What Are Attributive Tags?

Attributive tags are short, leading phrases that indicate that an idea expressed in a piece of writing is not the author’s original idea, but someone else’s. Authors often quote directly from someone else’s work or restate the ideas contained in it in their own words. By using attributive tags, they acknowledge the original source and avoid accusations of deliberately or unintentionally copying someone else’s work, otherwise known as intellectual property theft or plagiarism.


Attribute tags can essentially be neutral, positive or negative. By choosing appropriate tags to introduce a quote, paraphrase or summary, writers can influence how readers respond to an idea.

By using verbs such as “believes, “suggests” or “speculates,” an author can indicate that an idea is not, or may not be, fully accepted.

Similarly, by using verbs such as “agrees” or “confirms,” or “disagrees” or “contends,” an author can indicate that she's introducing supplementary evidence to strengthen an idea, or contradictory evidence to weaken it.

Additional Information

Carefully chosen attributive tags can highlight an original author’s credentials, or lack of them, and influence the reader to support or oppose the material. They can also provide cultural and historical information, including the author’s political or social beliefs, which provide context for the original material and help the reader to form an opinion about it.

Orphan Quotations

Attributive tags act as a link between the thoughts of the current author and the original author. They provide a clear indication of where outside evidence begins and ends.

They also prevent so-called orphan quotations, which appear in a paragraph without any form of introduction. Such unattributed quotes may appear unrelated to the surrounding text.

A piece of writing that consists predominantly of orphan quotations is likely to be rejected by any plagiarism checking software, such as Copyscape.


Attributive tags can be placed before, after or even with a quotation. According to Octaviano Gutierrez of Central Washington University, when naming an author for the first time, use his full name in the attributive tag, but use only his last name in any subsequent attributive tags.

According to Dr. Michael O’Conner of Milliken University, to avoid plagiarism, place all quoted material -- even single phrases -- in quotation marks and acknowledge the source of the material.

Acknowledge the source of paraphrased or summarized material in the same way, especially any creative ideas, structural elements or headings that you “borrow” from the original work.

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