Three approaches to intertextual writing are available to college instructors: mechanical, ethical, and rhetorical.

  • The mechanical approach, a staple of writing instruction, teaches the use of citation styles such as MLA or APA; methods of citing sources; and the conventions of quotation.
  • The ethical approach is primarily concerned with the character of individual writers and their adherence to community standards categorized as “academic integrity.” The great majority of source-based writing instruction attends to one or both of these approaches.
  • A third approach, rhetorical intertextuality, is overshadowed by the ethical concerns that currently permeate educational institutions. Rhetorical intertextuality does promote textual ethics, but in a positive way, through instruction in building meaning in a target text through collaboration with source texts. Rhetorical intertextuality brings the source texts themselves to life rather than merely mining them for information; it aims to engage the audience in a conversation with target text and source texts.

Drawing on Citation Project data, we advocate instruction in intertextual writing that hails students as authors, not transgressors. Rhetorical intertextuality can provide a positive frame for college instruction in intertextual writing, one that facilitates deep engagement with texts; intellectual approaches to paraphrasing and summarizing; and an emphasis on the rhetorical choices that writers make as they encounter and respond to the ideas of others. The objective of such instruction is a dialogic interface between writer, audience, and sources—a conversation. 

The first of several publications discussing this approach, “The Ethics of Teaching Rhetorical Intertextuality” (Rebecca Moore Howard and Sandra Jamieson) is forthcoming from the Journal of Academic Ethics.