Using Sources

A central aspect of writing academic texts is using sources. You use sources to be able to build on previous research. You show that you know a field and are able to relate to it. When you write about a study that you have conducted, you also use sources to show how your study relates and contributes to the field. 

When you use material from other sources, you need to clearly indicate that the material is not your own as well as show where you found the material – you provide a source. You need to provide a source when you use information, ideas, and illustrations. You still need to do so even if you used your own words, that is, paraphrased the information. You give the reference for several reasons: to enable the reader to find the information, to indicate that you are a conscientious student, and to avoid plagiarism.

Different Ways of Using Sources: Quoting, Paraphrasing, and Summarizing 

There are different ways of using sources, and awareness about the different ways enables you to use sources with precision. You may quote, paraphrase, or summarize.  

Quoting

When you quote, you use information from your source word by word – and in addition to providing a source you must also use quotation marks to indicate that the words are indeed copied. Quoting may be useful when you use a definition, or when you take information from a very prominent source. Quotes are however not very common in the medical field; information is almost always presented in your own words (still with a source clearly indicated).

If you have conducted an interview study, you may – and should – use quotes more frequently in your results section, as what your informants have said constitutes your working material.

Paraphrasing

When you paraphrase, you relate the information from the source using your own words. Paraphrases are common in academic writing, much more common than quotes. Here too you have to indicate your source clearly. It is important to put the information into your own words; it helps you to process the material and gain a deeper understanding of it, to show your reader/teacher that you understand the material, and to avoid plagiarism. 

When you use material from sources in your writing you should always provide a clear citation, but you also need to paraphrase the information, “put it in your own words”. But why is that – why not copy the information, word by word?

Do you ever find it difficult putting information into “your own words” when you use sources in your texts? Here’s some advice on how to paraphrase.

Summarizing

When you summarize, you use material from a source, but you do not relate all the information. You provide an overview of what the source relates without going into details. Summaries may be appropriate when you write your background section, for example – you use detailed texts written by experts in the field, but you do not need to account for everything in detail. Like paraphrases, summaries are very common in academic texts (naturally, you still need to indicate your source clearly).

Exceptions

There are actually occasions when you do not need to provide a source when you state something. You do not have to when you relate something commonly known, for example that antibiotics cannot cure viral infections. It may however be difficult to determine what is commonly known. Discuss the issue with a fellow student, and if you are still not sure, it is better to be cautious and provide a source than to take a risk and not provide one.

Neither do you have to provide a source when you account for your own results or present your own interpretations and ideas. 

Different Ways of Presenting Sources: Integrated and Unintegrated 

There are different ways of introducing sources in your text: you may mention the study in the actual text and then indicate the source within parentheses, or you may just provide the source within parentheses and not mention it in the text. These ways of integrating sources are referred to as integrated and unintegrated, respectively.

Integrated source: Unintegrated source:
Sucre has shown that sugar has a negative impact on health (2008).  Sugar has a negative impact on health (Sucre 2008).

The source may be unintegrated when you present the information as true, for example when you outline the well-established mechanism behind something. Sources are often unintegrated in the introduction/background section.  

You should however integrate the source when you outline information that you do not present as true and that you want to problematize, for example when you compare your results with the results of others. Sources are integrated primarily in the discussion, but may also be integrated in the introduction, for example when you want to outline a field where there have been conflicting results or controversy. (Likewise, sources may be unintegrated in the discussion, for example when you use sources to underpin a theory to explain your results).

You may integrate the source by mentioning the researcher or the research group, writing for example “Hedin asserts that…” or “In a study by Chen et al., a correlation between X and Y was observed.” When you integrate the source in this manner, the researcher or the research group becomes fairly central. The summary markers, the words used to introduce information, also become central (“asserts” and “was observed” in the examples above). Using summary markers enables you to subtly indicate your attitude to the information you introduce. Writing “Khan shows that…” is different from writing “Khan suggests that…”. And writing “Khan claims that…” changes the meaning significantly. The last alternative prepares the reader that you will oppose Khan’s idea or finding. There are a number of summary markers. Some are listed below.

Show Prove Indicate
Suggest Propose Assert
Challenge Claim Explain
Insist Deny Emphasize

As can be seen, summary markers can indicate widely different things. Choose your summary markers with care to ensure that you express what you intended. 

If you want to integrate the source but do not want to focus on the researcher or research group, there are some alternatives. You may for example write:

  • ”The results of a minor study indicate that…” By mentioning that the study is minor – and that there is only one – you signal that you account for something that is slightly unclear. What you present may not be true – but at the same time, you do not imply that it is not. Your attitude to the source will instead be shown in subsequent sentences, if relevant. 
  • ”An Australian study has shown that…” In this way, you may stress the setting of the study instead of the research group – if the setting is relevant. Your readers would not be surprised if you end this sentence with “…whereas a Japanese study observed…” If you focus on the settings of studies, your readers will perceive setting as important and expect you to focus on regional differences. 

Writing References

When you provide your references, you need to be as clear as possible to ensure that the reader understands where you found your material. There are different reference styles with different rules for how references should be written. If your teacher has not specified which one should be used, you may choose one and use it consistently. The most common reference styles at KI are APA and Vancouver, and KIB provides guides to these.

Plagiarism

Plagiarism means that you use someone else’s results, wording, or illustrations without clearly showing that they are not your own. That may, for example, mean that you:

  • Cut and paste an entire text or parts of it and then use the material in your own text without indicating the source – even if you paraphrased the material.
  • Cut and paste an entire text or parts of it and then use the material in your own text – even if you indicate the source. If you have not used quotation marks you have plagiarized the wording of the text.
  • Copy another student’s text.
  • Work too closely with another student (if you have not been assigned group work).
  • Submit an assignment that you have previously submitted for another course, if your current teacher is unaware and has not approved the re-submission.

Deliberate plagiarism is a serious offence which may cause you to be suspended from your studies for up to six months. 

If you feel uncertain about using sources in your text, you may make an appointment with Academic Writing Support to discuss your text. You can also ask your teacher; it is much better to ask before you hand in your assignment than to risk being suspected of plagiarism. If you are still not sure, remember that it is better to give a citation when one is not strictly needed than to omit one that your reader expects.

Academic Writing Support

Academic Writing Support can help you improve your academic writing skills. Make an appointment and receive individualised help with your text, in person or online.

Senast uppdaterad: 
2020-06-18