Thinking to Write Lesson W9: Using Quality Sources

Using Quality Sources

There are, in essence, two types of support: evidence and appeals to needs or values. Evidence can be factual, logical, statistical, or anecdotal. Different types of evidence include documented facts, interpreted statistics, expert opinions, and expert interpretations of facts, but it can also be anecdotal, such as a short account of personal experience. You must be careful of your sources: the “expert” opinion of a web site, for example, might be completely false. (I once saw a book on weight lifting, the author for which had a Ph.D., but it was a Ph.D. in English; clearly, she was not an authority on muscles, much less muscle development!) You can also write an appeal. In Elements of Argument, Annette T. Rottenberg writes, “A writer often appeals to readers’ needs, that is, requirements for physical and psychological survival and well-being, and values, or standards for right and wrong, good and bad” (139). Arguments can be very convincing as appeals–politicians make them all the time.

Here are some guidelines:

  • Use a variety of sources (online or in print): books, magazines, newspapers, journals, etc..
  • Do not use primary reference materials, such as dictionaries or encyclopedias, to support your arguments. Dictionaries and encyclopedias are fine resources for gaining a preliminary understanding of a concept, but they are not the “end” of an argument, only the beginning. Exceptions: encyclopedias or dictionaries that are tailored toward a more specific discipline (such as Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy) are acceptable for use in your papers this semester.
  • Be careful that the quality of the works you use is good. Is the author an accepted authority on the subject? Does the work have a bias, and if so, what is it? How does the bias affect the argument? A bias is fine, as long as you recognize it. Most work has a bias, so the question becomes one of how well supported that bias is by logic and facts? If you are unsure of a source, feel free to ask me!
  • Consider as many sides of the point(s) as possible. You don’t have to agree with any particular side; however, you must articulate how your point fits (or doesn’t fit) in with these other points.
  • Use quotes wisely.  Make sure that you:
    • explain the meaning of the quote
    • explain how the quote supports the point
    • explain how the quote ties the point to the larger argument (point).
    • In general, the words of a quote should hold a ratio with your own words of 1-to-4 or less (quotes should make up no more than 1/4 of your total writing).
  • Be sure to cite paraphrasing. They may be your words, but the argument or data still belongs to the source!  As with quotes, make sure that you:
    • explain the meaning of the quote
    • explain how the quote supports the point
    • explain how the quote ties the point to the larger argument (point).
  • Avoid logical fallacies.
  • Write in a clear, coherent style.

 


Watch this video for more advice: