Every quotation in an academic essay needs to be clearly connected to a source. Typically that's done with a signal phrase. A signal phrase consists at the bare minimum of an author's name and a verb, as in "Wilson says."

Conventions


  • Use the speaker's or author's full name at first mention.
  • After the first mention, use only the source's last name, without a "Mr." or "Ms." or "Dr." or any other prefix.
  • At first mention, indicate the source's credentials that make the person's ideas more worthy of consideration. Typically, you establish the credibility of a source by indicating a responsible position the person holds or by describing pertinent experience the person has had.

         Ex.: Annie Wilson, a professor of psychology at UC Berkeley, says, "____________________ ."

  • Choose a verb that indicates the source's attitude toward the subject or idea of the quotation:

         Ex.: Wilson admits that " ________________ ."

Sample Signal Phrases


There are a variety of ways to integrate the ideas of others into an essay. The short book They Say / I Say: The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing by Gerald Graff, Cathy Birkenstein, and Russel Durst provide excellent examples of dozens of "templates" to use.  A few sample phrases:

     Ex.: Professor Ian Watt, an historian of the novel, acknowledges that  ________________ .

     Ex.: Ramirez concedes that ____________________ .

     Ex.: Steinfelder herself writes, "_____________________ ."

One of the standard bits of advice about signal phrases is to vary its verb to keep your writing interesting and to accurately indicate the source's relationship to the idea being quoted or paraphrased. Some of the most useful verbs for signal phrases:

acknowledges

contends

implies

refutes

admits

declares

insists

rejects

agrees

disputes

notes

reports

argues

emphasizes

observes

responds

asserts

exhorts

pleads

suggests

claims

grants

points out

thinks

confirms

illustrates

reasons

warns

Issues


A quotation lacking attribution is sometimes called a "dropped quote" because it's dropped into the text instead of being carefully inserted. Such quotations are also called "dangling," since they're left hanging without explanation.  Without a signal phrase, a quotation is orphaned: It cries out looking for a parent who isn't there. Gerald Graff calls quotations without signal phrases "hit-and-run quotations," like "car accidents in which the driver speeds away and avoids taking responsiblity for the dent in your fender or the smashed taillights."

There are some signal phrases that it's best not to use because of their blandness. Introducing a paraphrase or quotation by saying "And then he goes on to say" or "She talks about" fails to indicate to the reader why anything that follows is of any interest or importance to the paper: It's just filler, just data, just something someone said but without any apparent reason to be in the paper.

See Also



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