Writing with Sources: Forwarding as a Metaphor for Textual Activity

Daniel Emery

While students are often quite proficient in summarizing texts, some students struggle to make the subsequent move to establish relationships between texts or build their own claims with textual evidence. In his book Rewriting: How to Do Things with Texts, Joseph Harris recommends the metaphor of forwarding as a way to help students to begin those conversations. Harris introduces students to four modes of forwarding: illustrating, authorizing, borrowing, and extending, differentiated by the function that the source material will play in a student writer’s document. Each mode can help students consider the relationships between what they have read, what they intend to write, and the audience to whom they are writing (whom Harris calls “the third reader”).


Illustrating: using sources for examples

The first strategy, illustrating, uses textual evidence to establish examples of a central claim. Employing a combination of summary, paraphrase, or quotation, the student writer will employ source text for independent evidence of an event or phenomena. In the simplest form of illustration, the source text provides detail and context for an assertion:

A good example of the distinction between performative knowledge and proactive knowledge can be seen in a recent study of medical students in which contrasting forms of understanding were clearly identified, with equivalent differences in approach (Fyrenius, Wirell, and Silen, 2007).

Illustration strategies work in almost any component of a student document. Assignments that ask students to describe or document typically require the most illustration, where the cited material might follow a student-generated topic sentence.

Authorizing: using sources to establish significance or importance

While less common than illustrating, authorizing is the mode of forwarding that is perhaps most characteristic of academic writing. In such cases, student writers rely on the presence of existing expert judgment to suggest the significance, relevance, or importance of an event or phenomenon. While authorization might occur anywhere in a document, this strategy is a staple of academic introductions.

Perry’s pioneering research in the 1950s and 1960s (e.g., Perry, 1968) used annual interviews to show that university students’ conceptions of the nature of knowledge developed over time.

Assignments that ask students to establish context or provide justification of claims will most often rely on authorization as a strategy for incorporating sources. Authorizing sentences can appear as topic sentences of paragraphs.

Borrowing: using ideas or vocabulary from a source to think through a new context

While all citation indicates the use of another writer’s text, borrowing specifically refers to the strategy of incorporating the ideas or text from one author to use their explanatory power in a new context. Borrowing strategies are often characteristic of a writer’s efforts to apply an existing theory, term, or strategy of sense-making to a new context or example:

I take this idea from Pierre Bourdieu, who theorized habitus as ways that people are marked and read, while I’ve used it elsewhere to explain linguistic, bodily, and performative aspects of the racialized judging of language (Inoue 42–51).

While the previous example uses the first-person construction to call attention to the author’s intention to borrow a concept, borrowing can occur in a variety of constructions and points of view.  Assignments that ask students to apply frames, tools, or formulae will often incorporate explicit borrowing strategies.

Extending: adapting a source’s ideas or vocabulary with one’s own spin

Extending is the strategy most associated with advanced academic writing, as it positions the writer’s argument as a step beyond an existing understanding to the creation of new knowledge. For undergraduate students, it may be important to distinguish between new knowledge at the level of field or discipline and new knowledge as students’ revised understanding of what is known.

The purpose of the present study, then, was thus to elaborate on previous discourse synthesis studies… (Ackerman, 1989; Sullivan and Hall, 1997) by providing a more comprehensive framework of instruction including both strategies and assessment criteria relevant to the performance of a task.

While the previous example uses the third person, writers will often use first-person assertions like “I will argue…” or “we will contend…” to highlight the specific differences between their novel claims and the writing from which they extend.

Important considerations for explaining forwarding to students

  •         Forwarding is less about the form or content of a particular source statement than the function that a student writer wishes the textual evidence to serve.
  •         A single academic article could provide material for any or all of these strategies.
  •         Exemplars of disciplinary texts that use these strategies will help students become familiar with your field’s conventions


Harris, J. (2006). Rewriting. How to do things with texts. Logan, UT: Utah State University Press.

University of Manchester. Academic Phrase Bank.

Further Support

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