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8. Use of literature in argumentation

BA Art History

In many writing situations you must be able to formulate your own findings and critically compare these to arguments or information from sources. Your text is successful when you can convince others of the legitimacy of your findings. It is, therefore, important to provide your reader with insights into your use of sources; how exactly did you incorporate the literature in your article? Because processing relevant literature is substantially different from copying (cutting and pasting parts of a text) the use of sources must be done with the utmost care.


  • Be conscious of how you treat the literature that you are using; be aware of what you are doing with the text and explicitly mention this in the text.

You can use a text because of:

  • The factual information it contains

  • The conclusions that the author draws

  • The sources or other authors that the author refers to

  • The writing style

  • The analysis of works of art

  • The examples used

  • The key terms

  • The method of research (how the author does what he or she does, what his or her thought process is, etc. You could adopt this, but you could also use it as a starting point to do the exact opposite if you do not agree with it).

  • The possible gaps in the text (what does the author fail to take into account which according to you does require attention?)

  • How the author structures his or her argumentation

Specify very clearly which aspects of the text you will be using and how. Will you, for instance, directly adopt the terminology, or will you be critical towards the terms and theories? 


  • If you use a term from an article, briefly summarise (in the sentence before or after) in which context that term was used in the article.

Never blindly adopt terms, but explain in your own words what they mean exactly. For sources that are especially important to your research, you should provide a longer introduction of that text.


  • Distinguish between texts that are essential to your argument (so texts that are referenced repeatedly) and texts that are only used for a single reference.

In the former case, mention the title of the article/book as well as the year. In the latter case, a reference to the source in the notes will suffice. For the key sources you should also briefly summarise the content of the publication.

  • Make clear what the author says and what you say.

Clearly punctuate to separate your sentences from those of the author’s. Or explicitly say that you will now continue with your own findings, after having discussed those of an author.


  • Make it clear when you take a quote from the original context and place it in an entirely different context.

Show that you are aware of the problems that this may cause. ​


  • Do not merely describe the methods you will use regarding the literature, but also the method in regard to the work of art.

Indicate whether you are discussing a work as an independent case study, in relation to the oeuvre of the artist, or in a different context. In addition, choose a point of view: are you focussing on the medium, the relation to the viewer, etc.?


  • Do not literally copy terms from a source, but explain in your own words what the term exactly entails.

So try not to quote the term, but rather appropriate it.


  • Do not let the work of art be an example of the text.

You are always looking for how the text provides insight into the work, or the other way around.


  • Do not treat the source as the Holy Grail or as an irrefutable fact, but critically engage with the text.

  • Do not use the text or the theory as an irrefutable fact, but show how your case study disproves or complements the text, etc.


  • Do not let the work of art be a mere application or illustration of a text by another author.

You are always looking for how a text provides insight into your case study, or is otherwise usable. It is about answering your own research questions. ​

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