Using your sources creatively

In order to consider issues such as those raised in Activity Twenty-seven in more depth, in this section we are going to spend some more time thinking about how you might use your different sources in order to integrate the 'voices' of all the different authors and writers that you are drawing on when composing your own writing. As you will see from the extracts from a student essay that we examine in Activity Twenty-nine below, attributing your sources correctly is the way in which you as the assignment writer can show how your argument is being constructed through a combination of perspectives from a number of different authors, including, of course, you. By their very nature, academic ideas cannot develop without being located in a 'conversation' and using sources appropriately locates you as a student in that particular conversation. Put another way, it gives you an entry into that club as a new member. You do not come in as an expert but learn the conversation of the experts and build what you want to say around that, always making sure that you explicitly acknowledge what the experts have been saying. Avoiding plagiarism is fundamentally about making visible to the reader of your assignment the conversation you have entered into, which authors you have drawn on and where your ideas have come from. You are using sources not only to provide evidence for your argument but to construct your argument, something we have already explored in some depth in Chapter 7. The whole process of reading and assimilating what others say is central to building your argument and using appropriate referencing for all your sources helps the reader see where your ideas are coming from, what you are building on and how skilfully you are able to extend this to present your own perspective on a topic. This enables you to get credit from the assessor of your work where it is due.

Tutors often bemoan the fact that so many students submit assignments which they describe as playing safe with very little originality. Your tutor can only gauge the originality in your writing if she is able to see what you are adding to what you have read. To do this she needs to be able to understand how you have built on your sources in developing your argument in order to provide some kind of originality. This is what will earn you the best marks because it will make your work stand out from the crowd! Using sources correctly will also help you to unravel what the different authors you are using are saying, as well as helping you to synthesize these contrasting views. Looked at this way we can begin to see that using sources correctly is not just a chore but is a valuable way of working with different viewpoints. You will not only cite authors you agree with but also use authors who propose an alternative viewpoint. Through juxtaposing the views of others in this way you begin to build your own perspective on the question in hand. In short, using sources creatively is part of what it means to write at university.

Generally most subject tutors don't just want to read an essay which is full of long quotes with some linking sentences written by the student. On the other hand, it is also completely understandable that students who are concerned about plagiarism think it is best to do what tutors call 'play safe' and to quote directly from a text rather than find themselves open to accusations of plagiarism. One of the challenges you face as a student writer is finding a way to integrate the sources you are drawing on in your own work, and using them effectively to build your own argument without using too many direct quotations from the authors you are using. A helpful tool in this process of integration is to pay attention to the range of linking words you can use to make a connection in your argument between your ideas and those of the authors you are drawing from. The following activity should help you to do this.

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