Teaching students the fundamental skills of scholarly research writing is a long process–one that ideally begins in their first-year seminar and continues through their comps. Crucially, faculty should bear in mind that teaching students sources effectively means more than showing them how to use library databases and a citation system; it means teaching them how to understand and contribute to ongoing scholarly conversations. Often, this requires students to rethink their basic assumptions of academic writing and their role as writers.

The WAC program co-hosted (along with the Writing Center and the Gould Library) a 2-day workshop on Writing with Sources in Winter 2018. The resources from that workshop are below, but some of the key points to keep in mind are:

Scholarly Conversations:

It’s important to teach students to think of themselves as active participants in scholarly conversations, rather than passive recipients of knowledge. In terms of research writing, this means teaching students to engage and respond to the ideas in their sources, rather than simply summarizing the claims of other scholars or reiterating concepts explained in class.

In practice, this often requires instructors (especially at the 100- and 200-level) to explicitly teach students how scholarly conversations work and the range of ways one can respond to the ideas within them. Many students, especially students who went to high school outside the US, believe that they don’t have the authority to critically examine the ideas of “experts” or to add anything meaningful to their conclusions.

At the same time, many US students are taught that academic arguments are about persuading readers that the writer is right and, by extension, anyone who disagrees with them on any level is wrong. The more nuanced range of responses that scholars tend to rely on, where one might extend, question, complicate, or partially agree/disagree with different claims in a source, or simply bring several sources together to develop new insights, can be completely new or even counterintuitive to students.

Disciplinary Distinctions:

While it’s extremely beneficial for students to practice scholarly writing and research in a variety of disciplines, faculty should be aware of the significant differences in the ways that academic divisions and disciplines use and document sources. These include:

  • When an academic writer should quote, paraphrase, or summarize their source material
  • What defines a primary versus a secondary source and how that distinction affects the ways an author should engage that source
  • What terminology is considered ubiquitous in that discipline (and thus doesn’t need definition or citation) and what terminology is proprietary or contested (and thus should be explicitly defined and connected to its source material)

These differences mean that the ability to research and write in one discipline doesn’t automatically transfer to a different discipline, especially across divisional bounties (i.e. humanities to social sciences to STEM fields).

In teaching students to write with sources, instructors should therefore not only explain the conventions of their discipline, but the logic behind them–that is, why those practices make sense for the kinds of questions that scholars pursue in that discipline and the kinds of conversations they have with each other. This will help students adapt their existing skills across disciplinary boundaries and to know what they don’t know when they approach research in an unfamiliar discipline.

Multicultural Concerns

Similarly, it’s important for instructors to remember that our expectations for source use, citation, and scholarly engagement are very much a product of western and American cultural values around scholarship, as well as an understanding of students’ abilities and prior education that traditionally excludes many student populations.

To be clear, this doesn’t, in itself, make these expectations invalid, but it does place the onus on instructors to make their assignments and standards as transparent as possible to students who might be unfamiliar with them. The handout below (created by Renata Fitzpatrick) gives some suggestions specifically for making writing classes more accessible to multilingual writers, and the LTC pages on transparency and inclusivity address the subject more broadly.

Resources from the 2018 workshop on Writing with Sources:

Slide Deck from the WAC Director’s opening session (pdf)

Handout : Promoting Multilingual Student Success

Handout: Writing Element: Discourse

Worksheet: Identifying the Discourse in Writing Assignments

Handout: Writing Element: Claims*

Handout: Writing Element: Sources*

*Note: these handouts were updated in 2023 for George Cusack’s A&I course, Games and Gaming Cultures.