New College Writing Program

Integrating Other Writer's Work: Attributive Tags

Also called “signal phrases,” attributive tags help you integrate what you’ve read into what you’re writing. These "tags" allow you to give credit to the work of others and to let readers know how and where your writing builds on that work. You see them all the time. For example:

"Often those who know the most about a particular topic are among the least effective at explaining it. Greer and Johnson refer to this phenomenon as an “expert blind spot'" in their article, "When Knowing Interferes: Expert Knowelege and Classroom Communication." 

And another example:
According to Wallenstein, educational psychologists overwhelmingly agree that traumatic events disrupt learning long after the fact (224).

Such phrases are simple enough, but they do important rheotrical work. They provide connective tissue between your thinking and writing and that of others. This helps your readers follow your reasoning and demonstrates that you have done your work as a researcher. Also, your readers may now look for Greer and Johnson or Wallenstein on your bibliography or works cited, so that they can get the full reference, and read these sources in full if they are so inclined. Attributive tags thus help us uphold an important value in research, that is, helpfully sharing information.  

Attributive tags can be very simple, including only the author or authors' name and a verb or verb phrase:

"Evoking his sense of despair as a child, Frederick Douglass recalls "the thought of being a slave for life" (31) 

Here is an example of how an attributive tag can be used to give a more nuanced sense of another writer's thinking:  

Frederick Douglass contends that the cruelty of slavery must be learned, writing of his former owner, “It was at at least necessary for her to have some training in the exercise of irresponsible power, to make her equal to the task of treating me as though I were a brute.”

The verb contends attributes the quoted passage to Douglass. The long phrase offers more specific detail about the importance of the quoted passage: Frederick Douglass contends that the cruelty of slavery must be learned, writing of his former owner, "... 

Here is a list of some useful attributive tags:

According to

Writes
Reports
Asserts
Compares
Observes
Confirms
Declares
Denies
Reasons
Argues
Refutes
Suggests
Emphasizes
Underscores
Addresses
Rejects

Practice integrating other writer’s work into your own writing with attributive tags by going to this Exercise.

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