Signal Phrases


Writing your first essay in English 1A can be daunting. Many of us have never taken on a project that big until now... One resource that will ease your stress is learning the rules of signal phrases.


What is a signal phrase?

A signal phrase is an introduction before a quote. When writing a paper in English, and it comes time to use the first source, we may not know how to introduce it. That's where signal phrases come in. instead of just dropping a quote into the essay with no explanation of where it came from or who wrote/said it, we need to add a signal phrase with a few critical pieces of information.


What is in a signal phrase?


A signal phrase contains three major parts.

The first is the title of the source. Whether quoting a book, literary journal, or poem, you must include the title of the source document.


The second part of a signal phrase is the author's name. You have to include who said or wrote the quote to appropriately credit the author.

The third part in a correct signal phrase must contain proper MLA format. This means putting the document title in quotes or italics, capitalizing the title and author name correctly, and following the rules of first and second mention.


Remember that big works like books and movie titles go in italics, and smaller works like articles or poems titles go in quotations.


What is first and second mention?


The first and second mention is a rule to follow when implementing signal phrases. First mention means it's the first time you mention the source and its author in your essay. The first time you write that information, you want to give it a formal introduction. That means you must use the author's first AND last name and the source's FULL title.


Second mention means that you have already used first mention in your essay. Once you have formally introduced the author and source, you don't need to restate all that information over again, so instead, we use second mention. Second mention contains only the author's last name and the short title of the source.


Remember never to refer to the author only by their first name.


Incorrect: Ernest writes, "There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed."


Correct: Hemmingway writes, "There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed."


Here are some examples of correct signal phrases that include all three elements


First mention:

In Educated: A Memoir, Tara Westover writes, "It takes an enormous amount of patience to read things without a proper understanding."


"Higher Learning," written by Carla Rivera, states that "Inmates who participated in educational programs were 43% less likely to return to prison."


Virginia Woolf writes in "Mark On the Wall," "Oh! dear me, the mystery of life! The inaccuracy of thought! The ignorance of humanity!"


Second Mention:

In Educated, Westover writes, "It takes an enormous amount of patience to read things without a proper understanding."


In "Higher Learning," Rivera states, "Inmates who participated in educational programs were 43% less likely to return to prison."


Woolf writes, "Oh! dear me, the mystery of life! The inaccuracy of thought! The ignorance of humanity!"

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