Research Skills for Developing Writers: Source Borrowing Using your Own Words

An introductory guide to help multilingual undergraduate writers at the U develop their research skills.

Using Signal Phrases to Introduce Borrowed Ideas

When you find an idea or information from a source, you need to let your reader know from whom you are borrowing the source.  Signal phrases include all of the appropriate information so that your reader can see which sources you used to support your research and to cross-reference the in-text citation with the bibliographic citation. Signal phrases should be used to indicate all borrowed material including summaries, paraphrases, and quotes and they usually go at the beginning of a sentence that includes borrowed material.

In APA style citations, signal phrases include:

author(s) family name(s) + publication year + past tense OR present perfect verb


These three features can go in a number of orders.  Here are some examples:



Fan (2001) stated…

Name(s) + (year) + past tense verb


Sullivan (2012) has found…

Name(s) + (year) + present perfect tense verb


However, Cho (2007) contradicted…

Transition word, +Name (s) + (year) +past tense verb


According to Robinson and Crusoe (1999), …

According to + Name(s) + (year), …

Lo (2010) argued that,  "…." (p.18)

Name(s) + (year) + past tense verb + that, + "direct quote." + (page number)

Using signal phrases will also help you avoid using the first person in your writing. By attributing an idea you agree with to an expert, you will add more credibility to your research.  For example:

I believe that all international students come to the U.S. with unique backgrounds; thus, approaches to plagiarism should not be based in stereotype.

      is better expressed as

Sowden (2005) discussed in detail the negative effects that are bred when multilingual students are stereotyped.

In summary, using signal phrases is the first step to effective citation of borrowed sources. Lesson 9 will teach you about a tool to help you perfect your citations.


Graphic Organizer: Synonyms for "to say"

When choosing a verb for your signal phrase, think of the context in which you are using the original source's idea. Ask yourself these questions:

More Synonyms for "to say"

Here is a more complete list of verbs that you use instead of "to say".  Which verb fits your context?


(List of verbs courtesy of: Claude J. Clark Learning Center. (n.d.). Signal phrases [Leaflet]. Retrieved 


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