Finding sources, taking notes, and synthesizing ideas - Writing with sources

Successful college writing, Eighth edition - Kathleen T. McWhorter 2020

Finding sources, taking notes, and synthesizing ideas
Writing with sources


In this chapter you will learn to

✵ use keywords effectively to find sources using your library’s catalog and databases and Internet search engines

✵ conduct field research: interviews, surveys, and observations

✵ take effective notes: annotating and highlighting, summarizing, and paraphrasing information

✵ evaluate your research

✵ synthesize information and ideas from sources

✵ create an annotated bibliography

Writing Quick Start


Suppose you are doing a unit on fads, trends, and communities in an introductory sociology class. Your instructor gives the class a number of photographs and directs students to choose one and write a paper about the trend it portrays.


Draft a brief statement describing the global trend the photograph above illustrates. Consider where you might go to learn about why people take and share selfies and their impact on communication and interpersonal relationships. Make a list of the sources you would consult.


What did you learn about this trend? What sources of information did you list? This chapter will show you how to find and evaluate a variety of sources; how to conduct field research; and how to record, connect, and make sense of what you learn from sources. To do all this effectively, you must approach the research process in a systematic way. Graphic Organizer 22.1 lists the research skills you will need to develop, placing the skills covered in this chapter within the context of the process of writing a research project as a whole.


GRAPHIC ORGANIZER 22.1 Writing a Research Project Using Sources

"The basic structure has 4 sections: Planning a research project and evaluating sources; finding, taking notes on, and evaluating sources; drafting, revising, and formatting a research project; and documenting your sources. Planning a research project and evaluating sources: See Chapter 21. Finding, taking notes on, and evaluating sources includes the following: Conduct keyword searches; Find sources using your library search options; Conduct field research; Take notes that summarize and paraphrase; Synthesize ideas and information from sources with your own ideas. Drafting, revising, and formatting a research project: See Chapter 23. Documenting your sources: See Chapter 23."



✵ For an anthropology course, you are asked to write a research project in which you analyze the differences between the religious practices of two cultures.

✵ For an art history course, you must write a biography of a famous Renaissance artist as a final research project.

✵ As supervisor of a health care facility, you decide to conduct a survey of the staff to determine employees’ interest in flexible working hours.

Get an Overview of Library Sources

Your college library is an immense collection of print, media, and online sources. Learning your way around the library is the first step in locating sources effectively.

Learn Your Way around the Library

It is a good idea to become familiar with your college library before you need to use it. The following are two ways to do so:

1. Take a tour of the library. Check the library for places to study, such as a library carrel or cubicle or a room where you can collaborate with classmates.

2. Take a tour of your library’s Web site. Most college libraries provide access to rich resources through the library’s Web site (see Figure 22.1). Often students can search for books, articles, multimedia sources, and more; access citation (or reference) managers (to help you manage sources and create lists of works cited or references); request sources through interlibrary loan; or ask a reference librarian for help. Visit your library’s Web site to find out what services are available online as well as face-to-face.


FIGURE 22.1 Sample Library Home Page

The Montgomery College Library home page allows students to search for books, articles, and other resources all through a single portal. The home page also provides access to a wealth of other useful information.

"The top left corner shows the official logo of McLibrary. The option “Ask Us” on the top right allows chat reference with a librarian. A search portal at the center helps find articles, books, media, and more. The library schedule on the right shows a text under the heading “Today’s hours” as follows. Germantown, Closed, chat available; Rockville, Closed, chat available; T P forward slash S S, Closed, chat available. Hours, Locations, and Contacts. The services mentioned under the column titled, “Research and Access"" below the search portal are as follows. Databases: By subject, A to Z; Research Guides; Opposing Viewpoints; Newspapers; Access Library E-Resources; Citations Tools: A P A and M L A. Research guides option provides access to subject guides. Another column titled, “Courses and Instruction” shows the following options: Course pages, Tutorials and Quizzes, and Free e-textbooks and course reserves. The free e-textbooks and course reserves provide access to material on reserve. The box on the right with a picture tells the user how to access the library information from home."

Make Use of Reference Librarians

Reference librarians can help you at any stage in the research process, advising you about what sources to use and where to locate them. For example, reference librarians can help you do all of the following:

✵ Use library resources to make a topic broader, narrower, or more relevant.

✵ Get you started by steering you toward reference resources or basic books and articles that provide background information on your topic.

✵ Identify other libraries or special collections that might be relevant to your research, then help you request those materials through interlibrary loan.

✵ Help you decide which search terms to use, identify appropriate specialized databases, and learn how to search those databases most efficiently.

✵ Obtain the full text of articles for which you have only summary information (abstracts).

✵ Show you how to use various citation management systems such as EndNote, Zotero, and RefWorks. (Citation management systems allow you to store and format bibliographic material from your sources in a number of popular citation styles.)

In short, reference librarians can often save you time, so don’t hesitate to ask them for help.

Use Keywords Effectively

Whether you use your library’s search options or Google, you will use keywords, words or phrases that describe your topic, to search for information. You type your keywords into a search box and hit “Enter,” and the search engine scans all the items in its index for those that include your keywords. In other words, to search effectively, you must figure out which words your sources are likely to use and use those as your keywords. The following tips can help improve your search results:

More specific terms yield more relevant results. For example, if you were writing about alternative political parties in the United States, using keywords like politics or even political parties would be too broad. Searching on phrases like third parties in the United States would reduce the number of hits and make those hits more relevant. If you are having difficulty coming up with keywords, use a reference resource, like a specialized encyclopedia, to find the terms those writing about a topic would be likely to use.

Include synonyms. To make sure your search yields the best results, brainstorm a list of synonyms for your keywords and search for those terms as well. For example, if you are searching for information on welfare reform, you might also search for entitlement programs, government benefits, and welfare spending.

Use full names and titles. If the name is common, add other pieces of information, such as the college or university where the person teaches.

Use the advanced search functions. For example, Google’s advanced search feature allows you to search for an exact phrase and to exclude words that should not appear in your search results (among other options). Google also allows you to filter your results by language, reading level, date, region, and several other criteria. Library catalogs and databases also allow you to narrow your results, for example, to scholarly articles or to books published within a specific timeframe, in a specific language, or on a specific subject.

Use subject headings. Most libraries and database vendors (such as EBSCO or LexisNexis) use standard subject headings to index their contents. To generate more relevant search results, make sure your keywords match the Library of Congress subject headings, or use the Thesaurus or Subject Terms link on the search page to check and refine your list of keywords. For instance, checking the thesaurus for a medical database may reveal that the ideal search term is not heart attack but myocardial infarction.

If your keyword searches are returning too many results or too many irrelevant results, try the following:

✵ Combine keywords to make your search terms more specific, or remove search terms to broaden your results.

✵ Once you find a relevant source, look at the subject terms associated with it, and use those for subsequent searches.

✵ Conduct a new search using a specialized database.

✵ Read the tool’s search tips or FAQs for specific advice on how to improve your results.

Keep in mind that effective research requires ingenuity and persistence, so don’t give up too easily.

Use Appropriate Search Tools

As you analyze your writing assignment, you will likely find yourself wondering where to begin. The key entry portal for research is your library’s homepage. Student researchers may also benefit from using research, or subject, guides, discipline- and course-specific lists of useful resources. Each research guide has been created by a librarian and is tailored to the kinds of assignments that college students get regularly.

Search for Books and Other Library Holdings

Libraries own a variety of source types: books and e-books, magazines and newspapers (in print), some printed government documents, special collections and rare books and manuscripts, and multimedia items such as video and audio recordings. Researchers identify relevant items in the library’s collection by accessing a computerized catalog, which allows users to search online for sources by keyword, title, author, subject, or the first portion of the call number. Some systems, like the one shown in Figure 22.2, allow users to narrow a search by subject, author, publication date, and other options. Often the catalog will indicate not only where an item is shelved, but also whether it has been checked out and when it is due back.


FIGURE 22.2 Library Catalog Search Results

Search results for the University of North Carolina Library holdings using the keywords human-animal relationships

"The top left corner of the page shows the official logo of the university library, “U N C, University Libraries,” followed by the following tabs: Libraries and Hours, Search and Find, Places and Spaces, Services, Support and Guide, My accounts, and Contact Us. The search and find option and support and guides option show a dropdown menu. The Contact Us option along with the “Chat Now” option below it are accompanied by an annotation which reads, ""'Chat reference' and other contact options."" Left column of the page lists the following options under the heading “Limit your search”: Available Online 497, library location, resource type, physical media, subjects, call number, language, publication year, author, genre, about places, about time period, new titles, availability. A corresponding annotation reads, ""Options to narrow a search by location, resource type, subject, date, author, and so on."" The content of the page shows three search results: 1. Crossing boundaries: investigating human-animal relationships. A corresponding annotation reads, ""Publication information, including publisher, year of publication, and medium."" 2. Grateful prey: Rock Cree human-animal relationships. Next to each search result, there is Add to List option. A corresponding annotation reads, ""Options to save items from search."" 3. Grateful prey: Rock Cree human-animal relationships. The bottom of the page shows address and status as follows. Davis library (fourth floor) and call number E 99. C 88 B 75 1993. An accompanying annotation reads, ""Location information, including library floor, and call number."" Status: Available. A corresponding annotation reads, ""Availability."""

Once you have a specific call number, use a library floor plan and the call number guides posted on shelves to locate the appropriate section of the library and the book you need. While looking for your book, be sure to scan the surrounding books, which are usually on related topics. You may discover other useful sources that you overlooked in the catalog.

Search for Articles in Your Library’s Databases

College libraries subscribe to databases that list articles in periodicals, publications that are issued at regular intervals (daily, weekly, monthly, or quarterly), such as scholarly journals, magazines, and newspapers. Database entries usually include an abstract, or brief summary of the article, as well as information about the article itself (title, author, publishing information, and keywords used in the article). As with library catalogs, databases allow users to refine their searches by limiting results by date or publication type, for example. They also may allow you to email, print, or save relevant articles.

Many articles will be available through the database in full text. They may appear in PDF format, which usually shows the article just as it appeared in the periodical, or in HTML format, which is usually text only. For articles that are not available in full text, a librarian can help you request them via interlibrary loan.

Your library probably subscribes to general databases and specialized ones. General databases list articles on a wide range of subjects in both popular magazines and scholarly journals. Academic Search Premier (Figure 22.3), for example, offers the full text of articles in over 3,000 of those periodicals.


FIGURE 22.3 Academic Search Premier: Sample Search Results

Search results on the keywords animal communication

"There is a menu bar at the top of the page with the following options on the left: New search, Publications, Subject terms, Cited references, More with a dropdown list; and the following options on the right: Sign In, Folder, Preferences, Languages with a dropdown list, Contact Library, and Help. Below the menu bar on the left, there is an official logo of E B S C O host. Next to the logo shows “Searching: Academic Search Premier; Choose Databases; Suggest subject terms” under which three search boxes and tabs to search “select a field (optional) with drop down menu” and a “Search” button. Left column of the page shows Refine results which limit to “Full text,” “References Available,” and “Scholarly (Peer Reviewed) Journals” and shows publication date which limits between 1939 to 2020. The content of the page shows two search research results: 1. Comparison of methods for rhythm analysis of complex animals’ acoustic signals. 2. Vocal learning: Beyond the continuum. Each search result is followed by a download button for H T M L full text and P D F full text."

Specialized databases index either articles within specific academic disciplines or fields, or particular types of articles, such as book reviews, abstracts of doctoral dissertations, and articles and essays published in books. Some examples of specialized databases are Book Review Digest Plus, Dissertation and Theses, PsycArticles, Web of Science, and Sociological Abstracts.

Note: Names of databases may change, the number of sources a database indexes or includes full text for may change, and database vendors may make different packages of databases available at different times, so consult a reference librarian if you are not sure which database to use.

Use the Internet for Research, with Caution

For more on evaluating sources, see Chapter 3 and Chapter 21.

The Internet provides access to millions of Web sites, but you need to use a search engine to find them. Search engines allow you to find information by typing a keyword or phrase into a search box. Google is such a popular search engine that you might have never used anything else, but other excellent search engines exist, and some of them are listed below. Because different search engines may generate different results, it is a good idea to try your search on more than one search engine.

Search Engine

Why try it?

Bing provides a list of results in the main column but also includes a list of “Related searches,” which may help you refine your search strategy.

Dogpile is a metasearch engine; in other words, it draws its results from a variety of other search engines.

DuckDuckGo allows users to search anonymously and lists all results on a single page, making less clicking necessary.

While the Internet is an amazing resource for researchers, the quality of the content you will find varies wildly. As a result, researchers must evaluate content very carefully before relying on it.

News sites

Newspapers, television and radio networks, and magazines have companion Web sites that provide current information and late-breaking news stories. Some of the most useful are listed below. (Some may require a subscription, but your library may allow access through a database. Check with a librarian.)



Wall Street Journal

New York Times

National Public Radio

Washington Post

General reference sites

Reference works are available online, through the Web or through the databases your library subscribes to. Some of the most useful general reference sites are listed below.

Britannica Online

Encyclopedia Smithsonian

Merriam-Webster Online

Some of these sites may not be available for free through Google; check to find out if your college library provides access to these or other general reference sources.

Government documents

The federal government makes hundreds of thousands of documents freely available online every year on a vast range of subjects. Some government sites that students find particularly useful are listed below.

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

U.S. Census Bureau

The Central Intelligence Agency’s World Fact Book

Library of Congress

National Institutes of Health

In addition, you can access many useful government documents through library databases such as CQ Press Library.

Conduct Field Research

Depending on your research topic, you may need — or want — to conduct field research to collect original information. This section discusses three common types of field research:

1. Interviews

2. Surveys

3. Observation

All of these methods generate primary source material.

For more about primary vs. secondary sources, see Chapter 21.

Conduct Interviews

An interview allows you to obtain firsthand information from a person who is knowledgeable about your topic. For example, if the topic of your research project is treatment of teenage alcoholism, it might be a good idea to interview an experienced substance abuse counselor who works with teenagers. Use the following suggestions to conduct effective interviews:

1. Choose interviewees carefully. Be sure your interviewees work in the field you are researching or are experts on your topic.

2. Arrange your interview by phone or email well in advance. Describe your project and purpose, explaining that you are a student working on an assignment, and indicate the amount of time you think you’ll need.

3. Plan the interview. Do some research to make sure the information you need is not already available through more traditional sources. Then devise a list of questions you want to ask. Try to ask open questions, which generate discussion, rather than closed questions, which can be answered in a word or two. For example, “Do you think your company has a promising future?” could be answered yes or no, whereas “How do you account for your company’s turnaround last year?” might spark a detailed response. Open questions usually encourage people to open up and reveal attitudes as well as facts.

4. Take notes during the interview. Write the interviewee’s responses in note form and ask whether you may quote him or her directly. If you want to record the interview, be sure to ask the interviewee’s permission.

5. Evaluate the interview. As soon as possible after the interview, reread your notes and fill in information you did not have time to record. Also write down your reactions while they are still fresh in your mind.

Conduct Surveys

A survey is a set of questions designed to elicit information quickly from a large number of people. Surveys are often used to assess people’s attitudes or intentions. They can be conducted face-to-face, by phone, or online.

Use the following suggestions to prepare effective surveys:

1. Clarify the purpose of the survey. Prepare a detailed list of what you want to learn from the survey.

2. Design your questions. A survey can include closed or open questions or both, but most surveys use mostly closed questions (either multiple-choice or ranking), so responses can be tabulated easily.

3. Test your survey questions. Try out your questions on a few classmates, family members, or friends to be sure they are clear, unambiguous, and easily understood.

4. Select your respondents. Your respondents — the people who provide answers to your survey — must be representative of the group you are studying and must be chosen at random. One way to draw a random sample is to give the survey to every fifth or tenth name on a list or to every fifteenth person who walks by.

5. Summarize and report your results. Tally the results and look for patterns in the data. In your project, discuss your overall findings, and explain the purpose of the survey as well as how you designed it. Include a copy of the survey and tabulations in an appendix.

Conduct Observations

An observation (of an event, a scene, or an activity) can be an important primary source in a research project. For instance, you might observe children at play to analyze differences in play between boys and girls. Firsthand observation can yield valuable insights on the job as well. You might, for example, need to observe and report on the condition of hospital patients or the job performance of your employees.

Use the following tips to conduct observations effectively:

1. Arrange your visit in advance. Make the purpose of your visit clear when arranging your appointment.

2. Take detailed notes on what you observe. Write down the details you will need to describe the scene vividly in your paper. Observe the scene from different angles or perspectives.

3. Create a dominant impression. As soon as possible after your visit, evaluate your observations. Think about what you saw and heard. Then describe your dominant impression of what you observed and the details that support it.

For more on creating a dominant impression, see Chapter 12.

Work with Sources: Take Notes, Summarize, and Paraphrase

For more on previewing, see Chapter 2.

Reading sources involves some special skills. You can often read sources selectively, previewing the source to identify relevant sections and reading just those sections.

Take Effective Notes

As you conduct research, your ideas will develop, and you will generate topic sentences to support your thesis based on a synthesis of sources that you’ve read.

For more on creating entries in a works-cited or references list, see Chapter 23.

Because you must give credit to those who informed your thinking, be particularly cautious when cutting and pasting source materials into your notes. Always place quotation marks around anything you have cut and pasted. Be sure to clearly separate your ideas from the ideas you found in sources. If you copy an author’s exact words, place the information in quotation marks, and write the term direct quotation as well as the page number(s) in parentheses after the quotation. If you write a summary note or paraphrase, write paraphrase or summary and the page number(s) of the source. Be sure to include page numbers; you’ll need them to double-check your notes against the source and to create an in-text citation. Be sure to record all the information you will need to create a complete works-cited or reference entry.

Note-taking tools

Many students use a series of computer folders or a notebook for their research, organized into subfolders or dividers.

While many students prefer to take notes in computer files or notebooks, some researchers still like to use index cards for note-taking. (There are also programs available that allow you to create computerized note cards.) Note cards allow you to arrange and rearrange the material to experiment with different ways of organizing your project. If you decide to use note cards, put information from only one source or about only one subtopic on each card. At the top of the card, indicate the author of the source and the page numbers on which the information appears, and note the subtopic that the note covers. Use a separate set of note cards or a separate section of your notebook or computer file to list the bibliographic information you will need to cite the source. (See Figure 22.4 for a worksheet to help you record the information you will need.)


FIGURE 22.4 Bibliographic Information Worksheet

"The worksheet lists the following information: Author(s): (to be filled in). Title and subtitle of source: (to be filled in). Title of work source appears in (if any): Journal or anthology or Web site: (to be filled in). Other contributors: Editor or translator or director: (to be filled in). Version: Edition or director’s cut: (to be filled in). Volume or issue: (to be filled in). Publisher or sponsor: (to be filled in). Publication date: (to be filled in). Location: Pages or U R L or D O I (Digital Object Identifier): (to be filled in)."

Citation (or reference) managers — programs like EndNote, RefWorks, and Zotero — can be useful tools throughout the research process because they allow you to save sources, take notes, and incorporate those notes into your research project as you write. They may also help you format your works cited or reference list entries.


As you write summary notes, keep in mind that everything you put in summary notes must be in your own words and sentences. Your summary notes should accurately reflect the relevant main points of the source. Use the following guidelines to write effective summary notes:

For more on summarizing, see Chapter 2.

1. Write notes that condense the author’s ideas into your own words. Include key terms and concepts or principles, but omit specific examples, quotations, your opinion, or anything else that is not essential to the author’s main point. (You can write comments in a separate note.)

2. Record the ideas in the order in which they appear in the original source. Reordering ideas might affect the meaning.

3. Record the complete publication information for the sources you summarize. Unless you summarize an entire book or poem, you will need to include page references when you write your paper and prepare a works-cited list.

A sample summary appears in Chapter 2.


When you paraphrase, you restate the author’s ideas in your own words and sentences. You do not condense ideas or eliminate details as you do in a summary; instead, you keep the author’s intended meaning but express that meaning in different sentence patterns and vocabulary. In most cases, a paraphrase is approximately the same length as the original material.

For more on avoiding plagiarism, see Chapter 23.

When paraphrasing, be careful not to plagiarize — that is, do not use an author’s words or sentence patterns as if they were your own. Merely replacing some words with synonyms is not enough; you must also use your own sentence structures and may want to reorganize the presentation of ideas. Reading the excerpt from a source below and comparing it, first, with the acceptable paraphrase that follows and then with the example that includes plagiarism will help you see what an acceptable paraphrase looks like.


Learning some items may interfere with retrieving others, especially when the items are similar. If someone gives you a phone number to remember, you may be able to recall it later. But if two more people give you their numbers, each successive number will be more difficult to recall. Such proactive interference occurs when something you learned earlier disrupts recall of something you experienced later. As you collect more and more information, your mental attic never fills, but it certainly gets cluttered.

— David G. Myers, Psychology


According to David Myers, proactive interference means that things you have already learned make it harder for you to dredge up things you learn later. In other words, details you learn first may make it harder to recall closely related details you learn subsequently. Myers compares memory with an attic. You can always add more junk to it, but the messier it gets, the harder it becomes to find anything. He also gives an example: the first new phone number you learn makes it harder to remember the next one.


Replaces terms with synonyms

Copied terms and phrases

When you learn some things, it may interfere with your ability to remember others. This happens when the things are similar. Suppose a person gives you a phone number to remember. You probably will be able to remember it later. Now, suppose two persons give you their numbers. Each successive number will be harder to remember. Proactive interference happens when something you already learned prevents you from recalling something you experience later. As you learn more and more information, your mental attic never gets full, but it will get cluttered.

The unacceptable paraphrase does substitute some synonyms — remember for retrieving, for example — but it is still an example of plagiarism. Not only are some words copied directly from the original, but also the structure of the sentences is nearly identical to the original.

Paraphrasing can be tricky, because letting an author’s language creep in is easy. These guidelines will help you paraphrase without plagiarizing:

1. Read first; then write. To avoid copying an author’s words, cover up the passage you are paraphrasing (or switch to a new window on your computer), and then write.

2. Use synonyms that do not change the author’s meaning or intent, and if you must use distinctive wording of the author’s, enclose it in quotation marks. Note that for some specialized terms and even for some commonplace ones, substitutes may not be easy to come by. In the acceptable paraphrase above, the writer uses the key term proactive interference, as well as the everyday word attic, without quotation marks. However, if the writer paraphrasing the original were to borrow a distinctive turn of phrase, this would need to be in quotation marks. If you are not sure, using quotation marks is never wrong.

For more on varying sentence structure, see Chapter 9.

3. Use your own sentence structure. Using an author’s sentence structure can be considered plagiarism. If the original uses lengthy sentences, for example, your paraphrase may use shorter sentences. If the original phrases something in a compound sentence, try recasting the information in a complex one.

4. Rearrange the ideas if possible. If you can do so without changing the sense of the passage, rearrange the ideas. In addition to using your own words and sentences, rearranging the ideas can make the paraphrase more your own. Notice that in the acceptable paraphrase above, the writer starts by introducing the term proactive interference, whereas in the original source, this term is not used until the fourth sentence.

Be sure to record the publication information (including page numbers) for the sources you paraphrase. You will need this information to document the sources in your paper.



Write a paraphrase of the following excerpt from a source on animal communication:

Another vigorously debated issue is whether language is uniquely human. Animals obviously communicate. Bees, for example, communicate the location of food through an intricate dance. And several teams of psychologists have taught various species of apes, including a number of chimpanzees, to communicate with humans by signing or by pushing buttons wired to a computer. Apes have developed considerable vocabularies. They string words together to express meaning and to make and follow requests. Skeptics point out important differences between apes’ and humans’ facilities with language, especially in their respective abilities to order words using proper syntax. Nevertheless, these studies reveal that apes have considerable cognitive ability.

— David G. Myers, Psychology



The piece of student writing below is a paraphrase of a source on the history of advertising. Working with another student, evaluate the paraphrase and discuss whether it would be considered an example of plagiarism. If you decide the paraphrase is plagiarized, rewrite it so that it is not.


Everyone knows that advertising lies. That has been an article of faith since the Middle Ages — and a legal doctrine, too. Sixteenth-century English courts began the Age of Caveat Emptor by ruling that commercial claims — fraudulent or not — should be sorted out by the buyer, not the legal system. (“If he be tame and have ben rydden upon, then caveat emptor.”) In a 1615 case, a certain Baily agreed to transport Merrell’s load of wood, which Merrell claimed weighed 800 pounds. When Baily’s two horses collapsed and died, he discovered that Merrell’s wood actually weighed 2,000 pounds. The court ruled the problem was Baily’s for not checking the weight himself; Merrell bore no blame.

— Cynthia Crossen, Tainted Truth


It is a well-known fact that advertising lies. This has been known ever since the Middle Ages. It is an article of faith as well as a legal doctrine. English courts in the sixteenth century started the Age of Caveat Emptor by finding that claims by businesses, whether legitimate or not, were the responsibility of the consumer, not the courts. For example, there was a case in which one person (Baily) used his horses to haul wood for a person named Merrell. Merrell told Baily that the wood weighed 800 pounds, but it actually weighed 2,000 pounds. Baily discovered this after his horses died. The court did not hold Merrell responsible; it stated that Baily should have weighed the wood himself instead of accepting Merrell’s word.

Record Quotations

For more on how to adjust a quotation to fit your sentence, see Chapter 23.

When writing your paper, you may adjust a quotation to fit your sentence, so long as you do not change the meaning of the quotation, but when taking notes, be sure to record the quotation precisely as it appears in the source. Also provide the page number(s) on which the material being quoted appears in the original source. In your notes, be sure to indicate that you are copying a direct quotation by including quotation marks, the term direct quotation, and the page number(s) in parentheses.

Keep Track of Sources

For more on citing sources, see Chapter 23.

Using a form like the one shown in Figure 22.4 can help you make sure you record all the information you will need. Using a citation manager can also help.

Work with Sources: Evaluate Your Notes and Synthesize

Before you begin drafting, you’ll need to make sense of the information you’ve gathered by synthesizing information and ideas. Synthesis means “a pulling together of information to form a new idea or point.” You synthesize information every day. For example, after you watch a preview of a movie, talk with friends who have seen the film, and read a review of it, you then pull together the information you have acquired and come up with your own idea — that the movie is your cup of tea, or that you will probably not like it.

You often synthesize information for your college courses. In a biology course, for instance, you might evaluate your own lab results, those of your classmates, and the data in your textbook or another reference source to reach a conclusion about a particular experiment.

Synthesis involves putting ideas together to see how they agree, disagree, or otherwise relate to one another. When working with sources, ask yourself the following questions:

✵ Do my sources reinforce or contradict one another?

✵ How do their claims and lines of reasoning compare?

✵ Do they make similar or dissimilar assumptions and generalizations?

✵ Is their evidence alike in any way?

For more on evaluating the reliability of sources, see Chapters 3 and 21.

Before you begin the synthesis process, however, you must evaluate the sources you’ve consulted in terms of how well they suit your purposes and audience.

Evaluate Your Research

Before you began researching your topic, you most likely wrote a working thesis — a preliminary statement of your main point about the topic — and a list of research questions you hoped to answer. Then, as you researched your topic, you may have discovered facts, statistics, or experts’ ideas about the topic that surprised you.

As you evaluate your research notes, keep the following questions in mind:

1. What research questions did I begin with?

2. What answers did I find to those questions?

3. What other information did I discover about my topic?

4. What conclusions can I draw from what I’ve learned?

5. How does my research affect my working thesis?

In many cases, the answers to these questions will influence your thinking on the topic, requiring you to modify your working thesis. If you can’t answer these questions in a way that you find satisfactory, you will need to conduct more research to clarify or refine your thinking. In some cases, you may even need to rethink the direction of your research project.

The process of evaluating your research will often result in decisions not to use specific sources in your final paper. Perhaps the source does not provide any new or relevant information; perhaps it comes from a source that you decide is unreliable; perhaps you have too much information to fit in the length of your assignment, and you need to narrow your focus. View this research as information that has contributed to your understanding of the topic, and then set aside the note cards or move the information to a separate notebook section or file where it will not get in your way.

Use Categories to Synthesize Information from Sources

In order to make sense of what you’ve learned, you will need to find patterns in the information you have gathered. One way to find patterns is to categorize information according to your research questions. For example, one student found numerous sources on and answers to his research question “What causes some parents to abuse their children physically?” After rereading his research notes, he realized the information could be divided into three categories:



1. Lack of parenting skills

Lopez, Wexler, Thomas

2. Emotional instability

Wexler, Harris, Thompson, Wong

3. Family history of child abuse

Thompson, Harris, Lopez, Strickler, Thomas

Evaluating his research in this way made him see that he needed to revise both his working thesis and the scope of his paper to include lack of parenting skills as a major cause of child abuse. Notice how he modified his working thesis accordingly:


"The original statement reads, ""The main reasons that children are physically abused are their parents’ emotional instability and family history of child abuse.” The revised statement reads, ""Some children are physically abused because of their parents’ emotional instability, family history of child abuse, and lack of parenting skills.”"

For controversial topics, you may want to categorize the information you’ve gathered in terms of each position on the issue (pro, con, or somewhere in between). Alternatively, you could categorize information in terms of the reasons sources offer to support their positions. On the issue of gun control legislation, for example, some sources may favor it for national security reasons: Gun control makes it harder for terrorists to acquire guns. Others may favor it for statistical reason: Statistics prove that owning a gun does not prevent crime. Still others may favor it for emotional reasons: A loved one was injured or killed by a firearm.

If your research project focuses on comparing or contrasting two things (for example, communism and capitalism), you could categorize the information you found on each subtopic separately, and then use that organized information to prepare an outline or graphic organizer of your paper.

Draw a Graphic Organizer to Synthesize Sources

Drawing a graphic organizer can help you identify patterns as well as show you how main ideas and supporting details connect. Suppose, for example, that you are arguing in favor of adopting voluntary simplicity — the minimizing of personal possessions and commitments to create a happier, more manageable life. You have located three reliable and relevant sources on voluntary simplicity, but each develops the idea somewhat differently:

1. Source 1 (Walker) is a practical how-to article that includes some personal examples.

2. Source 2 (Parachin) offers a theoretical look at statistics about workloads and complicated lifestyles and the reasons that voluntary simplicity is appealing.

3. Source 3 (Remy) presents some strategies for simplifying but emphasizes the values of a simplified life.

Graphic Organizer 22.2 presents a sample organizer that synthesizes information from these three sources.


GRAPHIC ORGANIZER 22.2 Synthesizing Sources

There are four basic parts including definition, background, benefits, and strategies. Definition: Streamlining your life (Remy) is connected to another textbox which reads, Going back to basics (Walker). Background: Merck survey showed that people aspire to reducing job stress and increasing family time (Parachin). Benefits: Of simplicity: Adds value (Remy), Brings peace of mind (Parachin), and Creates a sense of community (Parachin), further connected to a textbox which reads, Of simple activities: Are soothing (Walker), Add balance, rhythm, “groundedness” (Remy). Strategies: For getting started: Simplify gradually; avoid drastic changes (Parachin) is connected to a textbox which reads, For financial matters: Stop regarding money as a god (Parachin), Make things you usually buy (Walker), Buy only what you need (Parachin), Simplify bill paying, and eliminate numerous credit cards (Remy). This is connected to a further textbox, which reads, For lifestyle: Focus on simple, traditional things you enjoy; for example, do things by hand that are usually done by technology (Walker), Get rid of clutter (Parachin), and Do only your own work (Remy).

Depending on the types of information you uncover, you can use a variety of organizer formats: If all your sources compare and contrast the same things, such as the policies and effectiveness of two U.S. presidents, you could adapt one of the graphic organizers for comparison and contrast shown in Chapter 15. If most of your sources focus on effects, such as the effects of a recession on retail sales and employment, you could adapt one of the cause-and-effect graphic organizers shown in Chapter 18. Whatever style of organizer you use, be sure to keep track of the sources for each idea and to include them in your organizer.

Create an Annotated Bibliography

As part of the process of writing a research project, some instructors may require you to create an annotated bibliography, a list of sources that includes both publication information and a brief summary for each source. Annotated bibliographies are useful ways to document your research process, so they include all the sources you consulted in researching your topic.

Your writing situation will influence the information you include in your annotations, but for most college research projects, the annotations should summarize the main point of the source. They may also evaluate the source in terms of how it relates to your thesis. For example, does it provide useful background information or supporting examples, or does it represent a popular alternative viewpoint? A sample annotated bibliography for researching the use of digital textbooks and e-learning in college classrooms appears below. It uses MLA-style citations.


✵ Bajarin, Ben. “Reinventing the Book for the Digital Age.” Time, 12 Nov. 2013,

o This article from a general-interest magazine describes the features that e-books provide while suggesting even more ideas for future e-books.

✵ deNoyelles, Aimee, et al. “Exploring Students’ E-Textbook Practices in Higher Education.” Educause Review, 2015,

o This scholarly article reports results from a two-year study by the authors. The authors found that e-textbook use has grown over the course of the study period because e-textbooks are cheaper and more convenient than print textbooks, but instructors are not keeping pace with students’ appetites for e-textbooks.

✵ Falc, Emilie O. “An Assessment of College Students’ Attitudes towards Using an Online E-Textbook.” Interdisciplinary Journal of E-Learning and Learning Objects, vol. 9, 2013, pp. 1—12, -012Falc831.pdf.

o This article from a scholarly journal reports on research studying student experiences with e-textbooks. Recommendations are given for faculty to guide their students on effective use of e-textbooks.

✵ Keengwe, Jared. Research Perspectives and Best Practices in Educational Technology Integration. Information Science Reference, 2013.

o This book provides research-based information on how e-learning can be integrated into the college classroom in ways that make technological, practical, and educational sense.

✵ Tichi, Cecelia. “What the E-Book Should Be.” The Chronicle of Higher Education, 15 Apr. 2016,

o This article from a periodical aimed at college faculty discusses the way e-books should change in relation to students’ study habits.


For the topic you worked on in Research Projects in Progress 1 and 2 in Chapter 21, locate a minimum of six sources that answer one or more of your research questions. Your sources should include at least one book, one magazine article, one scholarly journal article, one Internet source, and two other sources of any type. On a scale of 1 to 5 (where 1 is low, 5 is high), rank the relevance and reliability of each source you located using the guidelines provided in Chapter 21. Use the following chart to structure your responses:


Relevancy Rating

Reliability Rating








For the three most relevant and reliable sources you identified in Research Project in Progress 3, use the suggestions in the section “Work with Sources: Take Notes, Summarize, and Paraphrase” to take notes on your sources. Your goal is to provide information and support for the ideas you developed earlier. Choose a system of note-taking, writing summary notes and paraphrases, annotating and underlining, and recording quotations as needed. As you work, try to answer your research questions and keep your working thesis in mind.


For the three sources you worked with in Research Project in Progress 4, use the suggestions in the section “Work with Sources: Evaluate Your Notes and Synthesize” to synthesize your notes using categories or a graphic organizer. As you work, keep your research questions and working thesis in mind. After synthesizing, consider whether you need to alter your working thesis or conduct additional research.