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Information Literacy: 06. Incorporating Sources

Strategies used to incorporate research skills for the College of Arts and Sciences, the Graduate School of Management, the Pacific Northwest College of Arts, and the School of Computing and Informations Sciences.

Incorporating Sources Video

Incorporating Sources
Students will learn how to incorporate sources into their college/university research papers by effectively structuring sources, including analysis and using sources to support an argument.

CLIP video, length 6:39 minutes)

Examples of Primary versus Secondary Sources

Incorporating Sources Into Your Research Paper

It is time to write a research paper. You thought about your topic, and gathered many sources.  How do you present those sources in your paper? You will learn how to structure your sources, include your own analysis, and refer to sources that build a foundation in of support your thesis.

Throughout history, all well-known figures have drawn ideas from those that came before them to formulate their own ideas. Isaac Newton famously said, "If I have seen further, it is only by standing on the shoulders of giants." All sorts of famous figures have used ideas that came before them to create their own original ideas including activists, business leaders and artists. Building on sources makes your own ideas better.


You can think of writing a research paper as presenting an argument or a point of view.  Every scholarly research paper contains a thesis, which is the central argument of your paper. 

Example Thesis: "Though some argue that there is a lack of evidence suggesting a future decline in polar bear populations, studies have shown that climate change will cause a significant decrease in their numbers."

All of the sources included in your paper must relate back to your thesis in some way. It is your job to use these sources to support your central thesis.  It is good to include sources that agree with your central thesis as well as discussing some sources that offer contrary viewpoints.  Similar to good preparation for a debate, you should be researching & discussing opposing viewpoints.   Examining and addressing multiple sides of the argument often makes your own argument stronger because it shows that you looked at the issue from different perspectives.


Think about sources on a given topic as a conversation between people you have not met. First you listen to the conversation for a while. As you listen, you develop an understanding about the people participating in that conversation. You think about how the characteristics that you observed might impact the arguments that other people are making.  Examples:

“Human abuse of natural resources has caused drastic climate change.  Polar bear populations will rapidly declining due to climate change.” –environmental activist, passionate, urgent

“Data supports the theory that climate change will contribute to a declining polar bear population.” –well-known environmental researcher, arguments based on studies, factual

“Climate change is a naturally occurring phenomenon. Environmentalists are using polar bear population statistics as a scare-tactic.” –background in business, calm tone, minority opinion


After listening to the conversation for a while, you join in. When one person presents their ideas, you respond with your own thoughts. This is one of the main differences between scholarly research papers and other papers that you might have written in the past. It is not enough just to present sources. You also have to present your own ideas and responses in relation to those sources. Sometimes this is called presenting analysis.


Whenever you present ideas from an outside source, there are three main components that you need to include:

First, provide an introduction.  It may include source info, background info, or transition phrases.  The introduction is a way for you to setup the information that you will be presenting from an outside source.

Next, include the idea from the source as either a direct quote, paraphrase or summary. Make sure to always properly cite ideas from outside sources.

Finally, include an analysis of the ideas that you presented. An analysis will include your response, interpretations or arguments in relation to the idea from the outside source.  Analysis is crucial for a good research paper, and demonstrating your insight is probably the most important step in this process.


There are three primary ways to present ideas from another source in your research paper: direct quote, paraphrase and summary.

Direct quote: Exact words from a source. Include quotation marks (depending on quote length) and citation.

Paraphrase: Idea from a source that you rewrote, in your own words. Usually about the same length as the original quote. Often used to simplify language. No quotation marks BUT citation is still necessary.

Summary: Ideas from source written in your own words. Shorter than original quote.  Used to give an overview of many ideas.  No quotation marks BUT citation is absolutely necessary.

Be sure to cite correctly! See Willamette's Citation Guides for more info.


Remember that ideas that you present from outside sources must always relate back to your central thesis in some way. Make sure that you clearly present how these outside ideas relate to your thesis in your analysis.


Notice that this example includes an introduction, a direct quote and some analysis. Keep in mind that this is just a snippet of the analysis that would be necessary to include in a paper discussing this quote.

Amstrup et al. (2009) conclude their rebuttal, stating:  "The effects of global warming on polar bears, if it continues as projected, will be severe; by mid-century, polar bears will most likely be limited to a small portion of their current range" (366).  This conclusion is well supported by scientific evidence supplied in the report unlike the arguments set forth in Armstrong et al. (2008)...

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