Writing With Sources

“The alert reader can discover, and take much pleasure in discovering remarkable verbal strategies, metaphoric patterns, repetitions and developments of sound, sense, and image throughout Emerson’s writing.”

—Joel Porte, “The Problem of Emerson”

Literary analysis involves summarizing, paraphrasing and quoting primary and secondary sources. In the coming weeks, as we read Emerson–and think and talk and write about his words–we will be working on the art of quotation. Here are some simple protocols to begin a larger conversation about writing conventions:

  • Quote only to provide evidence to demonstrate a claim or to develop the argument
  • Introduce the quotation so that a reader understands your reason for quoting

The most succinct summary of Emerson’s philosophy of education appears in a journal entry dated September 13, 1831. “Education is the drawing out of the soul” (490).

Or, use signal phrases is an introductory clause to signal to the reader a shift from your point of view.

In a journal entry dated September 13, 1831, Emerson defined education as “the drawing out of the soul” (490).

  • Follow the quotation with a discussion of what you want the reader to take away from the quotation.

Calling explicit attention to the root of the Latin word Educare, to draw out or forth, Emerson once again locates learning in a continuum. “Because the soul is progressive,” Emerson begins his essay “Art,” “it never quite repeats itself, but in every act attempts the production of a new and fairer whole.”

  • When you introduce a quotation with a signal phrase, the quotation becomes part of your sentence. Make sure that the sentence is grammatically correct. If you are having difficulty, you can use brackets or ellipsis
  • The choice of verb in a signal phrase will help you indicate to your reader information about the disposition of the source. Here is an example from an essay about Emerson’s writing by the literary critic Barbara Packer:

“In the late brilliant essay ‘Poetry and Imagination,’ published in Letters and Social Aims, he argues that all symbols were meant to hold only for a moment, and that it is the poet’s capacity to transfer significance endlessly from one symbol to another that makes [the poet] the emblem of human thought. ‘All thinking is analogizing, and it is the business of life to learn metonymy’” (732).

  • Continue to read as a writer. Pay attention to how critics use signal phrases. The models will provide you with examples of the conventions for citation in English studies.

Signal phrases need not all be the same. This injunction is a matter of structure and style. Rather than repeat “Emerson says. . .” or “Emerson writes. . .” use words that indicate what you take to the be the tone of the essay. (Emerson “insists,” or “suggest to the contrary,” or “notes that.” Consider “argues,” “adds,” “contends,” “points out,” “admits,” “comments,” “insists.”) Or, consider the use of a transitional phrase:

“In an apparent contradiction, Carlyle goes on to argue that. . . .”

  • Embed a quotation as a complete sentence in your essay. Or begin a sentence with Emerson’s prose and then add the signal at the end:

Emerson even goes so far as to say that the poetry we once admired “has long since come to be a sound of tin pans” (317).

Emerson is firm about the need to reinvigorate poetic form. “What we once admired as poetry has long since come to be a sound of tin pans” (317).

“What we once admired as poetry has long since come to be a sound of tin pans,” Emerson submits, for “many of our later books we have outgrown” (317).

  • Enclose short quotations (fewer than four lines) in quotation marks. An embedded quotation (that is, a quotation embedded into a sentence of your own) must fit grammatically into the sentence of which it is a part.

A simple formulation of this argument in favor of comparative thinking is provided by Arthur Kleinman, a psychiatrist and medical anthropologist at Harvard University. Kleinman’s “Eight Questions” do more than merely guide the medical practitioner toward the step of gathering information about cultural background. The questions prompt a reevaluation of one’s own cultural perspective as one that is not universal. As Kleinman explains, “If you can’t see that your own culture has its own set of interests, emotions, and biases, how can you expect to deal successfully with someone else’s culture?” (Qtd. In Fadiman 261). This position requires a radical reorientation from simply considering “the other” as outside the norm to understanding one’s own normative cultural conventions.

  • Set off long quotations (more than four lines) in what is called a “block quotation.” To set off a long quotation, begin a new line, indent ten spaces from the left margin, and double space throughout. Do not use quotation marks. Block quotations need adequate introduction and are most often immediately preceded by a full sentence ending in a colon. Too often the reader will get lost as you transition from your own writing into a long quotation. It’s better to use a short introductory tag (as described above) and then follow the quotation with your discussion.

Whitman Ah Sing’s resistance to a “hyphenated identity” is further illustrated near the opening of the final chapter in the novel, One-Man Show”:

There is no East here. West is meeting West. This was all West. All you saw was West. This is The Journey In the West. I am so fucking offended. Why aren’t you offended? Let me help you get offended. Always be careful to take offense. These sinophiles dig us so much, they’re drooling over us. That kind of favorableness I can do without. They think they know us—the wide range of us from sweet to sour—because they eat in Chinese restaurants. . . .  I’ve read my Aristotle and Agee, I’ve been to college; they have ways to criticize the theater besides for sweet and sourness. They could do laundry reviews, clean or dirty. Come on. What’s so ‘exotic’? (308)

Here Whitman is offended by the “sinophiles” who consider themselves knowledgeable about the experiences of the “Chinese.” Of course as the language of this passage suggests, Whitman is performing—he is on stage, speaking to the audience, waving the reviews in his hand. His veiled reference to Wu’s The Journey to the West reminds his audience, as he puts it elsewhere, that “we allthesame Americans” (282). His rambling monologue therefore has a very particular rhetorical end” to challenge his audience to see how easily they construct a binary opposition that forces him (“I’m common ordinary”) to be either American or Chinese.

  • Check your quotation for accuracy at least twice. If you intend to add or substitute a word in the quotation, enclose the words in square brackets. Indicate omissions of material with ellipses (three periods, with a space between each). If you omit words at the end of sentence, indicate the omission with three periods (an ellipses) and end punctuation (a period)
  • MLA Persnickities: Commas and periods go inside quotation marks. Semicolons and colons go outside quotation marks. Question marks, exclamation points and dashes go inside if they are part of the quotation, outside if they are your additions.

On Second Thoughts

I’m not sure if any of you caught the moment on the first day of class when I asked you to give your blog a subtitle, or tagline. I set in front of you is a very simple problem that is at the center of your work as a writer: finding the right words and placing them in the right order. The words “finding” and “placing” of course stand for an extraordinarily complex process that required you not only to think about language, form, context and audience, as well as medium.

The taglines you have formulated for your blogs are important. That is, the blogs are suggesting attention to how you might represent your reading, thinking and writing in this course. I encourage you to continue thinking about your blog as more than simply a functional tool (an archive). Your work is to make use of the blog to better represent your intellectual work and to help you develop as a writer.

Below is a blog post by a friend and collaborator who teaches at Washington College in Maryland, Sean Meehan. Making Use of the Medium: Ways of Doing Digital Writing and Reading says much of what I want to say about your writing on a blog. Professor Meehan and I are both interested in using blogs to develop the reading and thinking and writing of our students. Here is what he says:

I mentioned in the first class that we would be focusing in the course on ways that we could develop and strengthen our writing by being more aware and making better use of the medium and multiple media of writing. The blog postings you are doing in response to reading and discussion (and on your way to the larger writing projects) are a good example. So here are some tips, offered in response to your initial posts, for ways to develop a stronger response and to experiment with future postings.

  • Provide a  focus for your response–both in terms of summary (what the reading says) and analysis (what you say, your critical thinking in response to the reading). Some simple ways to develop focus:
  • title: at the end, or while writing the blog (I suggest you save or publish the blog before finishing, and then update it once or twice while writing), use this to ask yourself: what am I getting at? At the very least, don’t title it “blog #1″; start experimenting with some creative thinking–you will need a good title for your essays
  • summary (what you hear the reading say): think 2-4 sentences, an initial paragraph that summarizes in a way that will allow you to later dig in to a key point and elaborate further
  • elaboration (what you notice; what you want to say about the reading): dig in by providing a  quotation; you might choose to use the quotation tool (in toolbar) to highlight this
  • basic paragraphing: though the posting need not be fully edited or as formally organized as an essay, consider some basic paragraph breaks to move from summary to analysis, to distinguish different main points; this will also allow you to do some practice with transitions.
  • tags: after finishing the draft, the tag function invites some reflection on what the focus has been, what some key ideas and keywords are; tags can also be effective later when working on an essay and looking for material–to remember or be surprised by some associations (two different posts that turn out to be related by a tag); tags can sometimes lead to interesting associations to other blogs.
  • Advance your focus by making a link
    • the basic links we will use (and mainly use in writing) are quotations and citations.
    • consider digital quotation: a link to a site that offers definition or explanation or example for your focus.
      • use the link function in the toolbar
    • consider linking/inserting an image or other media, if relevant and effective for your focus
    • think of this as a digital means of forwarding and countering (two key elements of academic writing we focus on in the course)
  • Look ahead: to discussion in class, to the next section of the reading, to your next post.

one way to conclude effectively (wrap up, but not entirely–since a blog by definition is not a finished product, should have more to say): ask a question.

We will go over these suggestions in our individual conferences, and in class, as I am interested in what you think about them. If these suggestions are interesting to you, and you want to respond, go ahead and post a comment on this page below.