Using sources in assessments: voice in academic writing

Effectively combine your ideas with those of other writers.

Most university assessment tasks require you to draw on a range of academic sources to support your claims, arguments and ideas.

This page provides guidance and strategies to help you better manage the process of incorporating sources alongside your own ideas, to ensure you effectively integrate a range of voices in your academic writing.

The strategies outlined below can be applied to all your assessment tasks, and even oral presentations.

Balancing voices

It is important to balance the ideas and arguments expressed in your voice with those of other authors, who are usually scholars in the field of study.

Tips for using a variety of voices in assessment tasks

  • Start and end each paragraph in your own voice.
  • In an essay, your voice should be the strongest in the introduction and conclusion. It’s best not to begin or end your essay referencing another writer’s words.
  • Other voices should feature in the body paragraphs of your assessment task to provide evidence and support to your ideas, claims and argument.
  • Use your voice to manage and contextualise the voices of others. This is where ‘reporting verbs’ and connectives are helpful.
  • Clearly distinguish between your voice and the voices of other sources, and cite each source appropriately. Readers assume that words without citations are your own, so if they are not, you must cite them.

Why should I include a range of voices in my academic writing?

The purpose of academic writing is to present a clear position on a topic, so your reader wants to see that you have a personal ‘voice’ on the topic and have used it to successfully build an academic argument.

Including a range of voices as evidence in your academic writing will support and develop your position. These ‘other voices’ are usually supplied by scholars in the field and will need to be clearly distinguished from your voice and cited appropriately.

Example

Read the example below to see how the writer has included a range of voices.

The current diversity of the student population poses a great challenge to universities. A common approach to providing learning support is by extra-curricular study skills courses, often offered in dedicated learning support centres (Gamache, 2002; Haggis & Pouget, 2002). This approach is referred to as ‘bolt-on’ (Bennett et al., 2000) as opposed to the ‘built-in’ or embedded approach where learning is developed through the subject teaching.

Key: writer’s voice , synthesis of other voices , other voice .

Approaches to using sources

There are two main approaches to using sources in your assessment tasks:

  • Indirect reporting (summarising and paraphrasing)
  • Direct quotations (transferring the exact words).

When using these two approaches you can present the evidence from the source using either author prominent or information prominent strategy.

Read below to learn about each approach and when it is best used in assessment tasks.

How can I include a range of voices?

In your academic tasks you can either use a direct or indirect voice.

  • Direct voice is used to express your own ideas in your own voice, and the ideas and arguments expressed in the voice of another writer/thinker.
  • Indirect voice is used when you summarise or paraphrase someone else’s ideas or argument, and is helpful when you need to synthesise information or make general points.

Find out more

  • 1. Indirect reporting: Indirect voice 

    Summarising

    • A summary includes the main ideas or argument/s of an author and is always substantially shorter than the length of original text, though still needs to accurately capture the meaning of what you have read.
    • By including summaries of source material, you can avoid overusing direct quotations and paraphrasing large sections of the original text.
    • A summary places the focus on the meaning of what you have read and presents the material in your own words.
    • Remember that you still need to acknowledge the source of the information, and provide your own comments to show your analysis and interpretation of the work.
    Example

    Direct quotation: In discussing the importance of teaching study skills, Jordan (1997, p8) states that “study skills are not something acquired instinctively.”

    Summary: It is important to teach study skills to students (Jordan, 1997).

    Paraphrasing

    • A paraphrase involves rewriting someone else’s ideas into your own words.
    • The key to acceptable paraphrasing is adapting the language and grammatical features of the original text to keep the meaning while making the words your own.
    • This is often the preferred approach to using sources in your assessments, as it allows you to present your understanding of the ideas, concepts and arguments from the source in your own words.
    Example

    Direct quotation: In discussing the importance of teaching study skills, Jordan (1997, p8) states that “study skills are not something acquired instinctively.”

    Paraphrase: As students do not obtain study skills automatically (Jordan, 1977), it is very important to teach them these skills.

    Tips for paraphrasing
    • Cite the source of the information.
    • Understand the meaning of the ideas, concepts or argument in the original before paraphrasing.
    • Combine the language techniques below to make sure your writing differs from the original:
      • Use synonyms
      • Change word forms
      • Reorder information in a sentence
  • 2. Direct quotations: Direct voice

    What is a direct quotation?

    • A direct quotation is used when you ‘cut and paste’ the voice and ideas of another writer or scholar into your writing.
    • All exact words, phrases and sentences included in your writing taken directly from a source need to be enclosed in “quotation marks”.
    • Generally, quotations longer than 30 words should be indented from the margin.
    • Direct quotations are often used to emphasise or strengthen a point you want to make.

    It is always best to keep direct quotations to a minimum in your assessment tasks and not as a substitute for your own ideas written in your own writer’s voice. However, there are times when is it effective to include direct quotation, such as when:

    • The original wording of the quote is unique, and paraphrasing will change its meaning
    • The original wording is impactful, witty, succinct or appropriate.

    Other times weaving quoted words or phrases into your own sentence can be more effective.

    Example

    Lakoff and Johnson (1980, p. 12) introduce the idea that culture is encoded not only in "the semantic structures of a language", but also in its "idiomatic expressions".

    Rules for direct quotations

    The following rules apply when including a direct quotation in your assessment task.

    1. Quotation marks (" ") are essential whenever an author’s exact words have been used, as seen in the above example.
    2. Quotations longer than three lines should be:
      • Indented
      • Not enclosed in quotation marks
      • Referenced at the beginning or end depending on the referencing style.
    3. Direct quotations should be copied exactly. Words, word order, spelling and punctuation should not be changed.

    Punctuation for direct quotations

    Sometimes words, word order, spelling or punctuation may need to be changed to aid the flow of writing. In these instances, you may need to use some of the punctuation devices noted below.

    Ellipsis (...)

    You should only use an ellipsis where you have omitted a word or words from the original quote.

    Example

    According to Saville-Troike (1989, p. 38), “meaningful context includes understanding aspects of a communicative event, of holistic scripts for the negotiation of meanings, as well as observable aspects of the setting.”

    Square brackets ([ ])

    Square brackets are used to indicate that you have added text to the original quote, usually to clarify meaning.

    Example

    According to Saville-Troike (1989, p. 38), “meaningful context includes understanding [culturally defined] aspects of a communicative event, … of holistic scripts for the negotiation of meanings, as well as observable aspects of the setting.”

    Square brackets are also used to make the original quote grammatically consistent with your sentence.

    Example

    Incorrect use = According to Colbert (2001, p. 70), Angela was taught from a young age to "nourish your soul as well as your body." 

    Correct use = According to Colbert (2001, p. 70), Angela was taught from a young age to "nourish [her] soul as well as [her] body." 

    The word [sic]

    This word is used to indicate that you have quoted the text exactly, although it may look like a misquote, such as when a word is misspelled or grammatically incorrect in the original text. The word sic must be enclosed in square brackets and should be placed after the inconsistent word.

    Example

    Puten (1995, p. 24) claims it was "the imperative of the Jewish-Bolshevist system to maintain their power of [sic] cultural elites."

  • Do I need to label voices?
    • You need to label all ‘other voices’ included in your academic tasks.
    • If you have used direct quotes, summaries, or paraphrases as evidence you need to identify the source of the ideas or arguments by providing an accurate citation.
    • Exceptions to the above rule applies to ideas which are considered ‘common knowledge’ such as dates and events acknowledged to be facts.
    • If you do not label all ‘extra’ voices, your reader will assume all ideas are your own and you may be accused of plagiarism.

    Note: The way we label and cite voices is discipline specific and is dependent on the referencing style preferred by the Faculty or School you are writing for. Check with your lecturer or tutor and refer to the University of Melbourne style guide, recite, to check the accuracy of your citations.

Strategies for using sources

Information prominent

Emphasises the information, so what is being said, rather the author of the information. Citations follow ideas when using this strategy.

Example

Early exposure to electronic device screens has been flagged as a factor contributing to the rise of school aged children requiring corrective lenses for long sightedness (Smith, 2020).

Author prominent

Emphasises the author of the information and is also used to show your attitude towards their argument or draw attention to the relationships between their argument and your own.

Example

Smith (2020) argues that exposing children to electronic device screens in their first three years of life has contributed to a rise in long sightedness among school aged children.

Language for using sources

Reporting verbs

When using the author prominent strategy to integrate sources into your assessments, you need to use a reporting verb.

There are two categories of reporting verbs: neutral and evaluative.

Neutral

Neutral reporting verbs indicate what was said. When an appropriate neutral verb is used, it can also highlight the strength of the argument put forth by the author of the source without revealing your attitude towards the source.

Examples

Smith and Janes (2019) state that high-cocoa chocolate is tastier than low-cocoa chocolate. (neutral view in original source)

Smith and Janes (2019) refute arguments that low-cocoa chocolate is tastier than high-cocoa chocolate. (strong view in original source)

Evaluative

Evaluative verbs indicate your attitude towards what the author of a source is saying and can be positive or negative.

  • To show agreement use reporting verbs with positive connotations.
  • To show disagreement use reporting verbs with negative connotations.
Examples

Research conducted by Smith and Janes (2019) proves that high-cocoa chocolate is tastier than low-cocoa chocolate. (positive)

Smith and Janes (2019) claim that high-cocoa chocolate is tastier than low-cocoa chocolate. (negative)

Key tip

When reading, pay attention to what reporting verbs the author has used and whether they are neutral or evaluative. This will help you develop a word bank of verbs to use in your own assessments.

How can I express my own voice more confidently?

There are several techniques to show your position regarding a question or issue. These include:

  • Showing your level of confidence regarding your position

    You can show caution regarding your position by using hedging language, such as may, might or could. Alternatively, you can show confidence by using intensifying language, such as certainly, definitely, or must.

    Read the example below. Is the writer showing caution or confidence in regard to their position?

    “The investigations to date may indicate a fundamental flaw in this approach. It certainly shows a need for more research on this topic . . .”

    (may = hedging language; certainly = confident language)

  • Being explicit about relationships

    You can show your position towards relationships discussed in your writing by commenting on the strength of these links. This can be shown by replacing over-used reporting phrases, such as ‘according to’ in your writing with a range of evaluative adjectives and adverbs that indicate what you think of other writers’ views.

    Read the example below. Has the writer shown their position towards Peters’ argument?

    “Peters suggests that students need . . .”

    (suggests = verb)

  • Indicating the strength of your claim

    You can show your position regarding the points of view or evidence that you have presented by using a combination of precise verbs, modality and other evaluative language.

    Read the example below. Has the writer expressed their position regarding Field’s study?

    “Furthermore, it appears that Field may have overlooked some key data when he raises the possibility that . . .”

    (appears = verb; may = modality; raises the possibility that = evaluative language)

Connectives

It’s important to make the connections between the information from sources and your own ideas clear in your assessments. Using linking words, or connectives, allows you to do this.

You can use these words and phrases to highlight the nature of the relationship. So, connectives can be signal additional information, or draw attention to contrasts between arguments.

Example

Smith and Janes (2019) refute arguments that low-cocoa chocolate is tastier than high-cocoa chocolate. However, recent research by Doe (2020) found that the tastiness of chocolate cannot be determined by only measuring cocoa content. (contrasting information)

Key tip

Using connectives in your assessments will help you avoid presenting sources in a shopping list style and will develop the flow of your writing.

Are there any final points I need to remember?

  • Maintain your own voice in your writing and avoid the extended use of other voices. Overuse of external voices is usually seen as ‘padding’ by academics and indicates a lack of original thought by the writer.
  • It is often inappropriate to attach a label referring to multiple ideas from a source at the end of a long paragraph as the reader may be confused where your original writer’s voice starts and finishes.
  • Use a variety of voices in your writing but remember that it is your responsibility to take charge of managing these different voices and reference them correctly.

Works cited in this guide

Brick, J. (2009) Academic writing: a student’s guide to studying at university. South Yarra, Vic: Macmillan

Wingate, U. (2006) Doing away with study skills. Teaching in Higher Education. 11(4) October, 457-469

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