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Curriculum and Student Achievement

Signal Your Commentary on Source Material

In this handout, we’ll be looking at how to signal your commentary on source material. This handout assumes that you know how to paraphrase and summarize, and it operates under two key premises:

  1. Source material cannot make your points for you. Essentially, source material backs up your points; therefore, you will typically have to introduce source material and comment on how it helps prove your point. (For more information about introducing source material, see the Academic Center handout “Signal the Use of a Source.”)
  2. The reader has to be able to distinguish source material from your commentary. (If the reader cannot, then you are guilty of plagiarism.)

You might be asking yourself—why do I have to comment on what I quote, paraphrase, or summarize? The answer is simple. Since you have spent time researching the material, you are knowledgeable about your topic. Your audience or readers may not be able to interpret the facts or examples that are provided in the source material. As the knowledgeable writer, it is your obligation to show your audience the significance of the material that you’ve cited. In other words, your commentary shows how your source material relates to, explains, or proves your point(s). Ultimately, signaling from source material helps you not only to avoid plagiarism but also to make your writing flow smoothly.

As always, when you use source material, whether that source material is paraphrased, summarized, or directly quoted, you’ll need to cite appropriately. You’ll notice in our examples that we’ve always cited. Our examples may be either in APA or MLA format.

You can signal that you are beginning your commentary with a parenthetical citation or a transition to your commentary. Let's talk about each strategy.

Use Parenthetical Citing

Both APA and MLA documentation styles use parenthetical citations. In MLA style, you will include the author’s name and the page number of the quoted, paraphrased, or summarized material. In APA style, you will include the author’s name and publication year in all citations and the page number in directly quoted material. Our goal here isn’t to explain APA or MLA style fully , but rather to talk about how parenthetical citations can help signal your commentary. The Academic Center offers an  and an MLA Quick Reference Guide if you’re interested in learning more about either documentation style.

Directly Quoted Material Example

Signaling your commentary can be easy with directly quoted material. In both APA and MLA documentation styles, writers must include a page number with directly quoted material.

Let’s look at an example (MLA style):

Petrarch embarks on a physical journal hoping to gain spiritual insight. He speaks of the mountain as a “very steep and almost inaccessible mass of stony soil,” and climbing it is a “most difficult task” (154). Ultimately, Petrarch is as lost in the temporal circuitous route as he is in the eternal route to God because he seeks to bring God closer through the climbing of a mountain, not through internal reflection. By the end of his journey, his final impression is that he must seek God through internal reflection, not physical action.

The quotation marks that must go around directly quoted material indicate to the reader the source material used here is exactly as it is written in the source. The page number included in the parenthetical citation at the end of the sentence indicates that the previous material came directly from the text on page 154. Even though this writer used the word “ultimately” to signal that she is beginning her own commentary, the reader could guess that the information is the writer’s own thoughts since no other citation is given.

Although parenthetical citations do signal to the reader that the cited material is over, oftentimes you will want to make a transition to your commentary. While the parenthetical citation does say to the reader “hey, I have cited material here,” it doesn’t offer to the reader a smooth transition from the cited material to your commentary. The second part of this handout “Make a Transition” will provide several strategies for you to try, but let’s take a moment to look at parenthetical citations within paraphrased or summarized material.

Paraphrased/Summarized Example

While sometimes it may be most effective to quote material directly, many times you will want to paraphrase or summarize material. It can be more difficult to signal paraphrased or summarized material. In MLA style, writers must include the page number even with paraphrased or summarized material, but, in APA style, writers only include the author/year citation. So, it is even more important to signal that your commentary is beginning since the reader will not have the quotation marks to signal that the source material is ending.

Let’s look at an example of a passage:

Women may feel uneasy upon receiving ordinarily positive comments on their appearance from male coworkers or supervisors. To these women, the remarks carry an implied meaning: instead of being thought of as productive employees, they are actually being viewed as just a pretty part of the atmosphere. Depending on the situation, words or expressions which appear favorable may actually be unsuitable in a conversation (Locker, 2003).

---Locker, K. O. (2003). Business and administrative communication (6th ed.). St. Louis, MO: Irwin/McGraw-Hill.

Exactly where does the cited information begin and end? As you can see, it is not entirely clear what information is taken from the source and what ideas belong to the writer. In the case above, all of the information had been taken from Locker.

Make a Transition

Whether you choose to paraphrase, summarize, or directly quote material, you will want to signal to your reader that you are moving from the paraphrased, summarized, or quoted material into your commentary about that material. You can use transitional words or phrases or complete sentences to signal to your commentary of source material.

Transitional Words and Phrases

Transitional words and phrases help make a smooth movement from source material to your own words. Many transitional words and phrases are available to you. Which word or phrase you choose to use will depend upon what kind of commentary you need to provide.

Transitional Words and Phrases

If you want to . . .

try using these words or phrases

Add or Develop

above all, add to this, and also, besides, even more, furthermore, I repeat, in any event, indeed, in fact, in other words, likewise, moreover, that is, too

Add Emphasis

as previously stated, indeed, in fact, surely, certainly


at the same time, by the same token, in like manner, in the same way, likewise, similarly


but, conversely, however, in another sense, in contrast with this, instead, inversely, nevertheless, nonetheless, notwithstanding, on the contrary, on the one hand, on the other hand, rather, still, though, to be sure, turning now to another matter, whereas, yet

Make a Concession

accepting that; albeit; although; despite; to be sure; granted; of course, it is true; whereas

Make Conclusions

accordingly, after all, as has been said, as matters stand, at all events, at any rate, even so, finally, for these reasons, in a word, in brief, in conclusion, indeed, in general, in other words, in retrospect, in short, in summary, nevertheless, on the whole, or briefly, such being the case, that being so, to conclude, to recapitulate, to repeat, to summarize, to sum up, we now see

Provide an Example

a case in point, all things considered, as an illustration, as you see, for example, for instance, in connection with, in fact, in other words, in particular, in this way, just as, that is, namely, specifically, to illustrate, thus, thus it follows

Review or Restate

as has already been suggested, hitherto, if what I have said is correct, in essence, in other words, so far, up to this point

Show Cause & Effect

accordingly, as a result, consequently, hence, in short, otherwise, so, then, therefore, thus, truly.


almost, nearly, probably, perhaps, although, frequently


Although we don’t need an example of every one of these phrases, let’s look at two examples to see how it all comes together.

Example 1:

Among the most important problems preventing correct pronunciation of the English language is that of interference. Politzer and Politzer (1972) indicate that interference is when an individual has an acquired sound system in his or her native language, and that sound system interferes with second language acquisition. Perhaps the most obvious example of interference is when there is a phoneme in the English language that has no counterpart in the learner’s native language.

In this example, we can see that the writer used “perhaps” to signal commentary. He then goes on to discuss an example of interference.

Example 2:

Petrarch said he wished to climb Mount Ventoux “to see what so great an elevation had to offer” (172). Indeed, he got what he wished for in that the elevation of the body made Petrarch realize he should be more concerned with the elevation of the soul.

In this example, we can see the writer uses “indeed” to signal her commentary.

Complete Sentences without Transitions

In the previous section, you learned about using transitional words and phrases to write sentences that signal that you are beginning your commentary. You also can use a sentence without transitional words or phrases to signal that you’ve begun commenting on the source.

Effective transitional sentences arise from the context of the paper, so offering some examples is difficult. The possibilities for transitional sentences are endless, but here are a few beginnings that you could try:

Again, sentences that you use will depend upon the paper you’re writing and your writing style. Let’s look at a few examples:

Example 1:

The narrator sees a woman inside the wallpaper. She tells us “At night in any kind of light, in twilight, candlelight, lamplight, and worst of all by moonlight, It becomes bars! The outside pattern I mean, and the woman behind it as plain as can be (584).” In this cry the narrator reveals herself as insane. What we have yet to learn is that in this insanity, she finds freedom.

We’ve bolded the transition sentence in the example above. In the paragraph from the paper about Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper,” the writer refers to the quote (similar to referring to “the research”) to signal that she is beginning to comment on the quote.

Example 2:

Gregory Orlov and his four brothers were important to the rise of Catherine II. They organized and took an active part in the revolution of 1762, in which Peter the Third was overthrown. Crone (1995) indicates that with Orlov’s military history and military ties he had the army within his influence. To take Crone’s suggestions even further, overthrowing Peter the Third would have been impossible for Catherine without Orlov, or perhaps more importantly, his military ties. For more than a decade after his assistance to Catherine, Gregory Orlov was a very powerful man.

In the example above, we’ve bolded the introductory phrase of the sentence that introduces the main part of the commentary of the quote. The key here is that introductory phrases can help transition to your commentary.