Saturday, February 5, 2011

Using Quotes From Sources: Time Management and Piecing Together The Puzzle

When writing research papers, I always find that the most time consuming task is typing out all of the quotes from my sources. Like most people I have talked to, I don’t want to be bogged down with my sources when I’m trying to state all of the arguments on my topic. How do I take the stress away from trying to fit all of the appropriate quotes into the related arguments in my paper?

I think of it as a huge jigsaw puzzle. First I figure out what I want to talk about. Then I take each of my outside sources and circle, bracket, and underline potential quotes that I feel will support my discussion. Just like putting together a larger than average-sized jigsaw puzzle, I don’t try to put all the pieces together in one sitting. Otherwise the task becomes tedious. Instead, I give myself at least a two week window.

Like a jigsaw puzzle, I’m going to put together all of the edges first to form my foundation. The foundation in this case involves the potential quotes I’m looking to integrate. I’ll spend one day going through my sources and marking quotes (if they are printed sources rather than online sources). Then I type them out into a word document the next day. If I don’t separate my time into small chunks, then again the process becomes tedious. If my sources are online, I am immediately cutting and pasting the potential quotes into a word document.

Next, I categorize my quotes. I separate them into subtopics, and then I cut and paste each quote into its accompanying subtopic that I created. Now I have some sense of structure. (Sigh of relief!) I take a look at how I categorized my quotes and then I figure out an order to use for my paper. Now I just allowed the pieces of the puzzle to start coming together. I call this the step in which my paper starts to write itself. Then after the aforementioned sigh of relief, I take a break from the paper and return to it either later that day or I may just wait until the next day.

Now I look at my categories of quotes. I go through each category to find that multiple quotes are basically saying the exact same thing. So now I can start to narrow down my quotes before a 5 page paper becomes an 8-9 page paper. Next, I look at the order of my categories. I view it as a group of puzzle pieces that need to be placed together. Do I like the order I put them in, or should I start with the bottom right corner of the puzzle instead of the upper left corner? In other words, does my order make sense to me?

It all made complete sense at the time I assembled it, but it may not make sense today when I  have a fresh perspective on things. This is why it is essential to separate the process into several days instead of trying to throw it all together in a short amount of time. When I am pressed for time, it is inevitable that I am going to make mistakes. My quotes will be forced into a paragraph like two pieces of a puzzle that simply aren’t meant to fit together. That’s when the process of writing a research paper gets frustrating.

How do I place a quote into my paper so it doesn’t seem forced? Here's how I go about this: (Remember that everyone has a different approach. This is only a suggestion. Try it and see if it works for you. If not, then try a system that makes you more comfortable).
My sentence before a quote should be an introduction into that quote. When I talk my way out of the quote, I am basically summing up the argument the author stated, but I write it into my own words to move forward and to help transition to the next segment of my discussion. For example:

Chicago has seen several blizzards in the past four decades, but the one that set the precedent was the blizzard of 1967. Andrew L. Wang writes, “All major storms are compared to the record blizzard that paralyzed the area 44 years ago. Over 35 hours on Jan. 26 and 27, 1967, 23 inches of snow fell on Chicago, collapsing roofs, closing businesses and shutting down the city for days” (Wang 4). It is clear that the 1967 storm was detrimental to Chicago commerce, and therefore it is understandable how business owners feared the worst this week.

Next, I would write a sentence that would transition my last statement to my next quote. The direction I am planning to take is to provide evidence about the 55-60 million dollars Chicago businesses lost this week as a result of the blizzard. From that transition, I would use the same pattern as above:

1) Write statement in my own words that introduces an argument I am making about the blizzard.

2) Use a quote from my sources that backs up my statement.

3) Write a sentence in my own words that sums up what my source said while helping me to either continue discussing the topic from the quote OR helping me to transition to the next idea.

Hopefully these suggestions will help you to piece together the puzzle involved in writing a research paper. When using this step-by-step approach, I have more time to shape my discussion around my quotes, and it helps me to make better transitions both into and out of quotes. If you have any questions, please feel free to make an appointment with any staff tutor at the RU Writing Center. We are here to answer your questions, give you suggestions, and to help make the process of writing papers less tedious for you.



  1. Nice post Fonda! It is a good way of seeing a paper. I like the picture of the cat!! =) Yay!

  2. (Not that the kitty will help people. I meant I hope the suggestions help people. LOL!)