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Central High School Library Home Page: Resources for Researching, Reading, and Writing 9-10

Reading Your Research

Reading Critical Sources Effectively  

from: The Nature of Writing


Many of us are lazy readers. We avoid reading things that clash with our own beliefs, and we skip material that seems difficult. That’s why we often have a hard time mastering new information. When the going gets tough, our eyes simply glaze over.

Don’t believe me? See if you can read this entire page carefully, without once opening a new tab or visiting Facebook.

If you manage to do so, you’ll learn a few tips about how to read articles and books critically and effectively.


Don’t Cherry Pick

A lot of students skim through articles (books are too long), hoping to find just one or two quotations that prove that they’ve done research. That’s why so many quotations come from the opening one or two pages of an article (or worse, from the abstract!).

Cherry picking quotations leads to confirmation bias: the ideas of others are referenced only if they conform to one’s own perspective. In addition, the original author’s general argument is ignored in favour of a selective engagement with a specific point.

Do your best, then, to understand and discuss the author’s main thesis.

Look it Up

Don’t know a difficult word or concept? Look it up. Google it, use a reference work—do whatever it takes to get to the same level as the author.

What’s the Main Argument?

Find the thesis quickly. Skim through the abstract and opening paragraphs and underline the main point(s). Then make sure you read everything else in relation to the central claim. Does the author make a convincing case?

Read Selectively

Skimming is an art. A lot of critical work will be irrelevant to your research, and you don’t want to get bogged down in material that may be interesting, but slows you down.

So learn to read paragraphs as units. Determine quickly what the main point of the paragraph is, and then decide whether it’s immediately relevant. Don’t worry—you can always come back to it once you’ve mastered the more essential parts of the argument.

Take Notes

Master the text by taking notes. Underline, write in the margin, draw pictures, keep a notebook, make an outline—do whatever it takes to make sense of your reading. This will also help you write your essay, as finding the right quotation or reference will be much easier.

One useful strategy is to summarize the text in one or two sentences. This forces you to think about the entire argument. As a bonus, you might even incorporate the summary in your own essay in order to quickly capture the author’s thesis.


Reading strategically can save a lot of time and make writing the essay a more enjoyable experience. If you’ve already summed up the argument and underlined the most quotable passages, incorporating those ideas in your own writing will be a less daunting task.

Above all, think of reading secondary sources as participating in a conversation with others. As we listen attentively, and treat each other with respect, we can all grow and learn together.

NoodleTools Note Cards

Three Ways to Incorporate Research into Your Writing: Summarizing, Paraphrasing, Quoting

Click above to learn about the three ways to incorporate research into your writing from Purdue OWL.



A summary is ...

From Purdue Owl

  •  a short version of a longer original source
  • a way to present a large amount of information in a short and concise text that includes only the most important ideas of the original text.

Note that a summary requires an in-text citation. 


5 Steps to Writing a Summary

  1. Read the text until you understand it. Highlight main ideas and take notes.
  2. Identify the author’s most important points.
  3. Write your summary without looking at the original text.
  4. Check your summary against the original.
  5. Add connective words for clarity and coherence.


Some examples to compare 

Taken from Purdue OWL

Note that the examples in this section use MLA style for in-text citation.

The original passage:

Students frequently overuse direct quotation in taking notes, and as a result they overuse quotations in the final [research] paper. Probably only about 10% of your final manuscript should appear as directly quoted matter. Therefore, you should strive to limit the amount of exact transcribing of source materials while taking notes. Lester, James D. Writing Research Papers. 2nd ed., 1976, pp. 46-47.

An acceptable summary:

Students should take just a few notes in direct quotation from sources to help minimize the amount of quoted material in a research paper (Lester 46-47).



In many situations, you will not have to provide the level of detail that the original writer did. At such times, you should summarize, or remove minor details. Here’s an example:

Example: Overall, the first two quarters of 2008 have been profitable to the company. Nineteen of twenty departments report cutting costs at least twenty percent, and sales from fifteen departments have risen five percent, or about $5 million. Despite these positive developments, most department heads believe that they will not be able to maintain these levels for the remainder of the year.

Revision: The company has driven profits from January to June of 2008, but the rest of the year is not expected to be as good.

Unlike paraphrasing, the basic order of the original text is maintained. However, some words have been changed to close synonyms. When summarizing, avoid cutting too much important information.


A paraphrase is...

  • your own rendition of essential information and ideas expressed by someone else, presented in a new form.
  • one legitimate way (when accompanied by accurate documentation) to borrow from a source.
  • a more detailed restatement than a summary, which focuses concisely on a single main idea. 

Note that paraphrases require an in-text citation


6 Steps to Effective Paraphrasing

  1. Reread the original passage until you understand its full meaning.
  2. Set the original aside, and write your paraphrase on a note card.
  3. Jot down a few words below your paraphrase to remind you later how you envision using this material. At the top of the note card, write a key word or phrase to indicate the subject of your paraphrase.
  4. Check your rendition with the original to make sure that your version accurately expresses all the essential information in a new form.
  5. Use quotation marks to identify any unique term or phraseology you have borrowed exactly from the source.
  6. Record the source (including the page) on your note card so that you can credit it easily if you decide to incorporate the material into your paper.

Some examples to compare 

Taken from Purdue OWL

Note that the examples in this section use MLA style for in-text citation.

The original passage:

Students frequently overuse direct quotation in taking notes, and as a result they overuse quotations in the final [research] paper. Probably only about 10% of your final manuscript should appear as directly quoted matter. Therefore, you should strive to limit the amount of exact transcribing of source materials while taking notes. Lester, James D. Writing Research Papers. 2nd ed., 1976, pp. 46-47.

A legitimate paraphrase:

In research papers, students often quote excessively, failing to keep quoted material down to a desirable level. Since the problem usually originates during note taking, it is essential to minimize the material recorded verbatim (Lester 46-47).

An acceptable summary:

Students should take just a few notes in direct quotation from sources to help minimize the amount of quoted material in a research paper (Lester 46-47).

A plagiarized version:

Students often use too many direct quotations when they take notes, resulting in too many of them in the final research paper. In fact, probably only about 10% of the final copy should consist of directly quoted material. So it is important to limit the amount of source material copied while taking notes.

A note about plagiarism: This example has been classed as plagiarism, in part, because of its failure to deploy any citation. Plagiarism is a serious offense in the academic world. However, we acknowledge that plagiarism is a difficult term to define; that its definition may be contextually sensitive; and that not all instances of plagiarism are created equal—that is, there are varying “degrees of egregiousness” for different cases of plagiarism.


A quotation is  . . .

  • text that uses a narrow segment of the source.
  • text that matches the source document word for word and is placed in "quotation marks" 

All quotations must be attributed to the original author/contain an in-text citation. 

Quoting Others (purdue OWL) 

Using the words of others can be tricky business. You typically only want to use a direct quotation in the following situations: if you’re using that statement as a piece of evidence for your own argument, if you’re establishing another’s position, or if another person has said something better and more clearly than you can.

The main problem with using quotations happens when writers assume that the meaning of the quotation is obvious. Writers who make this mistake believe that their job is done when they’ve chosen a quotation and inserted it into their text. Quotations need to be taken from their original context and integrated fully into their new textual surroundings. Every quotation needs to have your own words appear in the same sentence. Here are some easy to use templates* for doing this type of introduction:


X states, “__________.”

As the world-famous scholar X explains it, “________.”

As claimed by X, “______.”

In her article _______, X suggests that “_________.”

In X’s perspective, “___________.”

X concurs when she notes, “_______.”

You may have noticed that when the word “that” is used, the comma frequently becomes unnecessary. This is because the word “that” integrates the quotation with the main clause of your sentence (instead of creating an independent and dependent clause).


Now that you’ve successfully used the quotation in your sentence, it’s time to explain what that quotations means—either in a general sense or in the context of your argument. Here are some templates for explaining quotations:


In other words, X asserts __________.

In arguing this claim, X argues that __________.

X is insisting that _________.

What X really means is that ____________.

The basis of X’s argument is that ___________.


*These templates are derived from Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein's "They Say/I Say": The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing , second edition

Creating a Works Cited Word Document


On your Sources page, click Print/Export then export to Word or Word Online. (Make the screen larger to see the image) 

Troubleshooting The Works Cited Document

How to block pop-ups in Safari (if you can't see your Works Cited page when you download to Word).

In-Text Citation Help

How to create parenthetical (in-text) citations 


If you are working in MLA project, the In-text citation option next to each reference opens a popup help screen that shows how to create the correct parenthetical citation for that specific entry. (MAKE SURE THE ENTRY IS CORRECTLY LABELED--A General rule is to cite the author (Smith). If there is no author, cite the title  ("Impact of Global Warming"). Remember, you want the reader to easily locate the works you cite. What you place in your in-text citation should be the first words, either author or title, in your citation.  

1. Next to the source on the Sources screen, select In-text citation from the Options menu. 

2. Depending on the source, this popup help screen may prompt for a page or volume number in order to customize the example so that you can copy and paste it directly into your paper.



3. Scroll down below the example to read detailed instructions to guide you through special cases and other modifications to the parenthetical citation that might be necessary depending on the rest of your sentence and the other entries in your source list.

Indirect Citations Pro/Con


Sometimes you may have to use an indirect source. An indirect source is a source cited within another source. For such indirect quotations, use "qtd. in" to indicate the source you actually consulted. For example:

Ravitch argues that high schools are pressured to act as "social service centers, and they don't do that well" (qtd. in Weisman 259).

Note that, in most cases, a responsible researcher will attempt to find the original source, rather than citing an indirect source.


MLA Indirect Citations (Scroll Down to the INDIRECT CITATIONS HEADING)

(qtd, in "Pro/Con Topic")

Cite only the Pro/Con Website Page in your Works Cited Page


How well do you understand plagiarism?

Plagiarism is a type of cheating in which someone adopts another person's ideas, words, design, art, music, etc., as his or her own without acknowledging the source, or, when necessary, obtaining permission from the author. For example, copying and pasting material from a web site into your own document without proper citation is considered plagiarism. Take the quiz below to see how well you understand plagiarism. 

MLA Grammar and Usage Quizzes



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