Effective Technical Writing in the Information Age

Integrating Source Material


In technical writing, integrating source material is a process of selection, extraction, and recontextualizing. Technical writing rarely relies on direct quotations, because the author’s exact wording is usually not as relevant as the data or information reported. Suppose you are writing a technical paper on mine safety, for example, and you encounter this material:

Since 1870, 121,000 mining deaths have occurred; 1.7 million lost-time injuries have been recorded since 1930. Historically, all of this has contributed to the public’s negative perception of mining safety and even helped to fuel the NIMBY mentality.

It is highly unlikely that you would quote these sentences directly, especially because some of the material is data and some is interpretation. The exact wording does not matter, but some of the material does, so your job is to extract only the relevant information, use it, and cite the source.

Similarly, there is no good reason to quote this sentence directly:

Acid mine drainage has been and continues to be a major problem generated by the mining of coal in Pennsylvania and elsewhere in the world.

In this instance, the information is so general that it need not even be cited, but neither should the sentence itself just be plucked out and plopped into your paper. Ideally, the information from the above sentence would simply end up as part of a sentence of your own creation such as this one:

This paper explores the three chief reasons why acid mine drainage continues to be a major environmental problem in Pennsylvania.

In this example, note how the relevant information is extracted from the source, without the need for citation, and note how the writer creates new context for the information.