How to Write a Multiple Source Essay

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Writing an essay that incorporates multiple sources is a complex intellectual process. Doing so requires the writer to read and digest both information and ideas from sophisticated materials. The writer must then incorporate ideas and facts from the sources into her own essay. The process is not one of regurgitation, so much as it is one of judgment and synthesis.

Pinpoint a thesis or a statement of purpose so that you can efficiently filter your sources. A thesis is an arguable statement; most college papers and many corporate papers are arguments. A statement of purpose simply states the purpose of the essay if you are not making an argument. In either case, boil the idea down to one clear sentence.

Choose credible, reliable resources. Credible resources include those written or compiled by research scholars or field experts. They offer concrete reasoning and support. Reliable sources are timely and accurate.

Read your sources carefully and takes notes from them. Put the notes on index cards with the source noted on each card. Alternatively, make notes in the margins of the written materials and attach sticky notes as bookmarks. Write a key word on the top of each sticky note.

Compare your notes to your thesis or statement of purpose. Ask yourself how each notation supports your idea. Set aside those that you discover are irrelevant.

Outline your paper, listing each relevant notation in the appropriate place in the outline. You don't need to write out the entire notation. Just note a key word or phrase and the name of the source and page number.

Incorporate in-text citations into the essay as you write. You need to support each point that you make either through logical reasoning or by citing a reference. Often you will use both. Use phrases such as, "according to..." to make it clear that you are summarizing, paraphrasing or quoting a source. If you use other people's words or facts and figures that aren't common knowledge, you must cite them. You also must cite other people's ideas.

Use sources fairly and wisely. Consider context and author intention when you quote someone. Use statistics accurately, not selectively. Avoid mining the data, which means that you select only the material that supports your point of view and disregard material that points to another conclusion. Most of the text in the paper should reflect your own thinking. Rely on sources for support, not to fill space.

Use a style guide to write a bibliography or "Works Cited" page, and include it at the end of the paper. A bibliography will include all the sources you consulted whether you actually cited them or not.

Things Needed

  • Source materials
  • Sticky notes
  • Index cards


About the Author

Cat Reynolds has written professionally since 1990. She has worked in academe (teaching and administration), real estate and has owned a private tutoring business. She is also a poet and recipient of the Discover/The Nation Award. Her work can be found in literary publications and on various blogs. Reynolds holds a Master of Arts in writing and literature from Purdue University.

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