Writing Well: In the End Zone

In the End Zone

A thesis doesn't become a fact just because you line up some proof. You could find three or more reasons to support anything, from “We need more federal funding for ferrets” to “I really should finish off that pint of rocky road right now.” (Hmmm … back later.)

First, you decide which authorities best support your assertions. As you write, you smoothly integrate the most convincing outside proofs with your own words. You present material logically, deal with opposing arguments, qualify generalizations, and address your readers intelligently. You also document your sources to credit their contribution. That's what you'll learn in this section.

In addition, I'll show you how to assemble a Bibliography and Works Cited page. Finally, we'll go over paper presentation, including frontmatter, endmatter, and keyboarding. Let the games begin.

Backed by the Best

So, how can you show that the information you're quoting, summarizing, and paraphrasing comes from experts and isn't something you made up yourself? How can you get the most bang for your buck by using expert opinions effectively?

As an example, let's look at an excerpt from a research paper I wrote on Hester Prynne, Nathaniel Hawthorne's heroine from The Scarlet Letter. Here's how the paper opens:

Another Possible Source of Hawthorne's Hester Prynne

  • And, after many, many years, a new grave was delved, near an old and sunken one, in that burial ground beside which King's Chapel has since been built. It was near that old and sunken grave … on this simple slab of slate—as that curious investigator may still discern, … there appeared … a herald's wording of which might serve for a motto and brief description of our now concluded legend; so somber is it, and relieved only by one ever-glowing point of light gloomier than the shadow: “ON A FIELD, SABLE, THE LETTER A, GULES” (The Scarlet Letter, 264).
  • So ends Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, and so begins the search for Hester Prynne's grave. Seventeenth-century Boston town officials, meticulous about keeping accurate records, nevertheless failed to record the death—or life, for that matter—of Hester Prynne, adulteress, seamstress, and ministering angel. The town officials must have been too busy surveying chimneys, keeping pigs off the streets, keeping count of the “many Miscarriages [that] are committed by Saylers … immoderate drinking, and other vain expences,” and granting widows permission to keep houses of “publique entertainment for the selling of Coffee, Chuchaletto, & sydar by retayle” (Nobel, 113).
  • The lack of official records notwithstanding, Hester's grave is more often inquired after by visitors to the King's Chapel Burial Grounds than any other, claims the custodian of that historic enclosure in a 1999 interview. Her grave is apparently sought there because Hawthorne's skillful intermingling of real and fictional people and places has led readers to believe that The Scarlet Letter is based on a true story. In his essay entitled “The New England Sources for The Scarlet Letter,” scholar Charles Ryskamp establishes the fact that the supporting characters in The Scarlet Letter—other than Hester, Pearl, Dimmesdale, and Chillingworth, for whom we can find no real historical basis—were actual figures (258). The fictional characters assume solidity in part through their encounters with well-known citizens of colonial Boston. According to Ryskamp, Hawthorne used the most credible history of Boston available to him, Caleb Snow's History of Boston. …
  • In this instance, I started off by citing a primary source, The Scarlet Letter. This shows that I know the necessary basis for the discussion. I also integrated the name of the source directly in the body of the paper (“scholar Charles Ryskamp”), used cue words to show how he stood behind his work (“establishes the fact that …”), and gave credit to a source in parenthesis (Nobel, 113). Here's why.

Star Power

When you cite material from a well-respected source, put the author's name directly in the body of your text to get more mileage from it. Readers are impressed—and rightly so—when you cite a recognized authority. Placing the person's name in the text shows that you've done your homework, that you understand who to line up behind your argument. For example:

  • In “Notes on the Decline of Naturalism,” the well-known scholar Philip Rahv states that …
  • Testifying before Congress on the issue of unrestricted Internet access, computer wizard Bill Gates argued that …

Cued In

Also use cue words and phrases to set off outside material. For example, I used “establishes the fact that” in my example.

Fortunately, you've got a wide variety of cue words at your disposal. For each source, choose the cue word that expresses your exact shade of meaning. Life is difficult enough without having to hunt for cue words, so I've put together a list of the most useful ones:

Write Angles

It's not enough just to slap the information into your paper, even if you do surround any exact quotes with quotation marks. The material must be smoothly blended in and used to make a specific point.

Writer's Block

Never omit material from a quotation to change its meaning. Also, if you do excerpt a quotation, always be sure it makes grammatical sense after you've cut it.

 Cue Words to Integrate Quotations 
adds agrees argues concedes
acknowledges admits advises confirms
asks asserts believes concludes
claims comments compares considers
contends declares defends denies
disagrees disputes emphasizes explains
endorses establishes hints hopes
finds holds illustrates implies
insists maintains notes observes
points out rejects relates reports
responds reveals says sees
speculates shows speculates states
suggests thinks warns writes
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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Writing Well © 2000 by Laurie Rozakis, Ph.D.. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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