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Responding to Sources

Responding to Sources

Author: Gavin McCall

This lesson teaches how to respond to sources in order to use them in a research essay.

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Welcome back to English Composition. I'm Gavin McCall. Thanks for joining me.

What are we going to learn today? We'll learn about how writers respond to the research sources by agreeing or disagreeing and by doing something between the two. Then we'll look at an example.

Now that we're comfortable with evaluating sources, we need to go further. It's not enough for researchers to simply decide a source is relevant incredible. We need to respond to them by highlighting, taking notes, and thinking critically about their ideas and how they might work in a planned essay.

There are many reasons to respond to sources. The first of which is to enhance your thinking on the topic, which can't help but make your essay stronger and more interesting in the matter of the use you eventually put the source to. Responding also helps us to think about what quotes, points, and ideas in a source would be most useful to use as support in our own arguments.

For each of these points, researchers should question them and the source overall, asking whether they agree, disagree, or something in between. This between state can be a partial agreement but with a slightly different perspective or priority. Or it can be disagreeing with some but not all elements of the source's argument or analysis.

Finding sources that you agree with is probably the quickest, most direct way to support your ideas. That being said, it's not a good idea to try to make exactly the same argument as one of your sources, because doing so makes it impossible by definition for your essay to be answering a meaningful and debatable question, because somebody else has already answered it.

This doesn't mean you can't agree with your sources. But when doing so, look for points of dissent or differences in perspective. Chances are there's something, even in a source you find yourself wholeheartedly agreeing with.

Disagreeing with a source, however, can be just as valuable, because doing so allows the writer to distinguish his or her ideas from someone else's. Some assignments will even require students to do this and introduce a different perspective or counter argument, as it's usually called.

The most important thing is not to ignore sources that disagree with your essay's thesis but rather to think about whether you should alter your own thinking or, more likely, to account for the source's opinion in your text, even if you don't use it directly.

That being said, remember that when you're discussing ideas or perspective that you disagree with, you should be careful to represent those ideas and perspectives honestly and with due respect. This will help you avoid committing the straw man fallacy and will make your essay stronger in the long run.

Experienced researchers know that often the most useful and beneficial sources are those that both agree and disagree with different elements of the essay's thesis. This circumstance is ideal, because it enables writers to distinguish their ideas and perspectives from those of others, while still gaining overall support for their claims, at least for some of them.

This is what I like to call an intellectual sweet spot, a position that, because of the depth of the connection between the researcher and the source, allows for complex thought and usually stronger essays.

Now, let's take a look at a selection from a source. It's one that I'm not afraid to admit I agree with, mostly. And that's the key part.

This text, or at least this section of a text, puts forth an argument that, while not been something I can wholeheartedly agree with, isn't too far from my own position. Anyway, here's the selection I'm talking about.

"One are the most difficult aspects of masculinity concerns personality traits. These, much harder to define and pinpoint in the physical qualities, bring about many questions. Does being masculine necessarily require being kind and generous?

Well, I can at least say that warmth or friendliness rarely have anything to do with manliness. The hard, tough, sexy male body demanded by popular culture brings about imagery connected to strength but also a take-no-crap attitude.

The broad smiles on the faces of competitors in bodybuilding competitions look out of place, like they'd been stuck on the wrong people. It seems strange to connect something like a powerful body with anything besides the dangerous potential it possesses."

As you can tell, the subject here is masculinity. Let's say I've come across the essay that this paragraph comes from while conducting research for a project that will seek to put forth and support a thesis-- the thesis that violence, while connected masculinity, is not the ultimate portrayal of manliness. Rather, it is confidence and authority, the ability to decide at any given moment what will be done.

The fact that men often resort to violence to establish their authority is one of the most obvious examples of our society's failure. But it's not a key aspect of masculinity itself, even in our culture, which promotes violence so well.

So as for this text, there are parts of this passage that I completely agree with. For example, the section about the ideal male demanded by popular culture and how smiling bodybuilders seem out of place, because of the connection between taught muscles and violence and the friendliness of the smile.

That being said, I don't agree that warmth or friendliness rarely have anything to do with manliness. This isn't just an oversimplification, as other parts of this passage are. Here, I think the writer is just wrong.

As I've stated before, my thesis is that violence isn't an inherent part of the ideal male, whatever that is, but rather it's authority. The lack of warmth or friendliness is, if anything, a sign of an insecure person. Though, of course, I can understand the confusion.

As more often than not, those that our popular culture recognizes as superbly male are either violent or portray violence of one kind or another. But still, I think it's more complicated than this writer seems to believe. That being said, the source could be useful for my essay.

In particular, I'd probably use his example of the bodybuilders. Or more likely, I'd try to find Bordo, the writer of the source it uses and see what his or her text has to say about this for myself.

What did we learn today? We learned about responding to sources, whether we agree, disagree, or best of all, a little of both. Then we looked at a source that instills just that reaction. I'm Gavin McCall. Thanks for joining me.