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Engaging Sources through Reading-Writing Connections Across the Disciplines

Abstract: This essay argues that what might otherwise be considered "plagiarism" in student writing is a symptom of the difficulties students encounter in their reading and writing, moments in which students' inabilities to critically assess, read, and respond to sources through the act of writing come to the surface. Expanding the context within which we discuss plagiarism by looking at how poor reading skills contribute to students' misuse of sources, this essay underscores the importance of focusing on reading-writing connections as a means to preparing students in all disciplines to engage more productively with sources. Ultimately, this essay details campus-wide, curricular, and pedagogical interventions that support this work.


For decades, WAC and WID programs have demonstrated the importance of discipline-specific literacy instruction. That literacy instruction, though, remains incomplete since it largely privileges writing over reading, writing's counterpart in the construction of meaning. By not capitalizing on the relationship between reading and writing, instructors lose opportunities to offer students more comprehensive literacy instruction by simultaneously developing students' reading and writing abilities. Attending to both reading and writing is especially important in classes that require source-based writing in which students are expected to read and then integrate sources into their writing. Alice Horning (2007) details the importance of teaching reading alongside writing in these courses: 

[D]eveloping students' writing skills requires developing their reading skills. If they haven't read and worked with nonfiction prose models in the genres of their major discipline, it will be much harder for them to produce such prose. Helping students join the conversation in their professional fields…will be difficult to achieve if they don't have the 'din' of the prose style of their disciplines in their heads. And to help stem the tide of true plagiarism, teachers must help students develop the reading skills that will allow them to understand source materials and use them appropriately in support of their arguments. (par. 46)

The emphasis that has been placed on writing to the exclusion of reading, in other words, is a major oversight that has very real implications for our students and ultimately the fields in which they are working. As Horning describes, instructors must deliberately teach reading in conjunction with writing if they want their students to use sources appropriately.

In fact, an inability to use sources correctly—to critically assess, read, and respond to them— can very quickly turn into what appears to be plagiarism. As this article details, there are many indicators that suggest the degree to which students struggle with research writing because of their difficulties with reading.   After addressing both quantitative and qualitative studies that look more closely at the reading-related difficulties students encounter, this article outlines the importance of moving away from punitive responses that treat these difficulties as instances of plagiarism and toward pedagogies and other interventions that directly address students' poor reading skills, one of the contributing factors to "plagiarism." Finally, this piece broadens its scope to detail university-wide curricular and pedagogical interventions that support this work.  

Students' Struggles with Reading

The shift away from print-based reading to digital reading practices has meant that instructors and students now must navigate what Daniel Keller (2013) calls "a wide range of ever-changing literacy contexts" (p. 9). Evolving technologies mean that instructors must help students "gain versatile, dexterous approaches to both reading and writing" (p. 9) that "reflect the dynamic range of contexts and media in which students will read and write" (p. 7). Unfortunately, as skimming and scanning are the go-to reading practice for on-screen reading, students (and the rest of us) are potentially becoming less adept at reading closely and deeply when we need to.

Rebecca Moore Howard's scholarship and research has indicated students' difficulty reading closely, particularly as it shows up in their source-based writing assignments.  In her early work, Howard introduces what she calls "patchwriting," a particular misuse of sources, characterized by remaining too close to the language of the original, often the result of students' lack of understanding of what they have read.  The Citation Project, a multi-institutional, empirical research project, conducted by Howard and her colleagues demonstrates the frequency with which students avoid having to engage their sources. Thus far, findings have demonstrated that students write from sentences not from sources, relying on paraphrasing, copying, citing, and patchwriting rather than summary, raising questions about students' ability to comprehend the larger ideas and concepts in sources (Howard, Serviss & Rodrigue, 2010, p. 189).

Recent studies from Education Testing Services (ETS), such as the "America's Skills Challenge: Millennials and the Future" (2015), have corroborated these findings as have findings from studies conducted by ACT, Inc. and the Pew Charitable Trust, which found that close to half of the college students in their samples did not meet minimum benchmarks for literacy or lacked reading proficiency, respectively (Horning & Kraemer, 2013, 6-7).

Responses to Students' Struggles

The studies mentioned above, in addition to the effect that digital environments have on reading, as well as instructors' overall frustration with students' lack of engagement with sources are leading various disciplines to call for deliberate instruction in using sources.   For example, the Association of College Research Libraries' (ACRL) Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education was revised in 2015 to reflect the need to teach information literacy in order to prepare students to participate in and contribute to communities of learning. The document indicates that instructors should take the time to determine the specific skills that their students need in order to adeptly and responsibly engage in research-driven assignments within their disciplines. Then instructors must develop pedagogies that meet those needs.   

Like the ACRL's Framework, the Council of Writing Program Administrator's (CWPA) Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing (2011) is also intended to affect curricula, course design, and often assessment practices at the post-secondary level. This document lists eight habits of mind, described in the Executive Summary as "ways of approaching learning" that are "essential for success in college writing" (par. 3). Although the Framework is intended to describe essential qualities for success in college writing, these are equally important for college reading[1]; even a cursory look at the role that source use plays in this Framework suggests as much. In fact, out of the eight habits of mind it lists, seven are overtly relevant to working with (i.e. reading, responding, integrating) sources. These habits of mind underscore the importance, for example, of "recognizing the meaning and value of information" and "engag[ing]…the ideas of others," both of which, of course, depend upon reading.   

While the CWPA's Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing is driving change at the postsecondary level, the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for K-12 represent a major shift at the elementary and secondary levels away from literature and fiction and toward "informational texts." This emphasis on informational texts may mean that students will arrive at postsecondary institutions more prepared to work with source materials, which is certainly encouraging.  In the meantime, as the WPA on my campus responsible for supporting faculty across the disciplines whose experiences teaching source-based writing mirror the findings in the studies mentioned above, I developed a series of assignments that can be used across the disciplines to encourage students to experience the connections between reading and writing while simultaneously developing their abilities to work adeptly and responsibly with sources.  These assignments are the focus of the next section.

A Pedagogical Sequence: Reading, Writing, and Engaging Sources across the Disciplines[2]

Although described in detail elsewhere (Carillo 2009, 2015), the assignments discussed below are intended to provide context for the adaptations—from the fields of History and Philosophy— that follow. The first assignment in the sequence asks students to pay attention to language at the sentence-level by annotating a text by hand and digitally, and then reflecting on that experience. The second assignment moves students from the sentence-level to the passage-level, so to speak, as they write a passage-based paper (PBP) in which they work with a single source and a single passage. The critical conversation (C.C.), the third assignment in the sequence, broadens the scope further by requiring that students work with two sources while also inserting themselves into the conversation.  These assignments, as well as the adaptations made by the other disciplines, underscore the importance of focusing on reading as often and as consistently as we focus on writing. Robert Scholes (2002) characterizes the privileging of the latter at the expense of the former:

We normally acknowledge, however grudgingly, that writing must be taught and continue to be taught from high school to college and perhaps beyond. We accept it, I believe, because we can see writing, and we know that much of the writing we see is not good enough. But we do not see reading. We see some writing about reading, to be sure, but we do not see reading. I am certain, though, that if we could see it, we would be appalled. (p. 166)

While Scholes is not interested in issues of academic integrity, when brought to fruition, his wish that we could see reading opens up opportunities for instructors to work with their students on reading and, therefore, on engaging and writing from sources.  Making reading visible renders it possible for instructors and students to discuss what it means to engage—to read—sources and then work responsibly with them.  The assignments described below are intended to do just that—to make reading visible.

Making Reading-Writing Connections Visible through Annotation

Perhaps the most obvious way students—and all readers— can make their reading practices visible is through annotation. Many students come to college already having been asked to annotate or mark up a text they are reading. Unfortunately, instead of annotating as it is described in this first assignment in the sequence, many students rely too heavily on highlighting. Annotating provides an alternative to highlighting that allows students to write notes, comments, reactions, and questions in the margins of their texts to make those texts uniquely theirs and to represent their particular ways of reading.  The act of annotating in this way—and the opportunity to do it twice as the below assignment requires— compels students to notice their reading practices, which are made visible to them through their writing, their annotations:


This assignment gives you the opportunity to develop an understanding of how you annotate as you read, as well as whether there are differences between how you annotate on screen and on paper. Ultimately, you may gain greater insight into your reading practices, including any differences between your digital reading practices and print-based reading practices.

Choose one of the sources you plan to use for your upcoming research-driven essay and be sure that it is available in both hardcopy and online versions. First, read and annotate the hardcopy. Put that aside for 1-2 days (to avoid just reproducing the same annotations). Then, read the online version and annotate it using an online annotation tool. Now, compare the two versions. Take inventory of the annotations you made on the hard copy versus the online version. Did you annotate them similarly? Which elements did you mark on each? Which did you ignore?  Which version did you annotate more comprehensively? Drawing on the list below, which type of annotation is more common on each text?

Now that you have compared your annotations, spend time reflecting on the two texts. Discuss why you think your annotations converge and diverge where they do.  What might you be able to say more broadly about the differences between how you read digital texts and how you read printed texts?  How will your findings about your practices inform how you read (either online or in hard copy) and annotate other sources you will use in your research-driven essay?

Reminder: You may think of annotating only in terms of underlining, highlighting, and circling key ideas. In this assignment, you are expected to also do the following in the margins:

  1. Pose questions that various sections raise for you
  2. Summarize a paragraph or idea
  3. Indicate whether you agree with the claims or points the text is making
  4. Offer additional evidence to support claims and/or evidence to challenge them
  5. Offer a personal or emotional response, perhaps based on previous experience with the topic
  6. Note how each paragraph is related to the one that comes before and after it
  7. Make connections to other texts/readings
  8. Jot down how various parts of the text might be useful in completing your assignment so you can easily return to them

The above assignment gives students—in any class—the opportunity to experience both reading and writing as ways of constructing meaning. Asking students to complete the assignment in two different ways further underscores this connection between reading and writing while giving students access to information about how they may read differently across media. In both the print-based and digital annotations, reading is as deliberate as writing, and students become more aware of what happens as they read. They pay more attention and begin to notice multiple elements of the text, as well as how that text might connect to others they have read in preparation for their source-based writing assignments. Perhaps most important, though, students get accustomed to reading actively and begin to recognize what they might look for and respond to in a source when they need to read it closely. Simultaneously, they realize that source-based writing demands this sort of close attention to sources, a lesson important across the disciplines. This assignment sets up that expectation and serves as a touchstone throughout the semester as students reflect on their reading practices and even compare their annotations with other students, fostering additional recognition of how different readers construct different meanings.    

 The Passage-based Paper (PBP)

Having completed their annotations, students are asked to choose a passage from that source upon which to focus in this assignment. Students' annotations can help them gain insight into which passages may be the most conducive to a close reading assignment like the PBP. They may choose a passage because they found it difficult, interesting, stylistically noteworthy, or for any other reason. Their annotations can guide them to these particularly generative passages. I give students the PBP prompt in all writing courses that I teach, including "Writing through Research," a cross-disciplinary research writing course described later in this piece, intended for sophomores but often filled with everyone from first-year students to graduating seniors. My PBP prompt[3] has gone through multiple permutations over more than a decade, including those that make it more and less directive, as well as tailored to a specific course:  

What is a passage-based paper (PBP)?

Throughout the course of the semester, I will ask that you choose a short passage (3-5 sentences) from the text that we are reading and write a 1-2 page passage-based paper on this excerpt.  You will be expected to discuss this passage in class and hand in the assignment at the end of class. 

Format: Transcribe the passage onto the top of the page (including the page number from which the passage is taken) and then "unpack" the passage, paying close attention to the textual elements including the passage's language, tone, and construction.  Once you have examined the passage closely, conclude your paper by connecting this passage to the rest of the work.  In other words, once you have completed a close, textual analysis of your passage, contemplate the meaning of the passage and its place in or contribution to the meaning(s) of the text as a whole. 

Purpose: Passage-based papers offer you the opportunity to experience the connections between the interpretive practices of reading and writing. These papers give you the opportunity to engage in close textual analysis and to grapple with difficult ideas that come up in the texts that we will be reading.  I am concerned primarily with your ability to work closely with the texts that we are reading.  We are working with difficult texts and it is fine if your papers represent an attempt at developing an argument through close analysis of a passage as opposed to a fully-developed argument.  These passage-based papers also prepare you for writing formal essays in which you will be expected to attend to primary and secondary sources as carefully as you attend to the passages you choose for your passage-based papers.

Keeping reading contained to a single passage, I am able to see how students proceed in their readings:  how they move from looking at certain words and phrases to making claims about them. This assignment makes them slow down and become aware of the process by which they make meaning, and it allows me to see and comment on this meaning making. The "slow reading movement" has asked us to do just that. English Professor Thomas Newkirk (2012), among others, has challenged us to "reclaim resourceful modes of reading, born in times of scarcity." He explains, "We can learn to pay attention, concentrate, devote ourselves to author. We can slow down so we can hear the voice of texts, feel the movement of sentences, experience the pleasure of words— and own passages that speak to us" (p. 41). For students, slowing down gives them the opportunity to become aware of what it feels like to actively make sense of something. And, for the instructor, it means the opportunity to both see students' processes and to intervene in productive ways in those processes.

Notice that the PBP prompt does not ask students to address anything particularly "literary" about the passage they have chosen.  Instead, the assignment asks students to comment on the relationship among language, style, and meaning, which is relevant in all disciplines, particularly for students who are both learning to recognize and imitate how writers in that discipline write and engage other voices, other sources.  For example, if students read journals within a given field they can choose a passage from one of those.

In their four year, cross-disciplinary study of student writers and instructors from across the disciplines, Chris Thaiss and Terry Myers Zawacki (2006) found that "students can infer style by reading professional writing" (p. 128). Thaiss and Zawacki are describing implicit learning here, which is defined by Arthur S. Reber (1989), one of the first psychologists to study implicit learning, as "characterized by two critical features: (a) It is an unconscious process and (b) it yields abstract knowledge" (p. 219). Reber explains that "implicit knowledge results from the induction of an abstract representation of the structure that the stimulus environment displays, and this knowledge is acquired in the absence of conscious, reflective strategies to learn" (p. 219). 

While inferring is certainly useful, the PBP asks student to do far more. In writing PBPs students engage with a text's style. Students might write about why and how a passage within an article stands out from the rest of an article because of its style, diction, and structure.  A student in the sciences may pay particular attention to the science-writer's abstract and then write about the tone, style and/or structure of a passage from the abstract. Students might choose to focus on the introduction or conclusion to a published laboratory report and write about the textual elements therein, making them aware of the different components. Science students might also be encouraged to incorporate more robust "discussion" and "conclusion" sections into their lab reports wherein they closely read the elements of the experiment in order to answer questions about their results, questions that begin with "why" and "so what?" These more elaborate sections would foreground for students how they are making meaning from their experiments.

It is through their close readings of these passages—whether in lab reports or other texts—that students learn about the conventions that govern writing within that discipline. Moreover, noticing and writing about these textual elements help reveal for students their processes of reading and makes them aware of the fact that they—as writers—will need to keep readers in mind.  

Adding a Source: From the PBP to the Critical Conversation

Once students have practiced working with one source by writing PBPs, they move on to working with two sources. To prepare them for this work, students read excerpts from writing textbooks They/Say I Say and Writing Analytically because both use the metaphor of "conversation." The "critical conversation" assignment itself is adapted from Gerald Graff. The metaphor of conversation is often called upon across disciplines to indicate the social nature of literacy. In fact, the concept of "scholarship as conversation" recently became one of the guiding principles of the ACRL's newly revised Framework, mentioned above. Using these resources and what students have learned while writing PBPs, students put two sources in conversation with each other. Like the PBP, which is a stepping stone to the critical conversation, the critical conversation can be used as a stepping stone to a longer, research-driven essay. Also like the PBP, critical conversations are compact at only 2-3 pages. As such, critical conversations give instructors the opportunity to comment on a localized, specific, and compressed sample of students' attempts at working with two sources.  Below is one version of a critical conversation assignment I have given students in my Introduction to Literary Studies course:

When one writes in the academy, one never writes in a vacuum. Other scholars and thinkers have undoubtedly addressed the very issues you are going to explore in your own writing. For this reason, responsible and insightful academic writing necessarily engages those voices, sources that are not the final word on the issue, but participants in the conversation that you are entering by exploring your chosen topic.  In this framework, using sources to think about a subject means thinking about how you position yourself and your ideas in relation to those sources.

Using what you learned in the library session, locate two scholarly essays on either Eliot's "The Waste Land" or "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" and make these two sources speak to each other. Don't forget to create a space (beyond agreeing or disagreeing) for yourself in the conversation. There are many complex ways of entering a conversation, including the following:  

Making sense of your sources:

Scholarly articles can be difficult to understand especially the first time you read them. They can be filled with jargon and they may expect a background in literary studies that you don't quite have yet. Part of studying literature, though, entails making sense of what others have said about literature even when it presents these and other challenges. I recommend taking the following approach to reading these articles.

The goal is to read several articles and apply steps 1, 2, and 3. Doing so will not just help you summarize what each article argues and how it does so, but it will give you the information you need to locate another source that will be conducive to including in your conversation.  

  1. First read the article in order to get a sense of the author's argument. Underline sentences and passages that seem to address this. Look up any terms in these sentences and passages with which you are unfamiliar.
  2. Now that you have a sense of what the author is arguing re-read the article with an eye toward how the author makes this argument. Notice the type of evidence the author uses and how the different parts of the argument work together. Underline or highlight these elements in a way that is different from how you marked the argument in #1.
  3. On a separate sheet of paper summarize your findings from steps 1 and 2.
  4. Go to other potential sources and repeat steps 1, 2, and 3 with the goal of locating an article that you can put in conversation with your first source.

Remember that no one can participate responsibly in a conversation if she hasn't taken the time to really understand each participant's approach and ideas.

The assignment above acknowledges the difficulties students may face as they begin engaging with scholarly sources. In doing so, it validates this experience, but also gives students strategies for working with those difficulties so that they can engage in productive ways with the sources they encounter. These strategies, which can be transferred beyond this particular assignment, as well as outside of this class, include the practices of re-reading, underlining, and summarizing. Notice that the assignment describes how these ways of active reading can be used to different ends, but to ends that complement each other.  The following two samples of critical conversation assignments have been adapted from my assignment by instructors Ruth Glasser and Agnes Curry in Urban Studies and Philosophy, respectively. 

From Urban Studies:[4]

For those who worked at food pantries/soup kitchens, community gardens/greenhouses, farmers' markets, discuss with the following in mind:

Explore how [the three authors] discuss the problem your agency tackles. How do they state (or imply) that it has come about, how it has changed over time, why it persists? Make sure you write about the ways in which all these authors directly or indirectly contribute to this discussion, and how their positions relate to one another. 'Relate' means some combination of the following: agree, disagree, be complementary to, explore totally different facets of the problem, etc.  It is your job to link them in a sort of 'conversation.'

Establish your position within this conversation as well—what do YOU believe about the problem and what evidence do you have for your beliefs?  How does your point of view relate to those of the authors?  Use your experience at the agency as part of your evidence: In light of what you've observed at the agency and its stated mission, how do you think the agency's assessment of the problem dovetails with or diverges from yours and the authors'?  Find at least one example of divergence.  Why the difference?

How well does the agency ameliorate the problem?  What do you think our various authors would think, and why?  What do you think? What alternative ways could the agency grapple with the problem?  What obstacles or opportunities would they face in the local area?

The Urban Studies assignment above draws on the essential elements of the critical conversation assignment, but brings important context-specific elements to it, as well. Students are asked to think more broadly about the idea of a source, as their field experience fits this description, as well. Moreover, students are expected to test their field experience—one source—against the textbook, another source. As such, sources are not treated as sacred authorities, and students are more likely to feel comfortable questioning them and perhaps even challenging them. 

From Philosophy:[5] One important philosophical task is drawing connections or relationships between diverse sources and recognizing their philosophical significance.  Such relationships can exist between your own ideas and those of another source, two different sources, or your own ideas and a number of sources. These relationships can be various. Some can be obvious. Some can be more surprising. They can immediately raise big questions for us. Or their connections or implications may at first seem trivial, but become more interesting and important the more one explores.

This paper asks you to put two of the writings we've recently read or will soon read into what we can call a critical conversation. The metaphor of a 'conversation' is useful because it reminds us that as authors we, too, are part of the conversation.  And we know we can emerge from a fruitful conversation with a deepened or broadened perspective on an issue without wholeheartedly agreeing with either side.  So in this paper, rather than defending one theory against objections, you have more freedom to develop a more subtle thesis. 

The notion of a 'critical' conversation alerts us to the various aspects of critical philosophical thinking and intellectual work: 

The first time you work on a Critical Conversation, your discussion can easily slip into a more typical comparison/contrast exercise.  The fundamental reason for comparing and contrasting is that you can usually discover ideas about a subject much more easily when you are not viewing it isolation.  When executed mechanically, however, the comparison/contrast can produce pointless essays if you allow them to turn into matching exercises—that is, if you match common features of two subjects but don't get beyond the equation stage (a,b,c, = x, y, z).  That said, we should look at some of the key differences between the Critical Conversation and the typical compare/contrast discussion (Table 1).

Table 1: Critical Conversation vs. Compare/Contrast

Critical Conversation Compare/Contrast
The Critical Conversation is an "active" process.  That is, the work seeks to do more than simply label a concept or idea as different from each other or similar to each other. Comparison/contrast more often than not a "passive" process.  That is, the work often focuses solely on placing concepts or ideas into one category or the other.
The Critical Conversation works with concrete language, specific terminology, concepts and ideas in order to draw out and discuss specific relationships.  Comparison/contrast often relies on generalizations or summaries as the basic elements of discussion.
The Critical Conversation develops in order that the author may "do something" with the material, such as frame a larger discussion, complicate an idea, take an idea further, explore the implications, and so forth.  Comparison/contrast most often acts as an end in itself.  That is, once the similarities and differences are named, the discussion ends. 
The Critical Conversation most often eschews a conclusion that aims to agree or disagree or label one sources "right" and the other "wrong," focusing more on conclusions that continue to develop and work with ideas. Comparison/contrast, actually, not do either, since the basic point to the work, offers no clear transition to an "agree/disagree" conclusion, or anything more complex, since its function is to merely label material similar or different.
The Critical Conversation places its sources alongside each other throughout the discussion, in order to draw out, demonstrate, and give insight into the relationship between sources. Comparison/contrast most often discusses its sources separately, one after the other, as lists of differences or similarities only.  

The Philosophy assignment above draws students' attention to the difference between comparing/contrasting sources and putting them into conversation with each other, a crucial set of differences, particularly because students seem generally more comfortable and more practiced in comparing and contrasting exercises. Without attention to these differences, there is the potential for students to fall back into this comfort zone. While the English and Urban Studies' versions of the critical conversation assignment differ slightly from this Philosophy one, all of them give students the opportunity to work closely with sources and to locate their own ideas among them.  Each assignment has its own priorities, but all three necessitate that students actively do something with the sources, something more than merely cite or refer to them. The English assignment, for example, emphasizes the importance of rereading, taking notes on, and summarizing the sources before putting them in conversation while the Urban Studies example asks students to imagine how the different sources relate to each other, as well as how these authors' discussions hold up in light of the students' actual experiences volunteering in the community. Notice that none of the assignments emphasizes or privileges citation or documentation practices at the expense of the critical/interpretive work each assignment requires.

From the Classroom to the Campus

Addressing academic integrity by giving students the tools to become better readers can go a long way in a single classroom. If an entire campus or university is on board, the effect of this positive rather than punitive intervention can be even more profound. For the past several years on my campus, I have hosted Academic Integrity Awareness Week,[6] a week-long series of workshops, film screenings, discussion sessions, and formal talks for faculty, staff, and students on the topic of academic integrity. Reading is often a focus of at least one of the faculty sessions such as "Beyond Cutting and Pasting: Helping Students Work with Sources" wherein I emphasize during the session and in the materials from it (see Appendix A) the need for instructors to pay deliberate attention to reading while teaching source-based writing. These teaching strategies underscore the importance of making explicit to students how and why scholars read (and use) sources.

Because data suggest that students not only don't know why scholars read, but they lack the ability to critically read and integrate sources into their writing, programs like Academic Integrity Awareness Week can be helpful in exposing the connections between students' weak reading abilities and their source misuse. Students' reading problems and related instances of source misuse have been documented, as mentioned above, by The Citation Project, findings that have led Sandra Jamieson (2013) to conclude that "students lack the critical reading and thinking skills necessary to engage with the ideas of others and write papers reflecting that engagement in any discipline" (par. 63).   Jamieson further explains her conclusion: "Students are less likely to be able to understand the larger concepts in the texts they read, or to be able to assess how an argument unfolds, how sources are in dialogue with each other, or how the author uses an accumulation of references and sources to further a position of his or her own, or support, challenge, or revise a position or interpretation presented by another scholar" (par. 62).  It is not much of a stretch to see how these reading difficulties could surface as instances of source misuse and they did as "more than half of the students in the Citation Project study misused sources at least once" (Jamieson, 2013, par. 62).  Alice Horning (2010) makes an important distinction, though, between plagiarism and source misuse, a distinction that often becomes the centerpiece of discussions during Academic Integrity Awareness Week. Horning reminds us that "the kind of plagiarism that arises from students' inability to read well is not the situation where students buy or borrow the work of others" (p. 144) and, as such, it needs to be addressed differently and primarily through deliberate and consistent teaching of reading. Distinguishing between these two types of "plagiarism" opens up opportunities to address how to help students develop stronger reading abilities, which is one of the goals of Academic Integrity Awareness Week. Only so much can be accomplished in one week (and one faculty-driven session) so with the goal of creating a culture of academic integrity on our campus, a group of interested campus administrators, students, and faculty members developed a Committee on Academic Integrity. We decided that our first task would be to imagine how we might work toward creating this culture at a curricular level.  I conclude this piece with a discussion of our progress toward this goal.

Developing a Course that Focuses on Academic Integrity

Comprised of faculty members representing different programs and majors on campus, administrative and library staff, and a student representative, the committee's first instinct was to consider how existing courses across the curriculum might incorporate more deliberate, focused, and sustained attention to teaching students how to work adeptly and responsibly with sources. The other option, it seemed, was to create an entirely separate one-credit course that would be disciplinary-specific and would teach students how to engage productively and responsibly with sources in their chosen fields. This course could be developed, taught (at least initially), and assessed by the committee of faculty members. The Committee liked the template (see Appendix B) I developed for a one-credit course we tentatively called "Engaging Sources" because the template provides a specific course plan that is simultaneously broad enough to be adjusted to meet the needs of the instructor teaching the course no matter the discipline. Due to scheduling issues associated with one-credit courses and students' disinterest in these courses, some faculty members suggested making "Engaging Sources" a more general course that focused not on disciplinary-specific conventions related to engaging sources, but on more general practices.  

These "general practices" were a cause of concern, though, for me and my colleagues familiar with the theoretical underpinnings of WAC pedagogy. As has been noted by Susan McLeod and Eric Miraglia (2001): "WAC, more than any other recent educational reform movement, has aimed at transforming pedagogy at the college level, at moving away from the lecture mode of teaching (the 'delivery of information' model) to a model of active student engagement with the materials and with the genres of the discipline through writing" (p. 5).   In other words, WAC (and WID) programs were developed several decades ago precisely because writing is context-specific and not a "skill" in the traditional sense that can be taught (i.e. delivered) unilaterally and uncritically across disciplines. As a committee we decided that whether we called them skills, abilities, rhetorical capabilities or something else, we still might be able to develop a list of these elements that were potentially transferable across disciplines. Committee members developed individual lists of these "transferable skills," which I synthesized into the following points:

  1. Students need to understand what they are reading and be able to represent this understanding through their writing.
  2. Specifically, students need to recognize how they make meaning from their reading, which includes their ability to recognize nuance, inferences, allusions, points of reference, and context (of the piece, but also social/historical contexts).
  3. Students should learn how to assess the legitimacy of readings and sources, and should be able to distinguish between primary and secondary sources while understanding that these distinctions are not always cut and dried. 
  4. In order to help students develop these critical reading skills, students should practice taking notes in a variety of ways, which includes attending to how other authors construct their arguments. This work will help students understand the readings and facilitate their participation in class. Moreover, the format of published authors' arguments themselves might also serve as models for students' own arguments.
  5. Students need to practice the different ways to represent the texts/sources they read. These forms of representation include summary and paraphrase, as well as the more complicated practices of analysis and synthesis, which often involve the application of information.
  6. In addition to applying what they have read and learned, students should be able to effectively and correctly—according to proper citation practices—integrate information from multiple sources into their writing, as well as extend and develop these ideas through the incorporation of their own ideas, views, and conclusions. In other words, students should think of themselves as part of a larger conversation about the topic on which they are writing.
  7. Students should be prepared to determine the most appropriate style in which to do all of this work and to recognize the point of view or perspective (e.g., objective, personal) that is appropriate for each assignment.

Lists like these are never perfect, and this one is no exception. Still, developing the list together was instructive because it compelled us to learn about the conventions and expectations governing disciplines other than our own while still finding common ground among them.   Using this list as a guide, the committee could begin to imagine how to reach these goals by focusing on reading-writing connections.

Also instructive about the list is the degree to which these faculty members valued many of the same abilities that our first-year writing program sought to hone. Since my University only requires one semester of first-year writing, students could certainly benefit from an additional course that focused on these areas. In fact, there was already a writing-intensive course capped at nineteen students—Writing through Research— that sought to do this work and to serve as a sort of bridge between first-year writing and students' advanced courses in their disciplines.  The writing-intensive course, however, was not taught regularly and it was housed in the English department. Still, it offered an answer to many of the challenges the stand-alone one-credit course posed, including  the difficulty of getting students to enroll in a one-credit course, getting them to write seriously in a one-credit course, and fitting a one-credit course into particularly rigorous majors. Writing through Research would give students one of the writing intensive courses they needed in order to graduate while helping to develop both their reading and writing abilities in a three-credit format where more could be expected of them.

Teaching Writing through Research

I have taught Writing through Research three times, and while it is certainly too early to tell whether it is impacting our campus' culture in the ways the Committee imagined, students are—at the very least—becoming more aware of aspects of literacy that are largely obscured when we talk about "research writing" and "research practices." With its intense focus on reading, including adaptations of the assignments described in this piece, students quickly realize that "reading," although nowhere in the nomenclature used to describe research-driven writing courses, is equally as important as writing. In fact, in end-of-semester evaluations many students described the importance of spending time on reading, noting the benefits, for example of "thinking critically (both in the paper and while reading);"  "actively reading;" "annotating;" "improving my skills evaluating sources;" and "learning how to close read and take apart certain articles."  Paying deliberate attention to reading as we teach students how to conduct research in our fields is a crucial step toward giving them the tools to avoid "plagiarizing."

Concluding Thoughts

By way of conclusion, I want to return to Alice Horning's (2007) admonition that opened this essay: "Developing students' writing skills requires developing their reading skills. If they haven't read and worked with nonfiction prose models in the genres of their major discipline, it will be much harder for them to produce such prose" (p. 9).  As students struggle to write and engage sources in their chosen fields, we must give them the tools to do so. Rather than quickly rushing to judgments about plagiarism, we would be wise to rethink the common assumption that "students are able to reproduce source text in their own words all of the time and that when they do not do so, they are always intending to deceive" (Jamieson, 2013, par. 68). Teaching academic integrity within the context of reading-writing connections is a first step toward creating a culture of academic integrity within a classroom. Of course, there are other additional steps, such as those outlined here, that have the potential for a greater impact.

I invite others to try this three-pronged approach to addressing academic integrity—campus-wide interventions such as Academic Integrity Awareness Week; curricular interventions such as courses that foreground responsible use of sources within the context of literacy practices; and pedagogical interventions such as the Annotation, PBP, and Critical Conversation assignments.  By outright addressing the reading problems that often masquerade as "plagiarism problems" we can simultaneously enrich cross-disciplinary discussions about literacy and academic integrity with the goal of teaching our students, in the words of the late Jim Slevin, how "to for[m] the truth, mak[e] it understood and persuasive, and thereby contribut[e] to the collaborative, historically unfolding inquiry undertaken by those who work in that discipline" (p. 192).

Appendix A - Beyond Cutting and Pasting: Helping Students Work with Sources

  1. Discuss why and how scholars in your field use sources.
  2. Address what type(s) of sources are used in the field and why.
  3. Distribute materials (e.g., journal articles, lab reports, previous student papers) that model for students what using sources productively looks like. Point out what the writer is doing with the source—is the writer agreeing with it, challenging it, reframing it, redefining key terms, extending the discussion, offering additional evidence? Helping students to imagine what the final product will look like can be very useful and less overwhelming for them.  You might also point to unproductive uses of sources so students can anticipate the "traps" into which they may fall.
  4. Talk to students about the differences among summarizing, paraphrasing, and analyzing (and any other key terms/methods in your field) since students generally don't know the differences among them. Prior to handing in a formal project, report, or paper, give students opportunities to work on these different modes of writing and discuss how to choose among the methods depending on the context. Models or samples may be helpful here, too.
  5. Talk to students about ways of reading and discuss how you would like them to read. Should they be reading in order to comprehend; to discern how sources are used; to notice the style of writing; to recognize the structure or organization of the piece? All of the above?
  6. Show students what it looks like to actively read, including how one might annotate a text. Perhaps you can show them what you do or maybe you have a student sample. Students are leery of this because they often want to sell books back, but if they annotate in pencil they can erase the markings.  Most students use highlighting, which does not indicate anything about the highlighted text except that it is important (and, too often, almost everything gets highlighted). Show students samples that are annotated with actual commentary, including questions and notes in the margins. If they still want to use a highlighter then make sure they indicate to themselves what is important about each moment in the text. 
  7. Indicate the resources to which students who are confused about a reading might turn. Can they come to you to ask questions?  Will the librarians be able to help? A tutor in the writing center? Is there a place where they can look up difficult ideas/concepts or jargon that is specific to your discipline?
  8. Explain to students that since they are working in your field they need to make contributions to the conversations that characterize the field. This means finding a place for their voices and their ideas within these disciplinary-specific conversations.  Discuss with them what counts as an idea and how an idea differs from an opinion. Use samples or models to show how they can use others' ideas to develop their own and how language can be used to indicate the difference between their ideas and others.'
  9. Take class time to explore the handbook and help them locate the most relevant material to their writing in your course. If students don't have a handbook, make sure they know where they can find the necessary tools to cite sources correctly. The Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL), located at http://owl.english.purdue.edu, for example, is a great resource. Make sure they know not to rely solely only on automatically generated citations (from RefWorks, for example) since they are not always correct.
  10. Integrate all of this work into your class's curriculum so it doesn't appear to be less important than the content. You need not stop focusing on content or necessarily reduce the amount of content you cover. Instead, you are asking students to pay attention to more than the content while they read and write. You are asking students to notice and comment on other aspects of prose so that they can become stronger readers and writers within the field.

Appendix B - Template for INTD 1820: Engaging Sources

This course is a step toward creating a culture of academic integrity on campus. Research shows that often students who seem to plagiarize are actually unfamiliar with the ways in which they might work with, build upon, and integrate sources into their writing. Thus, they end up copying and pasting text from sources rather than using sources responsibly. This course understands what has been called a "plagiarism epidemic" as an opportunity to teach students how they can adeptly and ethically integrate sources into their own writing to facilitate a deeper engagement with their field.

This one-credit course is intended to teach students how to effectively and adeptly work with and integrate sources into their writing. Each course is field/discipline specific so students can gain the knowledge and practice relevant to their academic and future careers. The ultimate goal of this course is to develop the following abilities so that students can successfully contribute to their chosen fields:

  • To learn how to identify the most influential research on a topic
  • To discover and read the most respected journals in their field
  • To learn how to engage productively with a range of sources and how to use them responsibly and adeptly
  • To reflect on the connections between reading and writing and how these processes facilitate the overall project of intellectual exploration
  • To sharpen their ability to read, summarize, annotate, and analyze texts
  • To develop an understanding of correct citation practices within their field

UNIT 1:  Introduction to Course (weeks 1-2)

  • Discussion of how plagiarism and academic integrity has been addressed in students' other college courses and high school
  • Difference between documentation practices and engaging sources
  • Discussion of The Citation Project and its preliminary findings
  • Defining a "culture of academic integrity"
  • Pretest

OBJECTIVES:To develop an understanding of the course and its goals; the concept of a culture of academic integrity; and The Citation Project; to get a sense of what students know (via the pretest)

UNIT 2: Surveying your field (week 3)

  • Complete interview of at least one professional in your field
  • Survey and familiarize yourself with professional journals in field
  • Survey the field's documentation practice(s)

OBJECTIVES: To develop a broad understanding of the field, including its most influential scholars and research/scholarship by doing hands-on research and interviews

UNIT 3: Working In the Field (weeks 4-5)

  • How to actively read in your field
  • Note taking, abstracting, annotating
  • How and why sources are used in your field

OBJECTIVES: To learn methods of reading actively; to pay attention to how and why sources are used by professionals

UNIT 4: Working in the Field (weeks 6-7)

  • Working with a single source
  • Passage-based paper assignment
  • Summarizing, paraphrasing, quoting
  • Writing Workshop

OBJECTIVES: To learn how to work closely with a single source, paying attention not only to its content, but to its textual elements, including its style, word choice, and diction. To notice when a source is summarizing, paraphrasing, and/or quoting and to be able to detail the uses of each.

UNIT 5: Working In the Field (weeks 8-9)

  • Working with two sources
  • Summarizing, paraphrasing, quoting, continued
  • Critical conversation assignment
  • Writing Workshop

OBJECTIVES: To build upon the previous work with a single source by learning how to put two sources into conversation with each other and find a place for yourself in the conversation.

UNIT 6: Working in the Field (weeks 10-11)

  • Developing a topic for a research paper (to be 5-6 pages)
  • Annotated bibliography of possible sources for paper
  • Develop working list of most influential research on the topic
  • Using sources to develop a thesis
  • Library session
  • Documentation practices

OBJECTIVES: To learn how to use sources to move toward a specific research topic and thesis. To familiarize yourself with the library's resources and methods of searching for sources. To begin studying documentation practices.

UNIT 7: Working in the Field (weeks 12-13)

  • First submission of research paper due
  • Using sources to do more than support/prove thesis
  • Writing Workshop
  • Documentation practices, cont.

OBJECTIVES: To continue previous work, detailed above

UNIT 8: Working in the Field (weeks 14-15)

  • Second submission of research paper due
  • Writing Workshop
  • Documentation practices, cont.

OBJECTIVES: To continue previous work, detailed above; Final Class: Post test


Carillo, Ellen C. (2015). Securing a place for reading in composition: The importance of teaching for transfer. Logan: Utah State UP.

--- (2009). Making reading visible in the classroom. Currents in Teaching and Learning, 1(2), 37-41.

Coley, Richard J., Goodman, Madeline J., & Sands, Anita M. (2015) America's skills challenge: Millenials and the future. Educational Testing Service. Retrieved from https://www.ets.org/s/research/30079/index.html

Common core state standards for English language arts, Anchor Reading Standards. (May, 2015). Retrieved from  http://www.corestandards.org/ELA-Literacy/CCRA/R/

 Framework for success in postsecondary writing. (2011). Council of Writing Program Administrators. Retrieved from http://wpacouncil.org/files/framework-for-success-postsecondary-writing.pdf

Framework for information literacy for higher education. (February 2015). ACRL. Retrieved from  http://www.ala.org/acrl/standards/ilframework

Horning, Alice. (2010). A potential solution to the plagiarism problem: Improving reading. Journal of Teaching Writing, 25(2), 143-175.

Horning, Alice. (2007, May 14). Reading across the curriculum as the key to student success. Across the Disciplines, 4. Retrieved from https://wac.colostate.edu/atd/articles/horning2007.cfm

Horning, Alice S., & Kraemer, Elizabeth (Eds.) (2013). Introduction and overview. Reconnecting Reading and Writing. Anderson, South Carolina: Parlor Press. 5-25.

Howard, Rebecca Moore, Serviss, Tricia, & Rodrigue, Tanya K. (2010). Writing from sources, writing from sentences. Writing and Pedagogy, 2(2), 177-192.

Keller, Daniel. (2013). Chasing Literacy. Logan: Utah State University Press.

Jamieson, Sandra. (2013). Reading and engaging sources: What students' use of sources reveals about advanced reading skills. Across the Disciplines, 10(4). Retrieved from https://wac.colostate.edu/atd/reading/index.cfm

McLeod, Susan, & Miraglia, Eric. (2001). Writing across the curriculum in a time of change. WAC for the New Millennium. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English.

Newkirk, Thomas. (2012). The art of slow reading: Six time-honored practices for engagement. New York: Heinemann.

Reber, Arthur S. (1989). Implicit learning and tacit knowledge. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 118(3), 219-235.

Scholes, Robert. (2002). The transition to college reading. Pedagogy, 2(2), 165-172.

Thaiss, Chris, & Zawacki, Terry Myers. (2006). Engaged writers & dynamic disciplines: Research on the academic writing life. New York: Boynton/Cook.


[1] For a more detailed account, see Carillo's "A Place for Reading in the Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing: Recontextualizing the Habits of Mind," forthcoming in Applications for the Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing: Scholarship, Theories, and Practice (Parlor Press).

[2] Short portions from this section initially appeared in "Making Reading Visible in the Classroom," published in Currents in Teaching and Learning 1.2 (Spring 2009), and a later version of the PBP, which includes a focus on transfer, can be found in Securing a Place for Reading in Composition: The Importance of Teaching for Transfer (2015).

[3] I was first introduced to a version of the PBP by Professor James Bloom. A similar assignment, passage-based focused freewriting, also appears in Rosenwasser and Stephens' Writing Analytically.

[4] I am grateful to my colleague at the University of Connecticut, Ruth Glasser, for her permission to reprint excerpts from this assignment.

[5] I am grateful to Agnes Curry and David Carillo of the University of St. Joseph for their permission to reprint excerpts from this assignment.

[6] I am indebted to my colleagues Pam Bedore and Serkan Gorkemli for inspiring me to offer this on my campus.

Contact Information

Complete APA Citation

Carillo, Ellen C. (2016, July 1). Engaging sources through readng-writing connections across the disciplines. Across the Disciplines, 13(1). Retrieved from https://wac.colostate.edu/atd/articles/carillo2016.cfm