Using Sources to Construct Arguments

As you know by now, academic writing is a way of entering a conversation. Since the other people in the conversation have already spent a lot of time thinking about your  topic, this can be intimidating when you’re just getting started.


There are only two ways that this conversation can go, with varying levels of nuance: either you agree, or you disagree.

We’re going to walk you through these basic patterns using the metaphor of a sandcastle. The sandcastle metaphor gives you a way to visualize these patterns, making your job a lot easier. Plus, we’d rather be at the beach.

sandcastle color_2
So, we’re going to think of each source as a sandcastle you’ve encountered on the beach. Do you think this castle is well-constructed, or is it going to be knocked over by a big wave? Whenever you read a secondary source, you want to know whether you fundamentally agree or disagree with what the author is saying.

The sandcastle metaphor in this section is adapted from Sonja Plesset’s Harvard Writing Program class handout, “Writing a Multi-Source Essay (With Special Sandbox Strategies).”