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Lesson 10: How to Write a Signal Phrase

A signal phrase alerts your reader that you are about to present evidence from another source. A typical signal phrase includes:

1) The full name of your source.
2) An appositive phrase which identifies his or her occupation.
3) A verb or phrase that is roughly equivalent to “says”.

Here are some examples:

The phrase "according to" is also very useful. When using "according to", do not use a verb like "says".

Appositive Phrases

An appositive phrase is a noun phrase that typically describes the occupation of the person who is the source of your information.

Study these examples:

In the examples above, the phrase "the president of the United States" is an appositive for Donald Trump. Since this particular appositive is long (six words), we have placed it after the name, Donald Trump.

In the second example, the word "President" is also an appositive for Donald Trump; however, in this case, the appositive is short (only one word), so we have placed it before the name, Donald Trump. ("President" is also a title, so we have capitalized it).

Now notice the punctuation:

In the first example, we have placed the appositive between parenthetical commas. (That is, we have placed a comma before and after the appostive).

In the second example, we have not placed a comma between "President" and "Donald Trump."

Here is the general rule:

Here are some more examples of short appostives that come before the name (and therefore are not separated from the name by a comma):

Often you won’t really know the “occupation” of your witness. You may not even know her name. Still, you have to provide some information about your source. Study the following examples:

Check Your Understanding:

  1. Should the appositive come before or after the name?
  2. How is the punctuation different, depending on whether the appositive comes before or after the name?
  3. Write an example of a signal phrase in which the appositive comes after the name.
  4. Write an example of a signal phrase in which the appositive comes before the name.

Instructions for the Quiz

The quiz consists of sentences that start with signal phrases. The appositive in each sentence is highlighted. Your job is to decide whether the appositive phrase is punctuated correctly or not. Your choices are: