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Hi, this Ellen, and in this video
I'm going to talk about how to use secondary sources to contextualize and
support arguments. First up, I want to remind you
what an academic essay isn't. It isn't of course a personal
response to a topic. And if isn't a personal response, then
you're going to need to provide evidence to back up the claims that you make. In academic writing,
you're not plucking ideas out of thin air, but rather,
you're building on the works of others. As Isaac Newton famously wrote, we see further by standing
on the shoulders of giants. So, firstly, why do we need to
refer to other people's ideas? Well, there are a number of reasons, not the least that by referring
to other relevant literature you are demonstrating that you have
knowledge of your subject area. Any argument that you make will involve
having to situate yourself in relation to other people's ideas. You'll have to take a stand about
what claims you agree with and where your own ideas deviate. But you can't just use any
sources to back up your claims. Using sources which are not reliable and which are not relevant
won't help your argument. In fact, instead these will undermine
your attempts to persuade your reader of your knowledge and expertise. But what then is a reliable source? And what is a relevant source? With all of the Internet resources
available at our fingertips, you might think that this makes
the task of finding relevant and reliable sources easier, right? All we have to do is type some
search terms into Google. Well, in actual fact, the sheer volume of material out there
actually makes your task much harder. And more than likely, the majority of
sources that you'll find in a quick Google search will be inappropriate. Would you consider a blog
entry an appropriate source? Probably not. But why? Well, first,
it could have been written by anyone, and there's no guarantee that it
is anything more than opinion. But even if that blog entry had be
written by a university professor, it doesn't necessarily make it reliable. The best sources in terms of
reliability are published sources, which have been through an editorial,
and preferably a peer review process. Reliable sources are objective, and like your own essay will themselves
be backed up with reliable evidence. Your university library home page will
be a good place to begin your search. Start by tracking down databases which
are relevant to your field of study. And this leads me nicely on
to the issue of relevance. Just because you found a reliable source
does not mean that it's relevant. Supporting claims you make
in a biochemistry essay with evidence you find in an academic
journal article from geography in the 1950s is probably not a good idea. A relevant source is one that speaks
the language of your discipline. A relevant source is also one that's
appropriate to the level at which you are writing. Encyclopedia entries for instance may be
perfectly adequate on some introductory level courses, but not nearly specific
enough at more advanced levels. So, you've chosen sources you're
happy with, but what now? How can you use them in your essay? Here I'm not going to
talk about the nuts and bolts of how to integrate
sources into your writing. Instead, I'm concerned
with the bigger picture. How can you use someone else's
essay to support your own argument? Well firstly, an argument is convincing if you show
you have knowledge of your subject area. So somewhere in the essay you're going
to need to demonstrate this, and this will involve some
sort of positioning. Usually, the introductory
section of an essay is the place where you'll provide
a survey of relevant research. Sometimes, you might also
have a literature review or a background section in which
you can develop it further. In some disciplines,
like English literature for instance, the whole essay functions
as a literature review of sorts, where you carefully sift through
relevant secondary sources and look at how these can help you to
support the claims that you make. This kind of survey of relevant literature
is necessary because it helps you indicate where you, yourself stand. In order to have a stand point you need
to have some foundations to stand on. When it comes to presenting secondary
material as the foundations of your topic, then you have some choices to make. Will you, for instance,
align yourself with this material, or do you want to indicate a gap or
a problem with previous research? One way to align yourself with
research is to use a reporting verb that suggests this. To say that Smith hypothesizes
that such and such is the case is very different from saying that
Smith proves this to be the case. If you report the fact that
Smith proves something, then you yourself are clearly
convinced of Smith's claims. Note here the present tense. In many disciplines it's common to use
the citational present to talk about previous studies. And it's also interesting to
look at the effect of doing so in terms of how you position
yourself in relation to the source. Using the present tense can be a way
of aligning yourself with the study. You are highlighting the nowness and
the continued relevance of the findings. If you wrote instead, Smith proved that, the past tense might
indicate that this is no longer the case. Those misclaims might have been
regarded as proof in the past, perhaps more recent evidence has
undermined the original claims. If you want to distance yourself
further from the findings of the study, instead of writing something like
Smith's study was utter rubbish. You might write that Smith's
study offered some interesting insights into current trends but failed to
recognize the significance of the problem. As you will notice, there are academically
sound ways of disagreeing with the findings of a previous study. You just have to be specific about the
particular problems that you see without dismissing the work in its entirely. When it comes to using secondary
sources to back up your claims, it's vitally important to explain
exactly how it supports your argument. In other words it's not enough to
let the evidence speaks for itself. Don't assume that your target reader
will interpret the material in the same way that you do. Avoid leaving your argument
open to misinterpretation. [MUSIC]

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