the potential partnership between the state of Michigan and the federal government to create a health exchange according to “Obamacare.”

Direct Quotes

What A direct quote uses the author’s exact words and is noted by using quotation marks (“ ”). Direct quotes are the most specific way to use sources. It is especially important to use signal phrases when directly quoting so your reader knows where the quote comes from.

When You should use direct quotes when you cannot paraphrase without losing meaning or when the quote encompasses the main point of what you are trying to say.

How Make sure you introduce the quote so that the audience knows it’s coming, indicate who said the quote, and connect the quote to the rest of your paper.

  • Ex: According to the article, Governor Snyder said “that failure to approve the partnership would result in worse customer service for Michigan residents required to have health insurance.” This indicates that the governor is concerned with Michigan’s citizens rather than political agendas.

For more help, try visiting these websites:

Useful websites:


To view or print our Helpful Handout, click here: Using Sources Effectively

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Page last modified May 28, 2019