Using Sources

From Joseph Harris’s Rewriting

Coming to Terms with Another Writer’s Text

When you come to terms with another writer’s text, you write an account of another writer’s text and signal your own use and view of it. Coming to terms is an introductory move that happens whenever you first bring into your text ideas from another source that has been important to your understanding, whether you agree or disagree with it. To come to terms, you make these three moves:

  1. Define the project and approach of the other writer
    • A writer’s project is the set of questions a writer sets out to answer. Every writer takes an approach to his project. An approach is the plan of work a writer uses to answer his or her questions. An approach includes the ideas, information, methods, and perspectives a writer chooses to use to think about and answer his or her questions.
    • Define the writer’s project means describe, explain, give examples of, and translate the other writer’s project into your own words.
  2. Notice and assess the other writer’s key words (concepts) or key passages
    • Notice the keywords and key passages means introducing, contextualizing (who says what to whom…), defining, explaining, giving examples of, translating, and assessing the uses and limits of.
  3. Assess the uses and limits of the other writer’s way of thinking
    • A writers ideas or approaches are useful when they help you understand something you didn’t understand before, make connections you otherwise couldn’t, reveal some aspect of the thing you’re working on that couldn’t otherwise be seen, get work done that you need to complete.
    • A writers ideas or approaches are limited when they can only be applied in certain situations, mislead readers, fail to explain important parts of the thing you’re trying to understand, emerge from a biased or interested perspective, obscures or distorts aspects of the thing you’re trying to understand.

Forwarding – “Yes, and …”

When you find another writer’s ideas or perspective useful to your thinking, you want to bring it forward into your own text and make clear how it’s useful, and in the best case to make it even more useful.

  • Bringing forward an illustration from another writer (illustrating) gives you material to think about. Anecdotes, images, scenarios, data, information, facts, and cases are all good illustrations.
    • Use pivot words like these in your sentence to indicate that you’re making the illustration move: for example, specifically, for instance, such as.
  • When you bring forward concepts, keywords, approaches, and theories from another writer, you are finding things in other texts to think with. There are three reasons to bring materials to think with from another writer into your text:
    • When you invoke the expertise or status of another writer to support the thinking in your text, you’re authorizing.
      • Use signal phrases in your sentence to indicate that you’re making the authorizing move: According to [author], [Author argues], [Author] insists, [Author] claims, [Author’s] research supports the idea that
    • When you draw on terms or ideas from other writers to think through your subject, you’re borrowing.
      • Use phrases like these in your sentence to indicate that you’re making the borrowing move: what [Author] calls [term], Following [Author] I claim, as [Author] uses the term, as [Author] suggests
    • When you put your own spin on the terms or concepts you’re taking from other texts, you’re extending.
      • Echo and replace the original writers words with closely related but different words of your own that take the original terms beyond the original author’s intention: “The virtue of [professional] wrestling,” Roland Barthes wrote, “is that it is the spectacle of excess.” The sitcom, in contrast, is a spectacle of subtleties.

Countering – “Yes, but …”

When you make the countering moves, you bring another writer’s text into your own text because, even though the work has strengths, you recognize it’s limits and want to use it to open up new lines of inquiry by working to overcome those limits. There are three types of countering:

  • Arguing the other side: showing the usefulness of a term or idea that the other writer has criticized or noting problems with one that she or he has argued for.
  • Uncovering values: Bringing to light a word or concept or assumption that the other writer has left undefined, unexamined or unwritten.
  • Dissenting: Identifying a line of thought shared by multiple writers to reveal its limits. Usually in preparation to offer another view.