Thoughtful Source Use

Finding good sources and using them well is central to college-level academic work. All disciplines acknowledge their intellectual debt to thinkers before them. Those acknowledgements are a form of respect, even in the moments when we criticize or oppose those ideas.

When you can find and use good source material, you strengthen not only your ability to write, but also your ability to think. Using sources well requires that you understand those sources, and the better you understand them, the better you are able to build on those ideas. Remember that college is not about regurgitating what someone else thought or said. It’s about learning how to apply and extend those ideas. It’s about your thinking.

While the techniques I’ve described in this section of Reading and Writing Successfully in College apply primarily to academic settings, source gathering and use doesn’t stop after college. Think of all of the circumstances in which you could be asked to provide evidence to support your ideas. You could, for example, be asked to provide a presentation or company memo on best practices in an area of your field. Or you could be asked to summarize recent research for your boss. Or you could be headed for a field where source use is crucial, like law or government or journalism. In all of these cases, your ability to find good sources and use them well matters. College is an excellent place to practice those skills.