SOCIAL SCIENCE WRITING GUIDE
VICTOR VALLEY COLLEGE
DR. SUSAN MCDONALD, UCSD
DR. ERIC MAYER, VVC
Introductions serve to tell your reader what to expect. A good introduction gives the reader a sense that the writer is in control and that the paper will be easy to follow. The mistake students fall into most often in introductions is to try to give too much background information and then only give a vague account of the focus of the paper. If you have a tendency to begin your papers with huge generalities like "Throughout human history, mankind has always " you should realize that your reader won't be happy about (or impressed with) that kind of introduction. In general, your introductions should contain the following elements: a thesis (or general claim), an indication of the narrowness of scope of your paper (which part of the topic you will address), and some indication of the structure of your paper. In short papers, these elements may all appear in one sentence while in long papers your introduction may require several paragraphs. In either case, you will need to clarify your thesis, its scope, and its structure. Think about the differences among the following statements:
TOPIC--My topic is the political economy in Africa.
NARROWING OF SCOPE--My topic is the political economy of Zaire.
THESIS--Zaire's dependence on the production and export of unrefined minerals has created an unbalanced and underdeveloped economy.
INDICATION OF PAPER'S STRUCTURE--Zaire's dependence on the production and export of unrefined minerals has created an unbalanced and underdeveloped economy characterized by unequal growth and exchange, increasing national and international debts, and neglect and suppression of Zaire's human resources.
Sample Introduction Model
The first sentence (TOPIC) only explains what the general topic will be and not what specific area or what point of view the writer will develop; by itself it is too vague.
The second sentence (SCOPE) tells us what small part of the larger topic of political economy the writer will focus on--the economy of Zaire.
The third sentence (THESIS) tells what point of view the writer will develop.
The fourth (STRUCTURE) tells what the subdivisions of the topic will be and gives us clues about what to expect as we read.
Here are excerpts from a paper that makes the common mistake of trying to cover too much background in the introduction:
Today in 1987, almost 60% of the worlds land space is considered to be underdeveloped, or a part of the Third World. Africa, Asia, and Latin America are the areas that have been ravaged by a lack of development. The problems began for these areas when the Europeans went to Africa looking for gold but: found slaves instead. Because of the slave trade, beginning in the fifteenth century, the underdeveloped countries of the world are having trouble uniting, even today.
If you were a lazy or impatient reader reading that Introduction, would you have guessed it introduced a paper about Nigeria? Here is a much more direct, focused, and therefore powerful introduction:
The nation of Zaire, even with its vast mineral resources, still remains one of the least developed or economically stable countries in the world. Ever since its emergence as an independent African nation in 1960, Zaire has been on the verge of economic collapse, supported only by increasing loans from foreign corporations and international aid organizations. Ironically, it is the continued export of copper and other minerals, long praised by traditional economists as the primary engine behind Zaire's economic growth, that prevents the creation of a stable economy. Zaire's dependence on the production and export of unrefined minerals, to the exclusion of all but subsidiary industrial activities, has created a profoundly unbalanced and underdeveloped economy, characterized by unequal growth and exchange, increasing national and international debts, and neglect and suppression of Zaire's human resources.
Use your introduction, then, to try to help the reader foresee what your point (your thesis ) will be, how much ground you will cover (your scope), and what kind of approach or what kind of support you will use in establishing your thesis. For a 3-4 page paper, your introduction may be only a paragraph; for a longer paper, you may need more than a paragraph, but make sure that you don't start your paper with paragraphs or pages of unnecessary information.
The difference between a topic (e.g., "I'm going to discuss the political economy of Zaire") and a thesis (e.g., "Zaire' s dependence on the production and export of unrefined minerals has created an unbalanced economy") is that a thesis is arguable and shows the reader that the writer has something to say. A paper that begins with a topic but no thesis gives the reader the impression that the writer is not in charge--that the writer is lost, has nothing to say, or lacks the confidence to say it. A paper that begins with only a topic gives the reader a "So what?" impression. But a paper that begins with a clear thesis gives the impression that the paper will contain an argument--that it will attempt to demonstrate something that is not already known or widely believed, that it will add something to the reader's knowledge or, whenever your reader is a teacher, that it will show you're a writer who has something to say and is capable to synthesizing knowledge. Don't feel that you have nothing to say because your teacher already knows more on the subject than you do; often you can introduce a new perspective on a subject; but even when you can't, you can at least show that you have learned to do what academics do--to synthesize information and to present a well-organized argument.
The nature of your subject will help dictate what makes a good or not-so-good thesis. Here are some examples of thesis statements from a Chinese literature paper assignment on "The Story of Ying-ying":
 Although their interests and abilities are similar, Chang is connected to a man's world of exams, poets, and achievements: Ying-ying's domain is limited to either her mother's household or her husband's.
 Throughout the story, it can be seen that Ying-ying is not the kind of woman she should be within the Confucian system, and therefore she lacks the qualities of a good wife.
If you are not familiar with the story, these sentences may look fairly similar, but anyone who has read the story will be looking for the writer's interpretation of the story's most puzzling element--why Chang courted Ying-ying and then abandoned her. Sentence (1) does not offer an argumentative thesis or claim that could help solve that puzzle; it merely states something no one would disagree on.
Sentence , however, answers a question ("Why does Chang desert Ying-ying and/or "What is the author's attitude toward Chang's desertion of Ying-ying?"). It promises to explain a puzzling element of the story. In literature when your assignment involves interpreting a literary work (or set of works), a good thesis statement usually answers a question about the work or explains a puzzling element in it. When you are dealing with historical or sociological material, the question you propose to answer in your paper is usually related to the conceptual issues of the course. You might think of your thesis as the answer you will give to some problem relevant to the issues of the course, a problem whose nature and scope you have defined well.
Sometimes in your introduction or elsewhere you will need to define terms that might have different meanings for your reader. That does not mean, however, that you should quote a dictionary; most, if not all, of your teachers have read too many papers that begin "According to Webster's Dictionary,..." and they react negatively to such definitions. If you are taking a course like History 3B that focuses upon abstract terms like development, capitalism, dependency, collectivism, then your writing should implicitly reflect the richness and complexity of the discussion going on in lectures, readings, and section meetings. To resort to Webster or some other dictionary for a quick definition may make you look as if you aren't doing serious work in the course.
Much of the time, you will not need to define terms explicitly, but there are important exceptions, particularly when the terms are surrounded by ambiguity. For instance, in the Chinese literature course, there is much discussion of the tension between individualism and collectivism, so the terms are important. But shifting historical circumstances mean that the term "collectivism", for instance, can be used to describe social systems as radically different as Confucianism and communism. To write well about individualism and collectivism in Chinese literature (or history) may therefore require you to be explicit In a different way than you would have to be in using a term like "dependency theory" in urban studies or history; in the case of dependency theory, you need to know what the term means and to demonstrate that you know it, but the term does not ordinarily mean radically different things to different people. With "individualism" and "collectivism". In Chinese literature, however, you need to be explicit about how you are using the terms. Here is part of an essay on Chinese literature that uses terms in a confused way:
This paper will argue that the relation between individualism and collectivism is similar in that they both focus on their own selfish goals, whether for an Individual family or for the country as a whole. Furthermore, the stories are told in a selfish way and expect the reader to agree with the moral.
Before the Cultural Revolution, assuming that this was a much more individualistic period in Chinese history, the writers tell of stories which focus on the self. For example, in the Jewel Box story, the man in the end selfishly decides to forget about the courtesan and to pursue his career in the civil service. His desire to do the right thing was very individualistic and hence very selfish in aspect.
The problem with these paragraphs is that traditional Confucian society was collective, rather than individualistic, in subordinating the individual's needs or desires to the general family welfare. It is possible to argue that Confucian China was individualistic, but to do so successfully would require explaining what you mean by the term "individualistic " and admitting that Confucian China subordinated--even, at times, sacrificed--the individual to the good of the group. The writer has almost made this distinction by writing "whether for an individual family or for the country as a whole," but that's not good enough; more needs to be said. Furthermore, the term "selfish" hurts the argument because it literally means for the self, and the man in the Jewel Box story gives up his love for the courtesan in older to obey his father. It is possible--with difficulty--to argue that such an act is individualistic, but the term "selfish" probably makes it harder to convince a reader. The writer needed to spend more time discussing these terms in the richness of their historical complexity or else to use them in the more conventional way.
It is hard to offer a clear rule for/when definitions will be necessary; it will depend upon the circumstances in your course and your paper. The best rule of thumb, perhaps, is to offer a definition whenever (1) your reader may not know the definition (e.g., of a technical term), (2) the term is in dispute, or (3) you are using the term in an unusual way but have a good reason for doing so.
The most important parts of a paper, the thesis and the supporting evidence, must work together. The thesis determines what can be used as relevant supporting evidence; all the supporting material in the world will do you no good if it is not relevant to your thesis. At the same time, an insightful and sophisticated thesis will be of little use unless you produce evidence crucial for validating the thesis. Neither one will work without the other. The most common mistakes student writers make involve an imbalance between thesis and supporting evidence. sometimes writers think their papers have to have impressive BIG IDEAS, so they produce one impressive generalization after another and then are surprised to receive a low grade. Ironically, they may have worked harder than they needed to, trying to come up with lots of ideas when a few well-supported and clearly explained ideas would have been far more appealing to a reader.
At the other extreme, some writers feel their job to produce a lot of facts or data without venturing to assert a thesis or draw conclusions about their facts. We see this in literature courses when students give lots of detailed plot summary without connecting it to a thesis. Be see it in history or urban studies papers that become a mere catalog of dates and events. We see it in communication papers. So keep in mind this rule of thumb; you need to have a reasonable quantity and quality of evidence. The quantity of evidence will be greater than the quantity of theses--lots of evidence, perhaps a one-dimensional thesis--and you need to make sure the evidence supports the thesis you want it to support. In other words, once you have clearly introduced your thesis, most of the paper will be spent demonstrating your supporting material and explaining its relevance to the thesis or, in other words, analyzing your material.
There are three qualitative questions to ask yourself in deciding whether to use a particular piece of evidence: (1) is it appropriate, relevant evidence? (2) is the evidence concrete enough for the thesis you want to support? and (3) have you made clear to the reader why the evidence is appropriate or relevant? Not much can be said about item #1 here because what is relevant to the thesis will depend upon your thesis and the course you are taking; just remember that whatever your thesis is, you will need to support it with relevant evidence.
As for item #2, many writers fail to use evidence that is concrete enough. The following is an example from an Urban Studies 10 paper in which students were asked to discuss the lure of the city:
One reason that a big city is able to attract so many different people is that in a huge metropolitan area, there is a place for everyone. Big cities always have their share of rich, high-ranking important people, while they also have their share of homeless who live off the streets. There are a variety of different classes, races, backgrounds, and socioeconomic groups living and working together to make a city what it is. There seem to be better opportunities for everyone in a big city. Even lower-class citizens will find more blue collar jobs in a big city rather than a small town.
This paragraph is far too general; the student needed to specify what city she was talking about and what some of its specific characteristics were. After all, one of the assumptions made in the Urban Studies program is that cities are not all alike but that some kinds of cities have similar problems (and the other SAWA courses, for one reason or another, will also value specificity or concreteness). Sometimes discussion of competing theories seems to occupy center stage in the SAWA courses, but supporting evidence is still important. Here is one example from an exam on overurbanization; the student in this case successfully managed to refer to a number of specifics without having to spend a great amount of space spelling out the details:
Overurbanization is revealed through the low income of the people in such cities There must be more than one worker in the family. Thus the women play a major role. They are the second sources of income. They collect scrap paper (Carolina in Child of the Dark), well ready-made food (Jakarta), turn to prostitution (Ethiopia), spin (Ethiopia), work in factories (Mexico), or live off each other by trading and bartering among themselves (Haiti).
Sometimes writers state their evidence without making explicit why it counts as evidence. In other words, facts often do not speak for themselves. Sometimes the writer has to make his or her causal inferences or analysis clear to the reader. Here is a part of a Communication 20 paper on media images of presidential candidates; the writer has given a lot of information but then has failed to do anything with the information.
The image of Dukakis that comes to mind is of a candidate who is at a loss when it comes to charm, charisma, and vitality. Dukakis was described in Time magazine as "The paradigm of caution who has launched not a single imaginative political theme." He was also described by one of his aides as an "earnest nerd." According to a recent poll done by Time, only 34% of those people registered to vote felt Dukakis was an exciting candidate. [Here there are 3-4 more similar examples] After reading such statements from the media, the overall feeling one gets is that of a dud. The media encourages this type of thought constantly.
Note that the writer assumes she has finished her task after producing a string of examples. She must not have realized that she was neglecting the task of analyzing, interpreting, or commenting on the examples. The commentary portion of the paragraph ("a dud. The media encourages this type of thought constantly") is weak; it is buried in the paragraph, its language is not academic ("a dud"), and we are left uncertain about what exactly "this type of thought" is that the media encourages. Here, by contrast, is a paragraph from a more experienced writer In the field of Communication, writing on a similar topic:
In order to restore the semblance of objectivity to this [New York Times] article [on the 1984 election], the author has balanced these statements with passages of complete neutrality; for example: "critics argued that the policy (of taking away welfare benefits from those who, while they were poor, were still employed) would lead many poor workers to give up their jobs and rely entirely on welfare, but there is little evidence that this has happened," and "studies have shown that the new programs have proved successful in some places and failed in others." These statements lend the article an air of impartiality while providing little in the way of information, taking no stand and serving to heighten the effectiveness of the more statistically-worded passages. They rob the article of its apparent bias.
Here the writer is focusing upon only two sample passages from one article, but he spends some time explaining what he sees in the examples he gives.
Most topics can be organized in more than one way, and yet often one mode of organization fits the topic better than another. For every assignment, try thinking about what the purpose of the assignment should be. Many assignments, for instance, can be translated into what, how, or why questions. If you try to answer a what question when your TA is looking for an answer to a why or how question, then you won't do well. For instance, if you were given a History 17B assignment on the fiscal crisis of the cities in the 1970s, you would need to know whether your purpose should be (1) to describe what happened in the fiscal crisis or (2) to analyze why it happened. You might he asked just to describe a phenomenon accurately, without having to speculate about why it exists. Here often, however, assignments require you to analyze why or how something exists, and you won't be able to do that without also describing what it is.
The comment TAs and Professors make most often on students' papers is "more analysis needed. " That can mean a number of things depending upon the writing task. If you are not sure what it means, ask your TA or Professor. It may mean that you need to describe less and to write more about the why and how of your topic. In Communication, it may mean that you are sticking too close to surface descriptions and not writing enough about the significance of the phenomenon you describe or its relevance to one of the models of communication you have studied. In literature, it may mean that you are only describing the plot rather than developing a thesis about the plot. Because the advice to "be analytical" means so many different things in different writing situations, you should discuss it with your TA and use every opportunity to find a way or organizing your material that is appropriate to the task assigned.
In history courses, you will often have to decide about whether a narrative organizational mode would be most appropriate. Because history is concerned with change over time, students often have trouble deciding whether or not use the chronological or narrative ordering of events.
Without too much oversimplification, we can say that history writing takes place at some point on the continuum diagrammed below:
(embedded analysis) (embedded narrative)
At the narrative end of the continuum, history resembles a story that is strongly determined by time order. Since history (far more than sociology)is the study of change over time, narrative has long been a common way or organizing historical accounts. At the other end of the continuum, analysis (as your teachers or TAs often call it) is a form of organization in which time ordering is either almost absent or relegated to the background. Analysis means dividing some thing or phenomenon into its component parts or constituent elements. Narrative might be an effective method of organization if you were writing about how an individual came to this country--what he or she did first and then did next and then did after that--or if you were writing about the change over time in the assimilation of German immigrants, for instance, on the other hand, analysis might be a more effective method of organizing an essay about German immigrants in the first wave of immigration if you felt it was less important to trace the changes within that period than to discuss the elements (or components or variables) of the German experience. There is often a stronger narrative element in the readings for TWS/History 7A, 7B, 7C, and 25 (Chinese history) than in TWS/History 24 or 26, but rarely in history will you find an extreme of narrative without analysis or analysis without any sense of narrative in the background. Most history writing has some degree of both narrative and analysis; otherwise it would leave out something crucial to history writing.
In each of your courses, you can discuss with your TA whether narrative or chronological organization is appropriate to your subject; the decision often depends upon the topic. The following are some examples in which students have chosen narrative when analysis could have been more effective. The first example comes from the paper on Nigeria (for TWS/History 24) with the overly diffuse introduction quoted earlier. Here are the second and part of the third paragraphs--still with no mention of Nigeria:
The slave trade began in 1441 when the Portuguese brought ten Africans to Europe as curios. What started out as curiosity turned out to be one of the most economically, not to mention economically devastating problems to hit the African continent. When the Europeans came to Africa they robbed the continent of many of its natural resources: ivory, gold, palm oil, palm kernels, groundnuts, and most important, its people. These people were taken from Africa and sent to the new world where those who survived the trip would live out their lives as slaves.
The idea of slavery was not original to the Europeans; the Africans had been enslaved by their rulers for many centuries. The Africans became slaves to their rulers in a number of ways.
The writer of these paragraphs is taking too long to get to her subject (see the section above on introductions). She seems to have felt obliged to start far back in time, but the results from the reader's point of view are not good. The reader is asked to read through all this information with little idea of the scope of the paper, its thesis, or whether this information is relevant. The writer probably didn't realize that the reader would prefer to skip all the early history and get to a more focused account of Nigeria in more modern times. The paragraphs above, then, are examples of a writer's focusing too much upon chronology instead of getting to the point sooner. Narrative is not by itself a bad choice for this subject, but the reader is initially offered the wrong narrative (the brief narrative of everything that happened from before the advent of the Europeans), instead of a narrative more focused in time and in Its analysis of what happened.
Here is another example from TWS/History 24 of a writer's choosing narrative rather than non-narrative organization. At the end of this paper, the TA wrote "I think you emphasize a narrative of events to the' detriment of your analysis of the differences arising from the economic goals of the First and Third Worlds. For example, the paragraph in which you discuss Dulles' announcement contained some key ideas that you could have expanded on, such as the U.S. cotton interests and the concept of "strings attached" foreign policy. An analysis of these factors would have helped you connect your paper to the themes of development and underdevelopment." Here is the paragraph before the one on Dulles and the one on Dulles; notice how the student has chosen a narrative organization:
Nasser was now in a favorable position. He had offers from the two superpowers which he could use as a bargaining chip. In private he admitted that his first choice for funding the Aswan Dam would be the World Bank followed by the West and finally the Soviet Union. He feared becoming economically dependent on any foreign powers. The American deal included the condition that Nassau make concessions to Israel and sign a peace treaty, something Egypt, the Arab leader, could not do considering recent tensions.
Then, on July 18, 1956, U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles announced the U.S. was withdrawing Its offer to finance the dam. This change in position was officially the decision that the project was economically unsound, but was really because of Egypt's growing ties with the Soviet Union, the U.S. cotton Interests, and Israeli pressure through prominent Jewish Americans. The United Kingdom and World Bank also withdrew their funding offers and Egypt was left with few options. America's "strings attached" policy of foreign aid was at times good in boycotting a despotic regime but was bad in this case because it used economic aid as a way of achieving political ends.
The topic sentences of these paragraphs indicate the narrative focus through their stress on chronological sequence "Nasser was now Then, on July 18, 1956 . . . " It Is Important to be accurate about such facts, but the writer has in effect foreshadowed the chronology and relegated the thematic components--like U.S. cotton interests or "strings attached" foreign policy--to the background. The TA in this case suggested that the paper might be more successful if the thematic components were in the foreground instead. In a case like this where the writer is dealing with causes, it's worth asking which makes more sense--organizing the paper by the order in which things happened or taking one cause and exploring it fully before going on to another cause. It is only a matter of emphasis, but the right emphasis often makes the difference between a good paper and a mediocre one.
Topic sentences are one of the most important ways of emphasizing what you want the reader to notice. Writers often throw away chances to foreground key ideas by writing weak topic sentences. Here is a paragraph from a paper on the economic consequences of foreign mining in Rhodesia:
Contrary to popular belief, archaeologists estimate that primitive mining existed in sub-Saharan Africa as early as 43,000 BC(Lanning and Hueller,p. 28). At this time, and for centuries thereafter, the minerals were intended for local consumption and were often used in traditional rituals as body decorations. Gold was used in decorative masks, and copper became a source of currency. Until the mid-nineteenth century, African states and chiefdoms managed to preserve their mineral resources, selling only that amount which they needed to buy goods offered in trade by the Middle East. However, social conflicts, internal political evolution, the slave trade, and more importantly colonization, led to the decline in local Rhodesian mining (Lanning and Hueller 32). In the latter part of the nineteenth century, Europeans began to colonize Rhodesia with the aim of expropriating the copper and gold mines.
Because readers often look at the beginning of a paragraph to tell them where the paragraph is going, the first sentence of this paragraph is misleading. It implies that the focus may be on what's wrong with popular belief, what archaeologists are saying, or what happened in primitive mining. The writer intended to focus upon the unprecedented change occurring in nineteenth-century Rhodesia when, for the first time in their history, minerals were no longer used primarily for local purposes. That focus can be foregrounded by putting it right at the beginning of the paragraph in a sentence like the following:
In the latter part of the nineteenth century, for the first time in Rhodesian history, minerals began to be used for other than domestic purposes.
Here is an example of a weak topic sentence from Communication 20:
In an article entitled "Michael Dukakis: Earnest Competence," an image is trying to be brought to attention. One part reads "Dukakis is frugal. He buys bargain-basement clothes and switched to a cheaper brand of muffins." This tries to portray to the public an example of how within his persona life Dukakis is simple and tries to cut down spending.
The topic sentence above has two weaknesses--one stylistic and one strategic. Stylistically, an image can't try to do anything. Strategically, the writer would be better off telling the reader what that image is. The topic sentence might be revised to read, "The media frequently emphasize Dukakiss frugality." Putting the ward "frugal" or "frugality" into the first sentence of the paragraph will make the examples in the paragraph easier to follow.
In history (as we have already seen above), the temptation to emphasize chronology or narrative often leads writers to write topic sentences devoid of important thematic or analytic points. In a History 17A paper on Frederick Douglass's political experience, one student began a paragraph by writing "in 1832, Douglass went to work for Thomas Auld." There is nothing wrong with such a sentence, but a stronger sentence can be written to combine the chronological information with thematic analysis:
When Douglass went to work for Thomas Auld in 1832, he found that with his new freedom of mind he could no longer easily act as a slave.
This sentence accomplishes several things; in the first (the main) clause, it alerts the reader to the next chronological phase in
Douglass's career; and in the second (the main) clause, it foregrounds the thematic analysis which is more important than when Douglass when to work or whom he went to work for. The most important point is that at a turning point in his life Douglass rejected slavery. That is the point that deserves all the emphasis the writer can give it.
Similarly in literature classes, good topic sentences can help make the difference between a paper that strongly supports a thesis and a paper that appears to provide little more than plot summary. Here are some topic sentences from literature papers that do no more than state a fact:
In the literary text, "The Festival of the Bullets," Guzmán relates and experience he had as Villas private secretary.
The stories are narrated by different people.
The majority of the action takes place in Don Justo's corral, but Rulfo opens the story with an earthy, beautiful scene of fog laid back against the town of San Gabriel.
Each of these sentences leaves the reader asking "So what? why is this fact important?" If the topic sentence does a good Job of advancing your thesis, it won't leave your reader with that feeling. Here are some topic sentences that foreground thematic points:
The stream of consciousness narration of 'Macario' is another vehicle through which to understand the boys mind.
The fact that Jones was actually physically present in El Salvador makes his theme credible and clear--he was not merely talking to people on the phone and relying on hearsay.
TRANSITIONS AND OTHER CUES FOR READERS
Most of the successful topic sentences and paragraphs quoted here have clear transitions that tell the reader how to read. Writers do well to assume their readers will be easily bored or frustrated without clear signals--e.g., signals of how part B is related to part A, phase 4 to phase 3, statement x to statement y, and so on. Any good textbook on writing will offer you a list of transitions; what is most important in choosing transitions is to keep stressing what you want to stress. If you want to focus on the chronological change, a transition like "In 1832" is useful. If you want to emphasize the thematic element also, in an example like the sentence about Frederick Douglass, then you may want to write something like this:
This acceptance of his lot, however, was to change when Douglass discovered a new freedom of mind.
Here the underlined words help stress the contrast between Douglass's old and new attitudes. Whatever the subject you are writing on, you can find words like next, however, also, for example that will help you make clear to the reader how each successive part of your paper is related to the previous part and what the reader is to expect of the part that is to come.
In using sources, you need to think about both your PURPOSE for using sources and the MECHANICS of doing so.
PURPOSE--Your purpose should be to support an argument that belongs to you. Don't think of using sources as a way of letting you off the hook so that you don' t have to think or have an argument of your own. Don't think of them as a way of dressing up your prose. If it helps, think of yourself as a lawyer putting together your evidence be f ore a court; the argument is yours, but some of the evidence is not yours. Anything that is not yours, you will need to handle carefully by doing the following:
1. Cite each source so that readers or other writers can verify or pursue your ideas. (On the mechanics of this, see below.)
2. Make sure you clarify how each source is relevant to your argument; don't assume the evidence will speak for itself because it wont. You need to interpret your evidence or its significance for the reader. In the case of quotations, that means you will usually need to introduce each quote and provide some explanation after it.
MECHANICS--There are many different styles for citing sources. For undergraduates, the three most common ones are the old HLB style (which uses footnotes), the new MLA style ( which uses parenthetical citations in the text), and the APA style (which uses parenthetical citations in the text in a manner different from the new HLA style). You need to choose a style that your teacher approves of and then follow it scrupulously and consistently.
If you are not certain which style to choose, ask your teacher. If you can't ask your teacher, try using the new HLA style for literature courses, the old MLA--or footnote--style for history, and APA style for the social sciences. Any library will carry a number of books that will show you the exact ways of using one or more styles. You can refer to chapter 21 of The St. Martin's Guide to Writing for help with either the new HLA style or the APA style.