You are here

Describing what authors are doing

Referring to or acknowledging other writers' arguments, proposals, or claims is fundamental to academic writing. Citation and attribution are part of the social process of using other people's ideas in our academic work, but they are often confused:

  • Citation is merely reference to someone's work, naming one or more of their publications
  • Attribution is the public association of an author with a particular assertion or finding.  

To be effective and sensitive, citation and attribution depend on a rich, varied range of vocabulary and expression. The vocabulary for describing what authors are doing includes so-called "attribution" verbs.

Here are some common attribution verbs and their uses:

Identifying authors with areas of study

  • Examine -- “Min-Zhan Lu (1992) has examined the differences between ... L1 composition pedagogies ...” (Severino, 1993, p. 183).
  • Address -- “Kuno (1992) specifically addressed the distribution of these two particles and concludes that ...“
  • Develop -- “Maltz and Borker (1982) developed lists of what they described as men's and women's features of language” (Pennycook, 1993, p. 1).
  • Use [X to do Y] -- Thomas Barone (1989; 1993), for example, has used educational criticism to focus attention on how schools fail to meet the needs of underachieving students (Flinders & Eisner, 1994, p.  350).
  • Stress -- In 1970, Foucault began to stress the connection between reason and power (Poster, 1994, p. 177).

Asserting a view or position

  • Suggest -- Lakoff's pioneering work suggested that womens' speech typically displayed a range of features ... which marked it as inferior and weak  (Pennycook, 1994, p. 1).
  • Propose -- Sheetz-Brunetti and Johnson (1983) have proposed the use of simple diagrams ... to teach ESL compositions skills
  • Argue -- Mies (1986) argues that the domestication ... of women in the metropolitan nations is dependent on the exploitation of the Third World (p. 110).

Demonstrating a case

  • Demonstrate -- “As Tollefson (1989) demonstrates, it is often the case that U.S. policies ... have contributed to their immigration to the U.S. in the first place” (Severino, 1993, p. 183).
  • Show -- “Meyer's research (1975) has shown that the hierarchical content structure of a text plays an important role in reading comprehension” (Carrell, 1987, p. 47). /  “Johnson et al[.] (1985) showed that on average there was actually more Cantonese spoken than English ...” (Bruce, 1990, p. 11).

Using one author in relation to another

Points of difference are with authors, not just arguments - you can't cite an argument! This is where we often appeal to another authority who has identified the same area of difference.

(Halliday) ... influenced Wells' thinking...  Wells accepts Halliday's interactive approach, yet Wells feels that it leaves specifics of mother and child interactive behavior 'unexplored'" (Chumak-Horbatsch, 1987, p.  99).

Defining key terms

  • In parentheses -- "In these ... studies, [we have] the opportunity for 'thick description' (Geertz, 1973) of the texts ..." [Severino, 1993, p. 190]

    Note: Clifford Geertz is a social anthropologist who coined the term "thick description" as an anthropological technique. Here, Severino acknowledges that authorship by simple citation in parentheses
  • Use -- "To use Frederick Erickson's (1984) terms, the micropolitics of the ESL teaching/learning situation inevitably reflect the macropolitics of the world situation" (Severino, 1993, p. 183).

    Note: The terms being used here are "micropolitics" and "macropolitics"; you can choose not to put these terms in quotation marks (or to do so, as we have done here!).
  • Call --  "This stance, or, as Phelps (1989) calls it, the deep structure of response to writing, is determined by a complex of many factors ... " (Severino, 1993, p. 184).
    "To raise a different question, will these lessons in some way promote what E.D. Hirsch (1987) calls cultural literacy ?" (Flinders & Eisner, 1994, p. 351)

Note: Again, no quotation marks, but note also the different placement: one at the beginning, the other at the end of the sentence.

  • Characterize -- "... students from the wealthy and influential upper classes of their native countries - the educational and economic elite of the world, as Johns (1993) characterizes them " (Severino, 1993, p. 182)

Note: the page number should also have been given for what is clearly a direct quotation from Johns.

  • Term -- "In Hong Kong, the estimated 95% Cantonese-L1 population have what Giles [and] Johnson (1987, p. 72) term a positive ethnolinguistic identity ..." (Bruce, 1990, p. 10)

    Note: You can insert "what X (19??) calls/terms" in between any verb and its object without having to make any changes to the rest of the sentence. For example, "the aim is to promote cultural literacy" becomes: "the aim is to promote what Hirsch (1987) calls cultural literacy."

Examples adapted from the English Centre, HKU