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The use and documentation of sources separates a research paper from most other kinds of writing. As you look through sources and read the opinions of experts on your topic, it’s easy to get caught up in their words and maybe even become a bit intimidated because they know more about the subject than you do. However, never lose sight of the fact that the resulting research paper is yours, not theirs. Research findings are important, but your own words and ideas are the heart of your paper. The outside information serves to support your ideas, not replace them.

After gathering supporting information, you face one of the biggest challenges in the research process: integrating sources into your paper so they blend well with your own words and ideas. That means you can’t just drop sources into the paper and expect them to sound good. Like a chef who mixes various ingredients to come up with a delicious, original dish, you must combine your ideas and words with those of your sources to create a unique product: your research paper.

Integrating sources is important because it

The main ways to integrate sources are to summarize, paraphrase, and quote. Using all of these methods to incorporate information adds interest to your writing; in addition, weaving the various integration techniques into your research paper shows that you understand the material and are in control of the sources. In this lesson, we’ll explore each of these three methods, including how and when to use them.

Before we get started, though, I must remind you of one of the most important rules of researching: All outside information, with the exception of common knowledge, requires citation. Failing to document any ideas that are not common knowledge or not your own (whether they are summarized, paraphrased, or quoted) constitutes plagiarism. Although we will touch on documentation in this lesson, it is covered thoroughly in the next two lessons, “Embedding Direct Quotations and Incorporating Indirect Quotations” and “Documenting Sources and Writing a Bibliography/Works Cited.” For this lesson, we will use the MLA style of documentation since most English teachers require MLA for research paper assignments.