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Do Your Own » Help With Signal Phrases

When you use borrowed material in a paper— by summary, paraphrase, or direct quotation — you'll often use a signal phrase to introduce the material. Signal phrases help the reader understand where your ideas end and someone else's begin.

Here are a few examples of signal phrases:

  • Many considered Robertson's wife a meek, uncomplicated person, but in the latest biography of the author, Dietrich Mahkler contends that Miriam was the real force behind the couple's creative partnership.

  • Richard Bedford rejects the notion that Irving Berlin's music changed dramatically during this period and suggests that the use of the colloquial is present even in Berlin's earliest compositions.

  • "The Hippodrome, by virtue of its size and economical prices, seemed a microcosmic representation of the community at large," writes William Wood Register in his essay, New York's Gigantic Toy.

  • According to Gene Shalit, Marlene Dietrich is one of the supreme theatrical stars of the 20th century.

The verb in the signal phrase is often very important because it can give the reader clues about the source's tone and intent. The most common verbs in signal phrases are notes, says, states and writes. These are okay, but because they get used so often, they can be a little boring. Also, they don't tell the reader very much about the source's tone or intent. Here are some other verbs that say more:

If your source is arguing a position, you might want to use verbs like:
contends, claims, argues, asserts.
If your source is contesting a fact or position, you might want to use verbs like:
denies, disputes, refutes, or rejects.
And, here are a few others:
grants, suggests, holds, concludes, comments, and illustrates.
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