Signal Phrases – Everything You Need to Know

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Signal-Phrases-Definition

Your audience can easily misunderstand the words or quotes you use in an article. Therefore, you must be clear when summarizing, quoting, or paraphrasing text.

In this article, we discuss the purpose of signal phrases, frequently asked questions (FAQs), how you can use them, and some examples you should be aware of.

Signal Phrases – In a Nutshell

  • Signal phrases are a great way to give more information on other people’s opinions and findings.
  • However, ensure you effectively use them to make your work more understandable for your readers to understand you easily.

Definition: Signal phrases

A signal phrase is a short expression that introduces a quote, paraphrase, or summary and indicates to readers that you’ve used an outside source.

Some general signal phrases include

  • according to
  • acknowledges or acknowledged
  • adds or added
  • addresses or addressed
  • argues or argued

On the other hand, some common signal phrases that show opinion or uncertainty include:

  • believes or believed
  • cautions or cautioned
  • claims or claimed
  • endorses or endorsed

How to use signal phrases?

You often include relevant quotes or arguments in essays: Signal phrases are ideal for making vital introductions. Include them at the end, beginning, or middle of your sentence, varying how you use them to create a natural flow to your writing.

Effective use of signal phrases means that you should consider including the following:

  • The reference’s name, i.e., a study or scholar(s)
  • A distinctive tag like “has argued” or “asserts that”
  • The idea or the quote itself
  • The author’s credentials and title of the reference (option)

Remember to consider your word choice to avoid misinterpreting the author. The signal phrases you choose show the author’s standpoint.

For example, you could state that:

  • In the groundbreaking work “The Hero with a Thousand Faces,” Joseph Campbell denies that an earlier myth is the root of all other variations of myths.

Instead of saying:

  • In the groundbreaking work “The Hero with a Thousand Faces,” Joseph Campbell admits an earlier myth is the root of all other variations of myths.

You can also use signal phrases to compare different arguments by using transition words1 like “however” or “although.”

For example:

  • Harold Bloom, the literary critic, criticizes all the theories connecting the pleasures of solitary reading to the public good. However, Marxist and feminist critics oppose this opinion.

Functions of signal phrases

Signal phrases can take many different forms and mean other things. These phrases have various functions that imply different perspectives on the text they’re framing.

Your choice of signal phrases tells your readers about the standpoint of the author you’re citing and, at times, your perspective.

Below is a table with some signal phrases and their functions:

Signal words or phrases Function Example sentence
Prepositional Your position is less definitive and more arguable. However, this standpoint doesn't show you taking any side in an existing debate. In 1918, historian Oswald Spengler claimed every culture to be a super-organism with a predictable lifespan.
More examples:
• Assumes
• Believes
• Claims
• Concludes
• Declares
• Emphasizes
• Proposes
• Suggests
Demonstrative You make a negative or positive statement that you can verify. The scientist Galileo Galilei claimed that the earth indeed rotated around the sun.
More examples:
• Proves
• Has disproven
• Confirms
• Displays
• Reveals
• Shows
Argumentative You take a stand against or for something and indicate that the debate is still ongoing. Allen Ginsberg contends the importance of having an artistic vision.
More examples:
• Argues
• Contends
• Denies
• Insists
• Maintains
Supportive You agree with whatever came before. Recent studies confirmsEinstein's general relativity theory.
More examples:
• Agrees
• Endorses
• Confirms
• Promotes
• Reinforces
• Supports
Conciliatory You agree that an argument or idea is valid and imply that other views may differ. In 1980, Foucault admitted that you could only exercise individual power in a field with limited possibilities; however, he adds that…
More examples:
• Acknowledges
• Admits
• Concedes
• Grants
Neutral You show the author's standpoint without taking any sides. Accordingto recent research, men are more prone to binge drink than women.
More examples:
• Discusses
• Analyses
• Reports
• Describes
• Explains
• Observes
• Reports
• Writes
• Notes
• Points out

Signal phrases in different citation styles – APA, MLA, and Chicago

Sign tense in signal phrases usually varies depending on your citation style.2 A signal phrase with a verb must adhere to the chosen style, but other terms like “in the words of” or “according to” remains intact regardless of the citation style.3

  • In APA Style, you use the present perfect tense or past tense.
  • While in MLA and Chicago, you use the present tense.

Examples of signal phrases

Here are some examples that show the incorrect and correct uses of phrases in different citation styles:

APA Style MLA Style Chicago Style
The incorrect signal phrase used in APA Style:


Pollan observes, "Americans today are having a national conversation about food and agriculture that would've been impossible to imagine even a few years ago" (p. 29).

The incorrect signal phrase used in MLA Style:

Pollan continued, "But the national conversation unfolding around the subject of food and farming really began in the 1970s" (29).


The incorrect signal phrase used in Chicago Style

Smith confirmed that meditation has significant mental and physical value.

The correct signal phrase used in APA Style:


In 2009, Pollan observed that "Americans today are having a national conversation about food and agriculture that would've been impossible to imagine even a few years ago" (p. 29).
The correct signal phrase used in MLA Style:

Pollan states, "But the national conversation unfolding around the subject of food and farming really began in the 1970s" (29).
The correct signal phrase used in Chicago Style:

Smith confirms that meditation has significant mental and physical value.

FAQs

Signal phrases should have:

  1. The context in which you’re writing
  2. The flow of your sentences
  3. The citation of the material you’re quoting

When you use signal phrases, it ensures you:

  • Establish the source’s credentials
  • Avoid plagiarism4
  • Position your work regarding other scholars
  • Show the depth of your understanding and reading in a field

Signal phrases are beneficial because they allow you to design various sources concerning your arguments.

For example:

  • Terms like “has revealed or “has shown” demonstrate that you agree.
  • Phrases like “proposes” or “has claimed” are open for counterarguments.

Sources

1 SmartWords. “Transitional Words.” Accessed November 11, 2022. https://www.smart-words.org/linking-words/transition-words.html.

2 Plagiarism. “What is Citation.” May 18, 2017. https://www.plagiarism.org/article/what-is-citation

3 Esl Grammer. “Verb Tenses: Past Tense, Present Tense & Future Tense with Examples.” May 13, 2019. https://eslgrammar.org/verb-tenses/.

4 Plagiarism. “Peventing Plagiarism when Writing.” August 20,2021. https://www.plagiarism.org/article/preventing-plagiarism-when-writing.