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Signal Phrases – Uses, Definition & Examples

Published by at October 17th, 2023 , Revised On October 17, 2023

In written content, from research papers to blog posts, clarity is one critical element that distinguishes quality writing from the rest. One of the most effective methods to introduce this harmony is by ensuring smooth transitions that guide the reader through the narrative. Understanding information literacy becomes crucial in this context, as it educates a writer about correctly using and attributing information. 

The ability to communicate ideas succinctly, ensuring that the reader is not left grappling with disjointed concepts or abrupt shifts in thought, can significantly elevate any piece of writing. One of the most effective methods to introduce this harmony is by ensuring smooth transitions that guide the reader through the narrative, much like signposts guiding travellers on a road trip.

Enter signal phrases. These handy tools are a significant aspect of how to integrate sources in written work.  By indicating where information originates and providing context, they ensure that readers are not only informed but also engaged. You can say that signal phrases function as the bridge between an author’s voice and the voices of those they cite, fostering a conversation that feels both authentic and well-structured.

Signal Phrase Definition

The term “signal phrases” can be dissected into two components: “signal” and “phrases.” As the name suggests, they act as signals, or indicators, within the writing. Think of them as flag bearers, announcing the arrival of information from an external source. The “phrase” component refers to the group of words that together perform this signalling function.

Signal phrases are introductory phrases that serve to incorporate external information or references into a piece of writing. They alert readers that the ensuing information is borrowed, offering a preamble to a quotation, paraphrase, or summary from another source. The art of paraphrasing in sources is as essential as direct quoting. More than just mere introductions, they provide context, setting the tone for the reader’s reception of the cited information.

How to Use a Signal Phrase in Different Types of Writing

Here is what role signal phrases play in different types of writing.

Academic Writing

  • In scholarly articles and research papers, the use of signal phrases is paramount. A cardinal rule in academia is to avoid plagiarism, and this is where source citing comes into play. By introducing experts or research findings and then citing them correctly, writers can avoid this pitfall.
  • A cardinal rule in academia is to avoid plagiarism. Signal phrases, when coupled with proper citations, ensure that readers know which ideas are the author’s and which are borrowed.
  • With dense information and complex ideas, academic writing can be challenging to navigate. Signal phrases guide the reader, providing them with context and aiding in comprehension.

Non-Academic Writing

  • Even in less formal settings, source evaluation is crucial. This is because, regardless of the formality of the content, incorporating credible and relevant sources boosts the writer’s credibility.
  • Non-academic writing often aims to engage readers in a conversation. Signal phrases can introduce different viewpoints, encouraging readers to consider multiple perspectives.
  • In storytelling or descriptive pieces, signal phrases can be used to provide background or historical context, ensuring the narrative is rich and well-rounded.

Purpose of a Signal Phrase

The use of signal phrases in writing can be likened to the art of seasoning in cooking. Just as the right blend of spices can elevate a dish, signal phrases enhance the flavour and texture of written content. But what exactly are the reasons that make them so indispensable? 

Credibility and Attribution

  • Giving Credit Where Due: In the world of writing, original ideas are as valuable as gold. When we borrow these “golden nuggets” from others, it’s not just ethical, but also respectful to acknowledge the original source. Signal phrases serve as the tip of the hat, recognising the contribution of the original author.
  • Building Trust with the Reader: By transparently showcasing where information is sourced from, writers not only credit the original authors but also demonstrate their diligence in source evaluation. This helps in establishing a solid foundation of trust with the readers.
  • Avoiding Plagiarism: Beyond just a breach of ethics, plagiarism can lead to severe consequences in academic and professional realms. Signal phrases, when used correctly, act as a protective shield, ensuring writers steer clear of unintentional plagiarism.

Flow and Coherence

  • Creating Seamless Transitions: Just as a skilled conductor ensures smooth transitions between musical notes, signal phrases guide readers from one idea to the next, ensuring a harmonious reading experience.
  • Providing Context: Instead of jarringly introducing a quote or reference, signal phrases set the stage. They provide readers with the necessary context, helping them understand the relevance of the upcoming information.
  • Enhancing Clarity: By indicating the source and purpose of the cited material, signal phrases assist readers in distinguishing between the writer’s thoughts and external references. This clarity prevents misunderstandings and confusion.

Variety in Writing

  • Breaking the Monotony: Repetitive structures and patterns can make writing sound monotonous. Signal phrases offer writers a palette of varied introductions, allowing for a dynamic and engaging narrative.
  • Introducing Multiple Voices: Signal phrases allow for the seamless incorporation of multiple viewpoints. By introducing diverse voices into the narrative, writers can create a richer, more multidimensional discourse.

Encouraging Thoughtful Engagement: With a mix of original content and external references, readers are encouraged to engage critically with the material. The variety stimulates thought, prompting readers to form opinions and perspectives.

The research done by our experts have:

  • Precision and Clarity
  • Zero Plagiarism
  • Authentic Sources

Signal Phrase Examples

Signal phrases come in various shapes and forms, suitable for diverse contexts and intentions. Here are some commonly used signal phrases, categorised based on their purpose:

Introducing a Source or Quotation

These phrases lay the groundwork for a direct quotation, paraphrase, or summary, notifying the reader of the incoming external reference. They often include the name of the author or source for clarity.

  • According to Dr. Jane Smith, …
  • As Professor Adams points out, …
  • In her seminal work, “The Dynamics of Change,” Thompson writes, …
  • As highlighted in The New York Times, …

Highlighting Agreement or Support

Writers use these signal phrases to emphasise concordance with an external reference, bolstering their own assertions or showcasing a consensus in the field.

  • Similarly, Johnson asserts, …
  • In agreement with this perspective, Martinez comments, …
  • Echoing these sentiments, the study conducted by Wallace and Lee indicates, …

Introducing Contrasting or Differing Views

Contrasting signal phrases introduce alternative perspectives or conflicting evidence. They alert the reader to a shift in viewpoint or a counter-argument to the previous statement.

  • On the other hand, Brown contends, …
  • Challenging this view, Dr. Patel argues, …
  • Contrary to popular belief, Jackson suggests, …
  • However, in a recent publication, Gomez offers a different perspective, stating, …

Highlighting a Point of Emphasis or Significance

  • Most importantly, Wilson notes, …
  • It is essential to understand, as Singh emphasises, …
  • Underlining the gravity of the situation, Clark mentions, …

Presenting Statistical or Empirical Data

  • Based on the latest findings from the National Health Institute, …
  • A recent survey conducted by Forbes revealed, …
  • As per the data gathered by the World Bank, …

Indicating Uncertainty or Potential Bias

These signal phrases introduce information that may be unverified, based on hearsay, or potentially biased. They act as cautionary flags, signalling readers to approach the upcoming information discerningly.

  • Reportedly, the committee has decided, …
  • Allegedly, the organisation was involved in, …
  • Rumour has it that …

Referring to Previous Discussions or Historical Context

  • Historically, as documented by White, …
  • Recalling earlier discussions on the topic, Barnes had stated, …
  • As previously mentioned by Davis, …

How to Properly Integrate Signal Phrases in Writing

Like any tool in the writer’s toolbox, the effectiveness of signal phrases depends on how aptly they’re used. Here is a guide on integrating signal phrases seamlessly and effectively in your writing:

Varied Usage

  • Overusing a particular phrase like “According to” can become monotonous and may make your writing seem unoriginal. Ensure that you vary your signal phrases to maintain reader engagement. For instance, alternate between “Smith argues,” “As Pérez posits,” and “Johnson observes.”
  • Depending on the context, alternate between introducing a source, expressing agreement, presenting contrasting views, and highlighting uncertainties. This variation ensures a rich, multidimensional narrative.

Appropriate Context

  • If you are introducing a counterargument, phrases like “On the other hand” or “Contrarily” are apt. But if you’re reinforcing your point with a supportive source, “Similarly” or “In agreement” would be more suitable.
  • The signal phrase should also match the tone of the source. For instance, a casual observation might be introduced with “Jones notes,” while a strong, controversial claim might warrant “Smith fervently argues.”

Punctuation and Formatting

  • Place a comma after the signal phrase when it is followed by a direct quote.

Example: Smith states, “The environment is of paramount importance.”

  • If the signal phrase interrupts a direct quote, use commas to bracket the phrase.
    • Example: “The best approach,” Johnson argues, “is through a collaborative effort.”
  • Typically, you do not need a comma if the signal phrase introduces a paraphrase or summary.
    • Example: According to Pérez, many startups fail within their first year.
  • If your signal phrase precedes a direct quote that’s a full sentence, place the punctuation inside the quotation marks. If the direct quote isn’t a full sentence, the punctuation comes after the citation (if applicable) and outside the quotation marks.
    • Full-sentence example: Lee suggests, “The city should invest more in public transportation.”
    • Fragment example: The results, labelled as “groundbreaking” by Dr. Kim, have changed the field.
  • The first word in a full-sentence quote should be capitalised. However, if you’re quoting a fragment, there’s typically no need to capitalise the first word unless it’s a proper noun.

Common Mistakes to Avoid With Signal Phrases

Signal phrases, while tremendously helpful, can also become pitfalls if not used correctly. As writers strive for clarity and credibility, it’s crucial to sidestep common errors related to signal phrases. Here are some frequent mistakes and how to avoid them:

Mismatching the Signal Phrase with the Content it Introduces

  • Problem: Using a signal phrase that suggests agreement, like “Similarly,” but then introducing content that presents a contrasting view.
  • Solution: Ensure that the tone and intention of the signal phrase match the content it precedes. Regularly reviewing and editing your work can help catch such inconsistencies.

Overusing a Particular Phrase Leading to Redundancy

  • Problem: Repeatedly relying on the same signal phrase, such as “According to,” makes the writing sound monotonous and may cause the reader to disengage.
  • Solution: Maintain a list of varied signal phrases and consciously rotate through them. Periodically, revisit sections of your writing to ensure diversity in your introductions.

Failing to Properly Cite After Using Signal Phrases and Citation Styles

  • Problem: Using a signal phrase to introduce information and then neglecting to provide a proper citation can lead to unintentional plagiarism. It can also leave readers wondering about the source of your information.
  • Solution: Always follow a signal phrase with the appropriate citation, whether it is an in-text parenthetical citation, a footnote, or another form. Familiarise yourself with the citation style you are using to ensure accuracy, and learn how to cite sources properly, be it APA, MLA, Chicago, or another format, to ensure accuracy.

Using Signal Phrases that Sound Uncertain Without Reason

  • Problem: Overusing phrases like “It is believed” or “Some say” can make your writing sound non-committal and vague.
  • Solution: While there is a place for such phrases, especially when discussing rumours or unconfirmed beliefs, it’s essential to use definitive language when the information is confirmed or when presenting your clear perspective.

Incorrect Punctuation Around Signal Phrases

  • Problem: Misplacing commas or other punctuation around signal phrases can confuse readers and disrupt the flow of the writing.
  • Solution: Remember basic rules, such as placing a comma after a signal phrase that introduces a direct quote. Always review and edit your work, keeping punctuation guidelines in mind.

Overloading With Signal Phrases

  • Problem: Using signal phrases for every piece of information, even when it is common knowledge or when consecutive sentences cite the same source, can be overkill.

Solution: Use discretion. While it is vital to credit sources, you do not need to signal every single reference, especially if it makes the writing feel cumbersome. If you have just mentioned a source, and the following sentence continues to discuss the same source, you may not need a new signal phrase.

Frequently Asked Questions

To use a signal phrase, introduce external information in your writing by embedding the source’s name or title, followed by verbs like “states,” “argues,” or “suggests.” This alerts readers to incoming quotes, summaries, or paraphrases, providing context and credit. Proper punctuation, typically a comma, often follows the phrase before the quoted material.

A signal phrase introduces quotations, paraphrases, or summaries in writing, indicating the source of the information. By using verbs like “states,” “argues,” or “notes,” these phrases provide context, attribute credit, and seamlessly integrate external references into the narrative. They help guide readers and enhance clarity, flow, and credibility.

Use a signal phrase when introducing quotations, paraphrases, or summaries from external sources in your writing. It attributes credit, provides context, and alerts readers to the origin of the information. Employing them enhances clarity, avoids abrupt transitions, and upholds ethical standards by clearly differentiating between your ideas and sourced content.

About Owen Ingram

Avatar for Owen IngramIngram is a dissertation specialist. He has a master's degree in data sciences. His research work aims to compare the various types of research methods used among academicians and researchers.

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