How do I use the work (words and ideas) of others in a more 'academic' fashion?

Being effective

The point here is that you need to use the work of others effectively. This means it is important to have some idea about the nature of the task you are writing about.

If you are giving the reader an idea of the current perspectives in a particular field, as you may do for a literature review for example, then you would be referring to the authors a great deal and to their positions on things, as well as providing your analysis of it.

Your work would be peppered with references such as 'Smith and Jones (2005) take the perspective that….', 'They argue…', 'Taking a post-structuralist bent, Vega (2006) considers…'

Look at this extract from a student Sociology essay in an introductory unit. You will see that the student has provided a review of perspectives.

  • Notice how the student has referred to the different perspectives on the issue of the currency of globalisation.
  • Notice the use of "reporting verbs" such as 'views', 'argues', 'perceives', 'regards'.

Extract A

There are many perspectives on the historical context of globalisation and globalism. Some theorists concentrate their research predominately within the nineteenth and twentieth centuries (Giddens 1990; Bauman 1998), looking at globalisation as a more recent occurrence, whereas others argue that globalisation dates back many centuries (Robertson 1992; Held, Goldblatt & Perraton 1999). Scholte (2000:62) views these perspectives as being limited, requiring both longer term …

…Giddens (1990) considers it directly related to modern, industrialised societies and the accumulation of material resources dating from the nineteenth century and colonisation, and is an extension of modernity rather than a new phase. Roberts (1992) argues that globalisation, at present, is subjectively different than previously because modernisation has accelerated globalisation which has now penetrated contemporary awareness. He perceives its beginnings far earlier, identifying five phases …

…another opinion, argued by Held et al (1999), regards recent cultural globalisation as the latest indication of a set of historical processes. …Beynon and Dunkerley (2000) put another slant on the uniqueness of globalisation in current times …

See How can I use the ideas of others? for further information.

This student would finish off her review, of course, by providing her own position on the issues.

If, however, you wanted to give the reader an update on the current findings in a field, then your references would be somewhat more objective or neutral in tone and would refer to the studies themselves. Here is an example from a Psychology literature review.

Note, however, that one feature of a good literature review in Psychology is currency and this extract does not relate to current research in the field.

Extract B

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is characterised by its distinctive constellation of atypical depression symptoms. Sakamoto, Nakadaira, Kamo, Kamo and Takahashi (1995) found that the presence of hypersomnia in particular may indicate future seasonal recurrence of depression, arising from a longitudinal follow-up of a clinical population in Japan. Stability of seasonality seems to be associated with atypical symptoms in SAD patients. Similar results were found in an American longitudinal follow-up (Schwartz et al., 1996). Terman, Amira, Terman and Ross (1996) suggest that those individuals presenting with mainly atypical symptoms would more likely respond to light therapy than those whose symptoms were mainly melancholic. Hypersomnia also ranked as this study's strongest predictor of improvement. One question of interest is whether a combination of phototherapy and medication is more effective than either form of treatment alone. A combination of both may be appropriate in those with the melancholic symptoms identified by Terman et al (1996).

As the student in Extract A has conveyed, there is a sense of the differences in the field. In this case, note the more tentatively worded language used to refer to the literature: 'seems to be', 'suggests', 'a combination of both may be appropriate'.

The sources in Extract B are also primary sources, in comparison to the writing in Extract A – necessary in the field of psychology.

Further guidance

It would be useful to work through the guidance and resources supplied in How can I avoid plagiarism? and How can I use the ideas of others? [to view some others examples of using the work of others more academically.