“Intertextuality” is the term for how the meaning of one text changes when we relate it to another text. It is one way to understand how writing is contingent upon other factors: in this case, how another text influences the way we understand, or struggle to understand, a given text.
Scholars debate the extent and significance of intertextuality in how we understand language. Some literary theorists argue that any text is just a combination of other texts. Julia Kristeva, for example, writes, “Any text is the absorption and transformation of another.”
How you typically experience intertextuality in your reading and writing is likely to be far simpler than such theories suggest. After all, texts combine with other texts all the time to create meaning, and they do so in specific ways. Understanding these ways helps us better understand what we read and better achieve our goals when we write.
What it is: When one text uses ideas and words of another text.
How to do it: A quotation is literally copied language from one text that is used in another. The copied words are put within quotation marks to show the language originally comes from another source. The source is also cited.
Why do it: Quotation is common in many genres because it allows us to adopt others’ language for a variety of purposes. We quote others for their eloquent use of language, or to distance ourselves from statements we need to communicate but do not want to own, or to acknowledge the existence of other perspectives and voices. As a general rule, we only quote when both the words and ideas of a source are valuable to our writing.
What it is: When one text includes ideas from another text put in new words.
How to do it: When paraphrasing, a writer uses their own language to communicate an idea found in another text. Paraphrasing does not require quotation marks because the words are not borrowed from another source. Paraphrasing references specific ideas from a text rather than all ideas in the text. The original source is cited.
Why do it: We paraphrase others to give credit or assign responsibility for ideas and to use others’ identities in our writing. Paraphrasing can also allow us to easily integrate important ideas from other sources into our writing without changing our style. This creates a consistent feel for the reader. As a general rule, we paraphrase whenever we wish to use the ideas of a source but don’t feel that the source’s words add additional value. We might also paraphrase if the source’s words somehow detract from our work, such as if their language is too technical or biased for our purposes.
What it is: When one text uses the main ideas of another text in the order they are originally presented. The source is cited.
How to do it: A summary presents another text’s major ideas in their original order but without minor details. It essentially condenses a text, shrinking it down by communicating only the most important information. To preserve confidence that the writer summarizing the text hasn’t changed the meaning, summaries are typically written in an objective style. Summaries can be various lengths, from as short as a sentence to as long as needed without giving unnecessary detail.
Why do it: We summarize to give our reader a sense of another text in its entirety, at least in terms of main ideas, in a short time and space. As a general rule, we summarize whenever we wish to demonstrate that we comprehend a text’s overall meaning or when we ask a reader to interact with the text extensively in our writing.
What is it: An indirect reference to another text.
How to do it: The writer does not quote, paraphrase, or in other ways explicitly communicate how the text alludes to, or indirectly connects to, what they are writing. Instead, they trust the reader to be able to identify the connection using their own knowledge.
Why do it: We allude to a text when we are confident our audience is familiar with the text mentioned. As a general rule, we allude when we want our reader to relate their own knowledge to what we are writing. If our readers are not familiar with the text we allude to, we will likely confuse them.
What it is: Specifying who originated a statement, idea, or text, either by authoring or publishing it. Occasionally, we attribute by citing a text’s title.
How to do it: Writers attribute by including the name of the person or organization that authored the text they are using in their piece. The name of the author of the original text is connected to the language or ideas the writer references. This may take the form of a parenthetical citation, a signal phrase (e.g., according to), or a speech tag (John says). Attribution is routinely combined with quotes, paraphrases, summaries, and more (but not allusion).
Why do it: We attribute when we want readers to know where a statement or idea comes from or who it belongs to. Attribution allows us to give people credit for their work, to use others’ credibility in our own writing to increase our own authority, and to separate what we say and believe from what others say and believe. As a general rule, we always attribute the first time we reference a text and often again for texts we reference multiple times.
[Find more attributions in the rest of the example sections above.]
What plagiarism is: Using someone else’s words and/or ideas and, intentionally or unintentionally, passing them off as one’s own.
How NOT to do it: There are a number of ways to plagiarize, including quoting or paraphrasing without giving credit to the original author, failing to use quotation marks for language taken from other texts, summarizing without attributing, or using someone else’s reasoning or organizational structure as your own. When using exact language from a source, always put that language in quotation marks. Similarly, when using language or ideas from a source, use attribution to give credit to the author of the text. At Salt Lake Community College we stress that writers should never plagiarize intentionally and must be willing to correct unintentional plagiarism if it occurs by revising their writing.
Why NOT do it: In the United States and much of the rest of the world, especially the west, words and ideas are considered intellectual property, similar in many regards to physical property. Because language and ideas can be trademarked, much like inventions, using them without obeying fair-use rules is considered theft. Plagiarism is a dishonest act and is considered a form of cheating in the academic and professional worlds. While plagiarism is a serious academic offense for which a student may fail an assignment or class, unintentional plagiarism will usually be met with correction and instruction on how to ethically and effectively reference other texts. Intentional plagiarism is cheating and will not be tolerated.
Dalton, Kathleen. “Theodore Roosevelt: The Making of a Progressive Reformer.” History Now, The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, www.gilderlehrman.org/history-by-era/politics-reform/essays/theodore-roosevelt-making-progressive-reformer
Golodryga, Brianna. “‘No More Backbone Than a Chocolate Eclair’: The Best Political Insults of All Time.” The Huffington Post, 2 Nov. 2016, www.huffingtonpost.com/bianna-‘golodryga/no-more-backbone-than-a-c_b_12774594.html
Kristeva, Julia. The Kristeva Reader. Edited by Toril Moi. Columbia University Press, 1986.
“Theodore Roosevelt Quotes.” Brainyquote, n.d., www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/t/theodorero122699.html