For this assignment you will analyze ideas about a subject by comparing approaches to the subject in at least two separate texts. As you do so, pay special attention to (1) the specific language in each text and (2) the methods of argument adopted by each author.

As with other assignments in the Core, you will be given an opportunity to explore the topic in rough form, but the final version of the essay will be in standard written English.

Completing the project will help you to gain the information and to practice the skills that you will need in order to

  • Identify rhetorical appeals (ethos, logos, pathos, and kairos).
  • Demonstrate and evaluate how rhetorical appeals (ethos, logos, pathos, and kairos) contribute to the arguments.
  • Integrate quotations and paraphrases into an essay.
  • Cite sources correctly, in text and in a list of sources.
  • Use tone, mechanics, and style appropriate to a college-educated audience.

Objective I. Identify Rhetorical Appeals 

When writers and speakers want to persuade their audiences, they have a series of tools or strategies at their disposal. These strategies can be called modes of persuasion. Because of their effectiveness, these modes have been employed by countless people over thousands of years. Among them were the ancient Greeks, who recognized that speakers frequently appealed to logic, to the speaker’s own character, and to the audience’s emotions, while paying special attention to the timing of an argument. The Greeks labeled these efforts, respectively, as logos, ethos, pathos, and kairos.

To help you identify and analyze arguments, this section of the Handbook will answer the following questions:

  1. What is an argument?
  2. How do I identify an author’s argument?
  3. What is an effective argument?
  4. What is an ineffective argument?
  5. What is logos?
  6. How do I recognize and evaluate logos in an argument?
  7. What is ethos?
  8. How do I recognize and evaluate ethos in an argument?
  9. What is pathos?
  10. How do I recognize and evaluate pathos in an argument?
  11. What is the rhetorical triangle?
  12. How are logos, ethos, and pathos related to the rhetorical triangle?
  13. What is kairos?
  14. How do I recognize and evaluate kairos in an argument?
  15. How can logos, ethos, pathos, and kairos work together?
  16. How do I compare and contrast multiple authors?

1. What is an argument?

An argument is a systematic attempt to support a debatable claim using logical explanations and reliable evidence. The thesis or claim is debatable because an audience may not find it readily believable without supporting evidence. Stating a debatable claim alone is not sufficient for an argument, however. The author must also explain her reasoning and offer adequate and appropriate examples or data or other forms of evidence to support the claim.

2. How do I identify an author’s argument?

Writers and speakers often state their argument as part of their introduction. In this opening to a piece on children’s beauty pageants by J. Salzano (2013), her main claim is made in the final sentence:

When most people think of normal activities for a six year-old girl, they picture a sea full of Barbie dolls, coloring books and dress up clothes … Popular shows such as “Toddlers and Tiaras”, which revolves around exaggerated filming of child pageantry shows America one narrow view of what the pageant world is all about …The media distorts how society views pageants but they can be beneficial because they give children contestants useful life lessons and they can be viewed on the same positive level as other popular competitive sports.

In journalistic writing, it’s also common to find the argument in the title, as in the article “Pet ownership in college can be a full time job” (Banus, 2013).

Sometimes the argument is made in the conclusion. Sometimes, however, an argument is never distilled into one or two sentences. In that case, it’s up to the audience to decide what argument is being made based on the sum of all the claims the author makes.


3. What is an effective argument?

An effective argument supports a main claim—that is, a thesis—with a set of supporting claims. These key supporting ideas often are stated as topic sentences in body paragraphs. Each stage of the argument—each key supporting idea—is illustrated with logical and reliable evidence.

An effective argument also shows a clear understanding of differing viewpoints and does its best to acknowledge competing claims.

For example, in her argument in support of Oregon’s “pay it forward” college tuition plan, B. Dudley (2013) agrees with one set of opponents when she suggests that “we certainly agree that both the state and federal governments’ contributions to higher education need to be increased.” Yet she concludes that “pay it forward” is a good interim plan by arguing that “those are battles that will be fought out over several years. In the meantime, our students need and deserve a chance to get a college education without incurring enormous unrelenting debt.”

Dudley has not only acknowledged a set of opponents here, she has agreed that their argument is the best long-term goal.

4. What is an ineffective argument?

An argument may be ineffective for a variety of reasons. Maybe the “argument” does not make a claim that an academic audience would disagree with. For example, “smoking is bad for you” might be considered an ineffective argument, not because it is wrong but because your audience already knows this.

An argument also might be ineffective because the support for it is nonexistent. Paragraphs may make claim after claim while offering little to no evidence or illustration. Another reason that an argument may be ineffective is that the support is not logical. An example of an illogical argument would be that global warming doesn’t exist because it snowed in the Arizona desert last winter. An argument also may be ineffective if the evidence is unreliable, as would be the case if an author used material from a corporation’s website to praise or defend the company.

An argument also might be ineffective because it is too broad, which makes the claim difficult to “prove” in a short essay. Claims that gun control is needed/not needed or that abortion should be legal/illegal are examples of assertions that may lead to overly broad—and therefore ineffective—arguments.

Making a broad claim about an ongoing debate also makes it difficult to bring new perspectives to the discussion.


5. What is logos?

An appeal to logos relies upon on reason or logic. If an author appeals to logos, she is implying that her argument is convincing because it is rational (i.e., it “makes sense”).

The following logos-based appeal from Grist Magazine’s website aims to convince readers that they should do something about global warming:

  • every year since 1992 has been warmer than 1992;
  • the ten hottest years on record occurred in the last 15;
  • every year since 1976 has been warmer than 1976;
  • the 20 hottest years on record occurred in the last 25;
  • every year since 1956 has been warmer than 1956; and
  • every year since 1917 has been warmer than 1917.

(Beck, 2006)

Ideally, appeals to logos stand on their own, regardless of who is speaking and without the need to appeal to emotions.

6.  How do I recognize and evaluate logos in an argument?

While authors are free to draw on any of the three modes of persuasion, most academic arguments are grounded in logic, the careful use of reasoning, and evidence.

To determine whether a logos-based appeal is effective, ask the following questions:

  • How rational are the author’s claims? Are they logical?
  • Does the author have enough information to support his argument? Is the information sufficient?
  • Is the author’s information typical, or is it so unusual that it really can’t be used to suggest that the claims in the argument are generally true?
  • How reliable are the author’s facts? Is his information accurate?
  • Does the information the author is including actually have any bearing on his claims? Is the information relevant?

When you ask whether the author’s information is sufficient, typical, accurate, and relevant, you are applying the STAR criteria: Sufficiency, Typicality, Accuracy, and Relevance. For more information on the STAR criteria, see the answer to the question How can you use STAR to assess appeals to logos?

7. What is ethos?

An appeal to ethos emphasizes the character of the author or speaker. If an author appeals to his ethos, he is suggesting that an audience should believe his claims because he is honest, trustworthy, and knowledgeable.

If the writer (or his publisher) emphasizes his authority or qualifications, or if he appeals to a shared sense of morality, he is making an appeal to his ethos.  A student writer might bolster his ethos by listing an author’s credentials:

Raghu Murtugudde is executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Forecasting System at the University of Maryland Earth System Science Interdisciplinary Center (ESSIC) and a professor in the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Science. (LiveScience, 2013)

This statement of Murtugudde’s credentials is a rather overt appeal to his ethos, but there are many subtler versions of such appeals. A writer bolsters her ethos by presenting her papers in error-free prose, with no formatting anomalies. A speaker increases his ethos by dressing suitably and using style and tone appropriate to his audience. Both writers and speakers bolster their ethos by being knowledgeable and fair.

8. How do I recognize and evaluate ethos in an argument?

To determine whether an ethos-based appeal is effective, ask the following questions:

  • How knowledgeable is the author about her topic?
  • Is the author employing a confident, authoritative tone in her writing?
  • Is the author using reliable sources?
  • Has the author cited her sources accurately?
  • Does the author acknowledge the existence of other points of view?
  • Should the author be using other modes of appeal along with ethos, or is her argument primarily ethos-based?
  • Has the author proofread her work?

9. What is pathos?

An appeal to pathos uses emotion to persuade. If an author appeals to pathos, she is counting on an emotional response (pity, compassion, anger, fear, excitement, nostalgia, among others) to bring the reader/listener over to her side.

The following is a pathos-based appeal from the trailer for Al Gore’s documentary An Inconvenient Truth meant to convince viewers that they should do something about global warming (and, of course, watch the movie):

The Arctic is experiencing faster melting. If this [Arctic ice] were to go, sea level worldwide would go up 20 feet. . . . Here’s Manhattan. The World Trade Center Memorial would be underwater. Think of the impact of a couple hundred thousand refugees and then imagine 100 million.  . . . We have to act together to solve this global crisis. Our ability to live is what is at stake. (Gore, 2007)

Gore’s statement about the World Trade Center Memorial clearly appeals to our emotions. After all, he could have chosen countless other landmarks in the country, but he chose the site commemorating the loss of several thousand innocent civilians from an act of terrorism. We might assume, then, that his primary goal is to instill a sense of grief, fear, and outrage.

10. How do I recognize and evaluate pathos in an argument?

To determine whether a pathos-based appeal is effective, ask the following questions:

  • How vivid and engaging is the author’s language?
  • What kinds of anecdotes or stories does the author include that seem intended to appeal to his reader’s emotions?
  • Should the author be using other modes of appeal along with pathos, or is his argument primarily pathos-based?


11.  What is the rhetorical triangle?

The rhetorical triangle is a term used to describe the three major components of a communication situation:  the author, the audience, and the text. The author is the speaker or writer who produces the text, the audience is the listener or reader who receives the text, and the text is the set of words and/or images that is transmitted (or communicated) between the two parties (i.e., the author and the audience).

You can visualize this relationship like this:



Author                   Text

The three points of the rhetorical triangle reflect and influence each other. For example, a speaker who is advocating for a new sports team on campus will present himself differently and argue different points depending upon whether he is making his case to a group of students or to the Radford University Board of Visitors. Good communicators know that a change in any one of the three elements of the rhetorical triangle will affect the other two elements.

12. How are logos, ethos, and pathos related to the rhetorical triangle?

Logos, ethos, and pathos can be paired with the three points of the rhetorical triangle.  Logos relies upon the rational qualities of the text or message to convince the reader/listener; ethos emphasizes the qualities of the author; and pathos draws on the emotional response of the audience.

You can visualize the relationship like this:

Audience (Pathos)


Author (Ethos)     Text (Logos)

While it is helpful to recognize the relationship between logos, ethos, and pathos and the three points of the rhetorical triangle, it is also important to note that actual communication situations are more complicated. For example, a speaker at a funeral might begin to cry as he relates a story of the deceased, thus bringing his audience to tears. It would be inappropriate, in this instance, to associate pathos only with the audience.

13. What is kairos?  

When an author employs kairos, she recognizes the timeliness of an issue, addresses a subject or point at an appropriate time, and/or provides examples that reflect a particular cultural moment. If an author uses kairos, she is likely addressing a current event or pressing issue or she has organized her claims in an appropriate and effective manner.

Written in fall semester 2013, Tareg Hajj’s essay “The Grading Dispute at Radford University”, addresses the issue of adding a plus and minus to final grades given at RU. Hajj was a freshman in the first undergraduate class to enter under the new grading system, and emotions were high regarding the changes that academic year. While the issue seems settled and perhaps uninteresting now, it was kairotic in its time.

In addition to addressing an issue that Hajj claims “rages on in the Radford University Faculty Senate”, the author also uses kairos in his organizational and rhetorical strategy. After he has presented his claims and supporting evidence, he writes

[b]ased upon my research, it is clear that the majority of students and faculty … would prefer a plus-minus grading scale not be used at Radford University. (Hajj, 2013)

While Hajj could have told his readers at the beginning of the essay that they should agree with his point of view because his research has shown that most people do, it is likely more effective for the reader to have read the examples provided by Hajj’s sources before being told that he has researched the issue.

14. How do I recognize and evaluate kairos in an argument? 

To determine whether a written argument or claim is kairotic, ask the following questions:

  • How current or relevant is the issue and/or the evidence?
  • Where and/or when is the argument being made?
  • Are points and/or illustrations ordered effectively? (Do claims build upon one another? Does each appear at the right moment?)

15. How can logos, ethos, pathos, and kairos work together?

It is important to note that one passage or even statement might draw on more than one appeal. The passage above from Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth certainly is designed to evoke emotion, but it also relies on observations of the increasing speed of melting in the Arctic. The word “inconvenient” provides a nod to kairos and the timing of the argument.

The following example from economists Gernot Wagner and Martin L. Weitzman uses appeals to logos, ethos, and pathos and shows an awareness of kairos:

What is scarier still is the uncertainty about the truly extreme outcomes [of climate change]. Our own calculations estimate that there is a roughly 5 percent to 10 percent chance that the eventual average temperature could be 6 degrees Celsius higher [than pre-industrial levels], rather than 3. What this would mean is outside anyone’s imagination, perhaps even Dante’s. (Wagner & Weitzman, 2013; brackets added)

Wagner and Weitzman refer to their “own calculations” (ethos) about the percent chance that temperature increases would double original expectations (logos). They then invoke the poet Dante Alighieri, whose Inferno describes the torments of Hell in hauntingly vivid fashion (pathos). Their attention to kairos is also signalled by the opening phrase “[w]hat is scarier still,” indicating that the reader has been given some less scary scenarios in order to prepare them for this more terrifying piece of evidence.

It is important not only to recognize the use of the different appeals, but also to evaluate their effectiveness. In addition, it’s important to recognize that they might not always be easy to separate; notice that in the example above, logos, ethos, pathos, and kairos are all present in two sentences. Further, “what is scarier still” works to both appeal to pathos and to indicate the writer’s awareness of the right time to present each bit of information. To what extent are you convinced by the different modes of persuasion? To what extent should you be?

16. How do I compare and contrast multiple authors? 

There are a variety of ways to compare the arguments made by different authors. In the case of this assignment, you want to look at the approach that different authors take to the same topic or issue.

You might start by defining and/or summarizing the issue and how each author relates to it. To do this, consider their claims. What is each arguing? Where do they agree with one another? Where do they disagree? As you compare claims, consider their rhetorical strategies. How does each other employ (or not) logos, ethos, pathos, and kairos?

For example in his essay, “Effectiveness of Ethos, Logos, and Pathos,” Matthew Roth starts by summarizing the issue of pay for play in college sports and then explains to the reader that the authors he is analyzing, “Garcia and Dorfman” both “use ethos, logos, and pathos to convince the reader that their side of the argument is correct.”

In the section that follows, you’ll learn more about how to incorporate material from your sources into an essay and how to distinguish between and among sources.

Objective II. Integrate quotations and paraphrases from a reading into an essay.

 As a writer, you often may need to distinguish between your voice and the statements of ideas, information, and opinions found in your sources. This section of the Handbook is intended to help you develop your ability to do so.

Specifically, this section will offer answers to these questions:

  1. What is a primary source?
  2. What is a secondary source?
  3. Can an author use primary and secondary sources in the same piece of writing?
  4. What is a tertiary source?
  5. How does a writer signal that she is using a source?
  6. How does a writer signal that she is finished using a source?
  7. How does a writer signal his opposition to a source’s opinion?

1. What is a primary source?

A primary source may be an original document, a first-hand account, or a contemporary report. The precise nature of a primary source may differ by subject. For students of history, accounts by participants or witnesses would be primary sources. Such accounts might be found in letters, diaries, business ledgers, or newspaper articles that are contemporary with events. For students of literature, a primary source might be a novel, poem, or play script. In biology, a primary source may be data generated through observations and recorded in lab notebooks; alternately it may be a groundbreaking study, such as Charles Darwin’s On the Origins of Species. The one constant in determining whether a source is primary is that it serves as an original starting point for later writing in which the primary source is explored, discussed, analyzed or repurposed in some way.

2. What is a secondary source?

Secondary sources make use of primary sources by repurposing the information and ideas in them. Authors of secondary sources may analyze or comment upon primary sources or may use elements from them in arguments. An example of a secondary source would be an article written by a twenty-first century historian about injuries suffered by nineteenth-century soldiers. The historian’s primary sources might include letters, journals, and newspaper reports from the period, as well as reports from army commissions and from representatives of early medical-relief organizations. Working from these primary sources, the historian would develop an interpretation of events, and this interpretation would be considered a secondary source.

3. Can an author use primary and secondary sources in the same piece of writing?

For various reasons, some authors make simultaneous use of both primary and secondary sources. Often authors wish to talk about issues within the context of earlier discussions in order to show where their argument fits into an ongoing conversation within their field or within the culture at large.

In that case, an author developing his own interpretation of an issue often looks at what others have argued before him (secondary sources), as well as at the original evidence those arguments were based upon (primary sources). As part of his own interpretation, the author may reject a claim he from a secondary source by arguing that evidence from a primary source contradicts the claim. Or he may partly agree with a claim in a secondary source but may argue that evidence from a primary source supports modifying that claim in some way.

Alternately, an author may bring up a secondary source because its argument supports some aspect of her own interpretation of primary source evidence and she wishes to position her interpretation within the context of the earlier argument.

4. What is a tertiary source?

Tertiary sources rely exclusively on secondary sources. They restate and repurpose the information in secondary sources by surveying, reviewing, synthesizing, or commenting upon that information. An article in an encyclopedia that is based entirely on secondary sources would be an example of a tertiary source. For instance, the editors of Wikipedia require that its volunteer authors work from secondary sources rather than primary ones. Since the volunteers are required to use secondary sources and not allowed to use primary sources, all Wikipedia articles are tertiary sources.

Secondary sources are one step removed from primary sources, but tertiary sources are two steps removed. Tertiary sources are often considered reference tools rather than sources that students should directly rely upon in their own writing. At the beginning of a research project, students may wish to consult a tertiary source to get an overview of the subject and to develop a list of search terms, but many instructors require students to then move on and locate primary and secondary sources for the actual writing of the project.

5. How does a writer signal that she is using a source?

When writers make use of sources, they signal that fact to their audience by mentioning the source or its author in at least one sentence. This reference to a source is sometimes called an attribution.

Often the author or the title of the source is paired with a verb that shows the reader that the emphasis in the sentence is on what the source has to say. This helps the reader distinguish between sentences that state the source’s viewpoint from sentences that represent the viewpoint of the writer using the source.

Example of an author attribution with verb:

Murphy (1991) pointed out that in the first half of the nineteenth century people worked hard to spread information about how to prevent disease but did not emphasize how to treat diseases (p. 141).

Example of a title attribution with verb:

The Diary of a nursing sister on the western front (1915) describes how soldiers were wounded so badly that the nurses could not treat their blood loss quickly enough (n.p.).

6. How does a writer signal that she is finished using a source?

A writer can signal that her reliance on a source is at an end by once again referring to the author (or title if anonymous). The writer also can signal that reliance on a source is at an end by positioning an in-text citation at the end of the passage in which she has been using a source (see examples in the section How do I format in-text citations?).

A writer who signals the end of reliance on a source can simultaneously communicate her response to the source. Here is an example of a sentence that could accomplish both tasks:

The author of Into the Wind calculated the benefits of wind-powered turbines, but he didn’t discuss whether turbines harm wildlife (Gertner, 2013). 

This sentence recaps what the writer found helpful but also introduces a topic that the source did not cover. Because it introduces a fresh topic, a sentence like this might be found at the start of a new paragraph.

7. How does a writer signal his opposition to a source’s opinion?

A writer who disagrees with only some elements of a source may recap areas of agreement before introducing objections. Many words and phrases allow for this two-step process.

It is true that the factory will provide jobs, but a site should be chosen outside the flood plain.

Although the study demonstrates that the factory will provide jobs, a site should be chosen outside the flood plain.

The article reports that the factory will provide jobs. However, a site should be chosen outside the flood plain.

A writer who disagrees strongly with a source will state her disagreement outright. She will also explain why she disagrees. Many words and phrases allow for stating disagreement and introducing reasons for disagreement.

The argument that the factory will bring jobs should be rejected because the environmental damage will be greater than any economic benefit.

In spite of the economic benefits described in the article, the proposal should be rejected because the environmental damage will be greater than any economic benefit.

Objective III. Cite sources correctly, both via in-text citations and in a list of sources.

One of the most important skills you can develop as a student is the ability to use outside sources correctly and smoothly. Academic knowledge builds on the knowledge of others. When we use quotations and paraphrases, we start with ideas that have been established by others in order to build on them to develop our own ideas. Proper citations not only give credit to those whose ideas we’re using, but they also provide an address for others to follow, so that they can use those ideas as well.

Learning to cite correctly will allow you to avoid plagiarism, as many plagiarism cases arise from sloppy note-taking and a misunderstanding of when you need to cite your sources.

Specifically, this section will offer answers to these questions:

  1. What is a quotation?
  2. When should I quote?
  3. How long should a quotation be?
  4. What is a paraphrase?
  5. When should I paraphrase?
  6. What is effective paraphrasing?
  7. When does paraphrasing become plagiarism?
  8. How do I use signal phrases to introduce quotations and paraphrases?
  9. How do I make a quotation work with the grammar of my own sentence?
  10. How do I make a quotation work with the grammar of my own sentence if I am not quoting a complete sentence?
  11. What punctuation should I use with quotations?
  12. What is plagiarism?
  13. Why should I cite?
  14. How can I avoid plagiarism?
  15. What is common knowledge?
  16. What is APA?
  17. How do I format references?
  18. What do I do if my source differs from the basic pattern for a reference?
  19. How do I format in-text citations?

1. What is a quotation?

A quotation is one of the ways by which you may make use of a source. You can use quotations to support and illustrate points in your essay. Carefully selected quotations also help establish your credibility by demonstrating that you are familiar with key sources.

A quotation is made up of exact words from the source, and you must be careful to let your reader know that these words were not originally yours. To indicate your reliance on exact words from a source, either place the borrowed words between quotation marks or if the quotation is forty words or more, use indentation to create a block quotation.

You will need to determine when to quote and how long each quotation should be. These questions are discussed in the two sections that immediately follow this one.

Once you have determined the answers to those questions, certain strategies will help you smoothly fit quotations into your writing.

  • Signal phrases help you integrate quoted material into your essay.
  • Quotations must be made to work within the grammar of your sentences, whether you are quoting phrases or complete sentences.
  • Quotations must be properly punctuated.
  • Quotations must be properly documented.

2. When should I quote?

Quote when the exact wording is necessary in order to make your point. For example, if you were analyzing the style choices in Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, you would quote because it would be important to illustrate exact wording in a discussion of word choice and sentence structure. You would also quote if the exact wording captures information, tone, or emotion that would be lost if the source were reworded.

Source: It has begun. It is awful—continuous and earthquaking.

Quoting to preserve emotion: One nurse described an artillery exchange between the two sides as “awful—continuous and earthquaking” (Diary of a nursing sister, 1915, n.p.).

3. How long should a quotation be?

Quote only as many words as are necessary to capture the information, tone, or expression from the original for the new context that you are providing. Lengthy quotations actually can backfire on a writer because key words from the source may be hidden among less important words. In addition, your own words will be crowded out. You will be quoting when you should be explaining the significance of the quoted material and making it work within the context of your own writing. Never quote a paragraph when a sentence will do; never quote a sentence when a phrase will do; never quote a phrase when a word will do.

Source: It has begun. It is awful—continuous and earthquaking.

Quoting everything: One nurse described an artillery exchange between the two sides. She wrote, “It has begun. It is awful—continuous and earthquaking” (Diary of a nursing sister, 1915, n.p.).

Quoting key words: One nurse described an artillery exchange between the two sides as “awful—continuous and earthquaking” (Diary of a nursing sister, 1915, n.p.).

4. What is a paraphrase?

A paraphrase preserves information from a source but does not preserve its exact wording. A paraphrase uses vocabulary and sentence structure that is largely different from the language in the original. A paraphrase may preserve specialized vocabulary shared by everyone in a field or discipline; otherwise, the writer paraphrasing a source starts fresh, creating new sentences that repurpose the information in the source so that the information plays a supportive role its new location.

5. When should I paraphrase?

Paraphrase when information from a source can help you explain or illustrate a point you are making in your own essay, but when the exact wording of the source is not crucial.

Source: I divide this map into two parts: that which anyone can do now, and that which requires the help of lawmakers.

Paraphrase: Lessig (2004) argues that legislators will need to address the problem but that other people can get involved as well (p. 275).

If you were analyzing Lessig’s style, you might want to quote his map metaphor; however, if you were focusing on his opinions about the need to reform copyright law, a paraphrase would be appropriate.

6. What is effective paraphrasing?

Effective paraphrasing repurposes the information from a source so that the information plays a supportive role in its new location. This repurposing requires a writer to rely on her own sentence structure and vocabulary. She creates her own sentences and chooses her own words so that the source’s information will fit into the context of her own ideas and contribute to the development of her thesis.

Source: Citizens of this generation witnessed the first concerted attempt to disseminate knowledge about disease prevention and health promotion, downplaying or omitting altogether information about disease treatment.

Effective Paraphrase: Murphy (1991) pointed out that in the first half of the nineteenth century people worked hard to spread information about how to prevent disease but did not emphasize how to treat diseases (p. 141).

7. When does paraphrasing become plagiarism?

A paraphrase should use vocabulary and sentence structure different from the source’s vocabulary and sentence structure. Potential plagiarism occurs when a writer goes through a sentence from a source and inserts synonyms without rewriting the sentence as a whole.

Source: Citizens of this generation witnessed the first concerted attempt to disseminate knowledge about disease prevention and health promotion, downplaying or omitting altogether information about disease treatment.

Potential plagiarism: People of this period observed the first organized effort to share information about preventing disease and promoting health, deemphasizing or skipping completely information about treating diseases (Murphy, 1991, p. 141).

The sentence structure of the bad paraphrase is identical to the sentence structure of the source, matching it almost word for word. The writer has provided an in-text citation pointing to Murphy as the source of the information, but she is in fact plagiarizing because she hasn’t written her own sentence.

8. How do I use signal phrases to introduce quotations and paraphrases?

Use signal phrases that mention your source to help your reader distinguish between the source and your own ideas. Mentions of sources may be called attributions.* Attributions often rely on verbs that capture the act of expression.

Some verbs of expression:

  • admit
  • argue
  • assert
  • claim
  • complain
  • observe
  • point out
  • report
  • state
  • write

Use different verbs of expression to avoid being monotonous but also because some verbs are better for some situations. For example, to stress weakness in a source’s argument, you might choose to write that your source ‘admits’ or ‘concedes’ a point.

Paraphrase with signal phrase:

Volunteers might have to work at all hours of the day, staying up all night preparing bandages to be used after the next battle, as one nurse serving on the western front reported (Diary of a nursing sister, 1915, n.p.).

Quotation with signal phrase:

In her diary, the nurse lamented that “One of the most stabbing things in this war is seeing the lines of empty motor ambulances going up to bring down the wrecks who at this moment are sound and fit” (Diary of a nursing sister, 1915, n.p.).

Some signal phrases do not make use of verbs but rely on phrases like ‘according to’ or ‘in the opinion of’ or ‘in the view of’.

*For further information on attributions, see How can attributions help me show how my ideas compare with the ideas of others? under the Researched Argument assignment in CORE 102.

9. How do I make a quotation work with the grammar of my own sentence?

Each quotation should be an element inside one of your own sentences. Quotations rarely stand alone.

Example of an incorrect placement of quotation:

The anonymous author wrote about conditions for nurses during World War I. “One of the most stabbing things in this war is seeing the lines of empty motor ambulances going up to bring down the wrecks who at this moment are sound and fit” (Diary of a nursing sister, 1915, n.p.).

Notice that the quotation stands alone. It is not an element within one of your own sentences. Some beginning writers might try to correct the problem by changing the period after “World War II” to a comma. However, that simply tacks one sentence to the end of another and creates a punctuation error known as a “comma fault.” Instead, each quotation must work within the grammar of one of your sentences.

One way to make a quotation work with sentence grammar is to place it after a verb of expression.

The anonymous author of Diary of a nursing sister (1915) wrote, “One of the most stabbing things in this war is seeing the lines of empty motor ambulances going up to bring down the wrecks who at this moment are sound and fit” (n.p.).

10. How do I make a quotation work with the grammar of my own sentence if I am not quoting a complete sentence?

A quoted phrase can play any number of roles in the grammar of a sentence: verb, subject or object, adjective or adverb.

Look at the example below and pretend that there are no quotation marks. Would the sentence still be grammatical? Yes. That fact shows that the quoted material works with the grammar of the sentence.

The nurse makes the ambulances sound like tow trucks going to retrieve demolished vehicles when she writes that it was horrible to watch “empty motor ambulances going up to bring down the wrecks” of men (Diary of a nursing sister, 1915, n.p.).

To integrate a quotation into a sentence, omitting words from the source is acceptable if you follow two rules: use ellipses (…) to signal the omission and avoid distorting the source’s meaning. It is also acceptable to adjust capitalization and grammar provided that you follow two rules: use brackets [ ] to signal the change and, again, avoid distorting the source’s meaning.

Lessig (2004) argues against the position that “[f]ile sharing threatensthe ability of creators to earn a fair return from their creativity” (203).

When Lessig (2004) wrote his book, nearly everyone in the music industry felt that “[f]ile sharing threaten[ed]the ability of creators to earn a fair return from their creativity” (203).

11. What punctuation should I use with quotations?

Place quotation marks at the start and the end of direct quotations unless the quotation is long enough (forty or more words) to justify the use of the block quotation format.

In-text citations follow rather than precede final quotation marks. An in-text citation is not found in the words that you are quoting; it is something you create from the information you locate in order to identify the source for your readers.

If the quotation immediately follows a verb capturing the act of expression, place a comma after the verb:

Lessig (2004) wrote, “A free culture has been our past, but it will only be our future if we change the path we are on right now” (p. xv).

Under limited circumstances, a colon (:) can be used to introduce a quotation. The quotation must re-identify or restate a phrase or idea that immediately precedes the colon.

Lessig (2004) reached a radical conclusion about copyrighted material: “It should become free if it is not worth $1 to you” (p. 252).

12. What is plagiarism?

Plagiarism is using someone else’s work without giving him or her credit.  “Work” includes text, ideas, images, videos, and audio. In the academic world, you must follow these rules:

  • When you use the exact words, you must use quotation marks and provide a citation.
  • When you put the information into your own words, you must provide a citation.
  • When you use an image, audio, or video created by someone else, you must provide a citation.

Plagiarism could happen with a sentence, a paragraph, or even just a word! For example, Stephen Colbert, of the television show The Colbert Report, made up the word “truthiness,” meaning something that sounds like it should be true. If you say in a paper something has a ring of “truthiness”, you should cite Colbert. If someone else’s words catch your interest, you should cite them.

Plagiarism is a serious academic offense. Penalties can range from failing the assignment to being expelled from Radford University. See the Dean of Students’ Academic Integrity site for the RU Honor Code and information for students charged with an Honor Code violation.

Pleading ignorance of plagiarism or the Honor Code will not excuse you from violations.  As an adult, you are expected to know and understand RU policies. For more information, see these sections in the Introduction to University Core A and to this Handbook: What is the relationship between University Core A and academic integrity? and What resources are available to help me meet the Standards of Student Conduct?

13. Why should I cite?

Whenever you use sources, it is important that you document them completely and accurately. You make your work more useful to your reader through complete and careful documentation, so you should think of documentation as essential rather than as an  “add on” tacked on at the last minute.

When asked why they should cite your sources, many students reply, “So you don’t get accused of plagiarizing.” It is true that you must provide citations crediting others’ work so as to avoid plagiarism, but scholars use citations for many reasons:

  • To make your arguments more credible.  You want to use the very best evidence to support your claims.  For example, if you are citing a statistic about a disease, you should use a reputable source like the World Health Organization or Centers for Disease Control (CDC). When you tell your reader the statistic comes from such a source, she will know to trust it– and thereby trust your argument more.
  • To show you’ve done your homework.  You want to make it clear to your audience that you’ve researched your subject and know what you are talking about.  As you dive deeper into your research, you will probably find certain authors are experts on the topic and are mentioned in most of the articles and books.  You should read these experts’ works and incorporate them into your paper.
  • To build a foundation for your paper.  Great breakthroughs in scholarship are accomplished by building on the earlier, groundbreaking work of others. For example, Isaac Newton’s law of universal gravitation would not have been possible without Johannes Kepler’s law of planetary motion.  What articles, books, texts, etc inspired you to create your argument?  You want to provide references to the works which led to your thesis.
  • To allow your readers to find the sources for themselves.  Someone interested in your topic may be inspired to read some of the articles and other sources you used to write your paper.  The citation within the paper tells them what part of your argument is best addressed by a particular source, and the full citation in the bibliography provides them with the information needed to locate the original work.

14. How can I avoid plagiarism?

Don’t procrastinate.  Students who rush their work can make careless mistakes, such as forgetting to include a particular citation, or not having all the information needed for documentation. Students under pressure may also make poor choices, such as not documenting sources and hoping the professor won’t notice. Believe us–your professor will notice, and you won’t like the long-term consequences.

Take careful notes.  You need to be very clear in your notes whether you are writing down word-for-word what you found somewhere else, or if you are jotting down your own idea. You should take down all the information you will need to create your citations.

Cite your sources. Whenever you quote, paraphrase, summarize, or share an unusual fact, tell your reader where the information came from.

Document at the same time you draft. As you begin drafting, prepare a correctly formatted References page that captures the information also needed for in-text citations. Insert these citations into your paper as you are writing it. If you cite-as-you-go, you won’t consume time looking up information all over again, and you make it less likely that you will misidentify or omit necessary documentation.

Get comfortable with the required citation style.  The most commonly used citation styles on our campus are APA, MLA, and Chicago/Turabian.  While they share many similarities, they also have differing requirements in regards to what and when to cite.

Ask your professor. If you’re not sure about citing something, check with your instructor. Ultimately, she will be the one grading your assignment–or bringing you up on plagiarism charges.

15. What is common knowledge?

Common knowledge is information that is accepted and known so widely you do not need to cite it:

  • Common sayings or cliches. Examples: Curiosity killed the cat.  Ignorance is bliss.
  • Facts that can be easily verified. As you are conducting your research on a topic, you will see the same facts repeated over and over.  Example: You are writing a paper on presidential elections, and you want to mention that Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980.  Although you might not have known this fact before your research, you have seen it multiple times and no one ever argues about it. 
  • Facts that you can safely assume your readers know.  Examples: Richmond is the capital of Virginia. The North won the U.S. Civil War.  Fish breathe using gills.

Not all facts are common knowledge. You will still need to cite:

  • Facts that surprise you or your reader.  Example: Michelangelo was shorter than average (Hughes & Elam, 2009, p. 4).
  • Facts that include statistics or other numbers. Example: As of June 2009, 42 states had laws that explicitly ban gay marriage, and 6 states have legalized it (States debate, 2009, n.p.).
  • If you use the exact words of another writer, even if the content within could be considered common knowledge.  Example: Lincoln’s first campaign dates to “1832, when he ran as a Whig for the Illinois state legislature from the town of New Salem and lost” (Lincoln, 2008, p. 451).

Common knowledge can be course-specific.  For example, the number of bones in the leg could be considered common knowledge in an athletic training course. But if you are using that fact in an English paper, you cannot assume your professor would have that knowledge, and you would need to cite it.

Remember, if you have any questions about whether something is common knowledge, ask your professor for advice.

 16. What is APA?

Different fields prefer different methods of documenting the use of sources. One style is called APA, from the initials of the American Psychological Association. Its use is not limited to psychology, however. Many social sciences follow the APA or a similar style. Because the APA and similar formats are so widespread, APA is used in University Core A. However, all styles capture the same type of information as the APA. When it comes to documentation, learn to notice and apply the particular style that you are asked to use.

McConnell Library maintains a web site on the APA style: APA…for Radford University Undergraduates.

If you are asked to use a different style, these other McConnell Library sites may be useful:

17. How do I format references?

References record bibliographic information about sources that have been cited in the text. The necessary information is author, title, and details about publication (where and when the source was published and who published it). The order of the information and the punctuation, abbreviation, and spacing conventions may differ depending on the documentation style you are following, but the purpose of the references will be the same: to allow a reader to quickly locate your sources.

Basic APA-style reference for a book:

Pojman, P. (2003). Food ethics. Boston, MA: Penguin.

Every APA reference is a variation of the above pattern.

APA-style reference for an article:

Cruz, G. (2009, December 14). Clean-air campus. Time, 70.

If the source’s author is unknown, the title leapfrogs in front of the date. The date remains in the second position; it is never used at the start of a reference.

APA-style reference for an anonymous source:

Contraception and corporations. (2013, August 2). New York Times, A18.

18. What do I do if my source differs from the basic pattern for a reference?

The basic pattern is easy to recognize, but it is impossible to memorize all the variations. Some sources are available online; some sources are audiovisual instead of print; some sources have translators and editors. These and other details find their way into references. Learn to consult resources that illustrate some of the variations, and then ask yourself which examples seem closest to the source you are trying to document. Creating helpful references for your readers requires attention to both the basic pattern and to details, as well as problem-solving skills and creativity.

McConnell Library maintains a web site that explains and illustrates APA documentation (APA…for Radford University Undergraduates), including a page called “I can’t find my example!” that will walk you through the process if you can’t seem to find an appropriate model.

19. How do I format in-text citations?

In-text citations point readers toward a source that a writer is using in her own article or essay. They are placed inside your paragraphs, a position that explains why they are called “in-text.” In-text citations are also called parenthetical citations because information identifying the source will be placed inside parentheses ( ). A writer citing using the APA style will provide the following in-text information for her readers:

  • Author’s last name (title if source is anonymous)
  • Year of publication
  • Page numbers

There are two approaches to formatting the in-text citation. In one approach, the name of the author (title if source is anonymous) is included with year and page numbers inside the parentheses:

In the first half of the nineteenth, century people worked hard to spread information about how to prevent disease but did not emphasize how to treat diseases (Murphy, 1991, p. 141).

In this approach, all information—author, year, page number—is placed within parentheses.

In the other approach, the source’s author (title if anonymous) is not placed inside parentheses.

Murphy (1991) pointed that in the first half of the nineteenth century people worked hard to spread information about how to prevent disease but did not emphasize how to treat diseases (p. 141).

After the author’s name is introduced, the date of the source immediately follows (in parentheses), and the page numbers are provided (in parentheses) at the end of the sentence.

Objective IV. Use tone, mechanics, and style appropriate to a college-educated audience.

Just as the authors you read establish their ethos through their professionalism and expertise as demonstrated in their writing, you must do so as well through your writing. Your grammar, tone, and dialect can affect your readers’ opinion of you. Careful attention to these areas of writing can lead your readers to think highly of you, and in the case of your instructors, lead to better grades and good letters of recommendation. However, carelessness in these areas can lead your reader to dismiss what you have to say, and in the case of your instructors, lead to poorer grades and a reluctance to write letters of recommendation for you.

  1. What are mechanics?
  2. What resources are available to help me with mechanics?
  3. What is tone?
  4. How does a writer control tone?
  5. What is style?
  6. Is style fixed?
  7. How does audience affect style?
  8. What is a genre?
  9. How does genre affect style?
  10. What is academic writing?

1. What are mechanics?

Sentence structure, grammar, usage, spelling, and punctuation are the mechanics of writing. Well-constructed sentences, accurate spelling, correct grammar, and appropriate usage and punctuation are baseline skills expected of writers on the college level, and deficiencies in these areas can detract from a writer’s ethos. It is not necessary to be a complete expert in the area of mechanics, but you should seek out resources that will help you learn how to edit your drafts.

2. What resources are available to help me with mechanics?

Two resources are available to help you recognize and correct problems with mechanics. One resource is the free tutoring available at the Learning Assistance and Resource Center (LARC). Tutors will not edit papers for you, but they will help you identify writing issues and provide explanations and pointers. Appointments at LARC may be made by calling 540-831-7704 or by stopping by 125 Walker Hall during business hours. However, please be advised that appointments slots at LARC fill up very quickly. Be proactive. If you feel that you may need the assistance of a tutor, sign up early in the semester. You can also check with the LARC staff to see whether they can refer you to any online tutoring services.

The second resource is the Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL). The Purdue OWL is an extensive web site that will be useful to you both academically and professionally. Its pages on Mechanics, Grammar, and Punctuation provide links to numerous topics under those headings.

3. What is tone?

Imagine a person saying “Thank you” enthusiastically because someone has been a great help. Now imagine her feeling that someone has not been very helpful. She says “Thank you” politely but without any enthusiasm. She uses a different tone.

In writing as in speech, tone is the attitude a writer adopts toward her subject or audience. An author may, for example, be solemn or flippant about her subject; or she may address her audience jokingly, as if she were writing to old friends, or seriously, as if she were writing to a potential employer.

4. How does a writer control tone?

Writers may make use of sentence structure, word choice, and punctuation to establish tone. Even capitalization and italicization may be used to convey the writer’s attitude toward her subject or audience. Writers also can convey tone through careful choice of examples and comparisons, as well as through the use of metaphors and similes. The following examples illustrate the same idea being conveyed in different tones.

Formal, serious tone:

It takes millions of dollars to incarcerate young people convicted of marijuana possession. We should be concerned about having to divert resources to deal with this nonviolent offense because we need the funds to improve childhood nutrition and reduce classroom overcrowding. 

Informal, flippant tone:

It only takes millions of dollars to lock up kids caught passing the time smoking weed. Why should we worry about chump change like that when we don’t have more important stuff to take care of—like, oh, I don’t know—childhood nutrition and overcrowded classrooms?

5. What is style?

A music composer who favors certain keys, rhythms, and tempos can be distinguished from a composer who favors a different mix of musical elements. Each composer has a style—a characteristic manner of composing.

Writers have styles, too. The elements that help create a characteristic manner of writing include

  • vocabulary,
  • figures of speech,
  • kinds of sentences,
  • structures within sentences,
  • sentence length,
  • rhythmic patterns, and
  • vowel and consonant patterns.

One writer may, for instance, frequently rely on metaphors from nature to explain her ideas. In addition, she may favor linking sentences with the conjunctions “and” or “but,” and within sentences she may like setting up series of balanced phrases. These characteristic features of her writing would be part of her style.

6. Is style fixed?

A writer or a speaker may adapt her style to get her messages across to a specific audience or within a particular context. For example, word limits often are placed on entries in handbooks like this one. A writer who would typically include figures of speech in her writing might find herself editing them out in order to keep from going too far over the word limit. Or a writer might adjust her style to be more or less formal, depending on the circumstances. Or she might alter her style to include vocabulary appropriate for a report written by someone in her profession. The style in any piece of writing may be a mix of elements characteristic of the writer with elements chosen for the occasion.

7. How does audience affect style?

Writers make style choices in order to communicate effectively with an audience. A writer’s awareness of audience may influence decisions about what examples and arguments to include, as well as decisions about sentence structure, vocabulary, and figures of speech. For instance, a writer whose audience includes music lovers and professional musicians may use musical metaphors even if she does not usually do so.

A writer will try to determine the background and interests of her audience as she tries to decide how best to communicate with them. How familiar is the audience with the subject matter? What is the attitude of the audience toward the subject? How old are the members of the audience? What is their level of education? Is the audience largely made up of members of a particular industry or profession? What socioeconomic classes are present in the audience? Is the audience predominantly of one gender? The answers to questions like these may help a writer make style choices.

8. What is a genre?

Writing comes in different forms that we call genres. We recognize the existence of a genre when we notice that different examples of writing all seem to follow the same set of conventions. The different examples of writing will share certain elements of content and may be similar in format, tone, and style. The letter of application is an example of a genre. It follows a recognizable format, is written in a formal style and tone, and includes content intended to demonstrate a good match between an applicant and a job. An application letter that did not conform to these genre expectations probably would not make it very far through the hiring process.

Other examples of genres include grant proposals, research reports, travel brochures, and business prospectuses. In fact, everything from a birth notice to an obituary may be considered an example of a genre if it is written according to a set of conventions.

What is true of writing is true of speaking as well. From the graduation speech to the wedding toast to the eulogy—audiences will have expectations about content, format, tone, and style of oral communication similar to their expectations for written communication.

9. How does genre affect style?

Readers’ expectations may be based in part on genre, and a writer working within a genre needs to demonstrate an awareness of expectations or risk alienating an audience. Since one element of genre can be style, the writer needs to make appropriate style choices.

An example of a writer making style choices to meet genre expectations would be a student using email to communicate with an instructor. Faculty use university email accounts to perform their professional duties. In terms of genre, faculty may expect email messages to be closer to business letters than, for example, text messages. Business letters usually include polite greetings and closings and are written more formally than text messages. Abbreviations, slang, and emoticons that are common in text messages are uncommon in business letters; and spelling and punctuation that might be left uncorrected in a text message would be corrected in a business letter. The student-as-writer who is aware of genre expectations like these may communicate more effectively to the instructor-as-audience.

10. What is academic writing?

Like all writing, academic writing is intended for a particular audience and context. The audience for academic writing includes individuals within the university community, some of them instructors with advanced degrees. Essays, proposals, laboratory research reports, annotated bibliographies, and article and book reviews are among the genres of academic writing; and different lengths, formats, and documentation styles generally are specified for each. Authors of academic writing are expected to familiarize themselves with models and stated expectations (including discipline-specific ones) and to demonstrate their ability to fulfill them.

In addition to following models and specified guidelines, authors writing for an academic audience should be attuned to unstated expectations. Academic writing is produced within a community, and any community has shared values and customary ways of communicating. Writers for an academic community need to learn and use academic and discipline-specific vocabulary. Writers should also develop the ability to use styles, tones, and forms of reasoning and argumentation that are accepted as appropriate for each academic genre. In many of these genres, for example, the writer is expected to adopt an objective tone and to rely upon logical argumentation with little or no reliance upon emotional or personal appeals.

References for Approaches to Written Argument

Banus, S. (2013 , April 17). Pet ownership in college can be a full time job. The Tartan. Retrieved from http://www.rutartan.com/wordpress/?p=5498

Beck, C.  (2006, October 31).  One record year is not global warming – Luckily, there are plenty more years to consider. Grist. Retrieved from http://grist.org/climate-energy/one-record-year-is-not-global-warming/

Diary of a nursing sister on the Western Front, 1914-1915. (1915). Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood. Retrieved from http://www.gutenberg.org/files/18910/18910-h/18910-h.htm

Dudley, B. (2013, July 10). A desperate measure for desperate times. New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2013/07/09/study-nowpay-later/desperate-times-call-for-desperate-measures

Gertner, J. (2013, September). Into the wind. Fast Company 178, 92-109.

Gore, A. (2007, March 20). An Inconvenient Truth trailer. YouTube. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wnjx6KETmi4&list=PL2575351FD4F196F6

Hughes, A. and Elam, C. (n.d.). Michelangelo. Grove Art OnlineOxford Art Online. Retrieved from http://www.oxfordartonline.com/subscriber/article/grove/art/T057716pg4

Lessig, L. (2004). Free culture: The nature and future of creativity. New York, Penguin.

Lincoln, Abraham. (2008). International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. Ed. W. A. Darity, Jr.. Vol. 4. 2nd ed. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 450-452. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Gale, p. 451.Murphy, .

Murtugudde, R. (2013, November 27). Climate change needs an elephant whisperer. LiveScience. Retrieved from www.livescience.com/41578-climate-change-needs-communicators.html

Salzano, J. (2013, April 10). Glitter and glamour: Inside children beauty pageants. The Tartan.Retrieved from www.rutartan.com/wordpress/?p=5459

States Debate Marriage Rights. (2009, June). World News Digest. Facts On File News Services.

Murphy, L.R. (1991). Enter the physician: The transformation of domestic medicine, 1760-1860. Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press.

Wagner, G., & M. Weitzman. (2013, October 10). Inconvenient uncertainties. The New York Times. Retrieved from www.nytimes.com/2013/10/11/opinion/inconvenient-uncertainties.html.




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