attributing & reporting

In formal writing, attributive tags, phrases or sentences with reporting verbs, nouns and adjectives are used to attribute a reported clause to a subject:
  • According to X, fs [full sentence].
  • For X, fs.
  • X argues/suggests/denies/shows/overlooks/states that + fs.
  • As X argues/suggests/denies/shows/overlooks/states, fs.
  • X’s argument/suggestion/critique/proof/error/finding is that + fs.
  • It is clear/plain/probable/unlikely/false (from X’s argument/suggestion/critique/proof/error/finding, etc.) that + fs.
In attributive sentences, the reporting verbs can be used to suggest the strength of the (cited) author’s opinion, how correct you (the writer) thinks it is, or the simply the kind of action the author is doing (neutral). The table below is a breakdown of the most common reporting verbs in academic writing (based on Hyland 2001, 120-24).
N.b., The examples below use the following grammar shorthand:
  • np = noun phrase (e.g., “… the misunderstanding of anger by modern psychotherapists”)
  • fs = full sentence (i.e., sj + vb [+ obj/comp] e.g., “anger is a defensive reflex”
  • that + fs = a “that” clause or “reported” clause (e.g., “… that anger is a defensive reflex”)
  • if/whether + fs = a reporting clause used for questions/uncertainties (e.g., “… whether they should shout at their parents [or not]”
  • wh- + fs = a “wh-” clause (e.g., “… how anger can be controlled”)
  • inf. phr = infinitive phrase (e.g., “… to become angry”
  • with + np = prepositional phrase (e.g., “…with/against/about the concept of catharsis”)
The WRITER is reporting that, with respect to proposition p, the AUTHOR
… endorses p. … is correct.
  • agree (that + fs / with + np)
  • argue (that + fs / with/for/against + np)
  • claim (that + fs / np)
  • hold (that + fs / np)
  • recommend (that + fs / np)
  • think (that + fs / np)
  • demonstrate (that + fs / np)
  • develop (np)
  • explain (that + fs / np)
  • note (that + fs / np)
  • point out (that + fs / np)
  • show (that + fs / np)
… tentatively endorses p. … is incorrect.
  • believe (that + fs / in + np)
  • hypothesize (that + fs / np)
  • propose (that + fs / np)
  • speculate (that + fs)
  • suggest (that + fs / np)
  • suppose (that + fs)
  • avoid (np)
  • exaggerate  (np)
  • ignore (that + fs / np)
  • misunderstand (np)
  • not account for (np)
  • overlook (that + fs / np)
… disbelieves p. … is doing a (neutral) action.
  • challenge (np)
  • attack (np)
  • critique (np)
  • deny (that + fs / np)
  • disagree (that + fs / with + np)
  • question (if/whether + fs)
  • analyze (np)
  • compare (np with/to/against np)
  • define (np)
  • describe (np)
  • discuss (np)
  • find (np)
  • give (np)
  • identify (np)
  • mention (that + fs / np)
  • observe (that + fs / np)
  • state (that + fs / np)
  • summarise (np)

Note that:

1. by far the most common reporting verbs in academic writing are “neutral”  ones. In contrast, verbs to talk about author disbelief or to criticize or disagree with the cited author are quite rare!

2. English verbs follow different verb patterns, and that some of the reporting verbs:

  • must only be followed by a “that” clause, e.g., suppose (that + fs)
  • must only be followed by a noun or noun phrase, e.g., analyze (np)
  • can be followed either by a “that” clause or by a noun or noun phrase, e.g., overlook (that + fs / np)
  • can be followed either by a “that” clause or by a preposition + noun or noun phrase, e.g., agree (that + fs / with + np)
  • must be followed by some different pattern, e.g., question (if/whether + fs), compare (np with/to/against np), etc.

3. in formal texts, attribution comes before the quote / paraphrase:

  • Formal (as in academic texts): As Dr. Banner states, “You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.”
  • Informal (as in fiction writing): “You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry,” said Dr. Banner, menacingly.

4. when reporting in formal texts, it is unusual to drop the “that” in the reported clause:

  • “You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.”
  • (informal) “He said I wouldn’t like him when he’s angry!”
  • (formal) Dr. Banner insinuated that he was unpleasant to be around when enraged.

5. when reporting in academic contexts, shifts in tense and perspective and referencing style can all suggest your level of agreement with a statement or finding. Compare the level of wtriter agreement with the cited material in the following:

  1. (direct quote) As Banner claimed, “Gamma radiation has caused this dangerous mutation” (1974).
  2. (reported speech) Banner (1974) claimed that Gamma radiation had caused that dangerous mutation.
  3. (non-generalized report) Banner (1974) claimed that Gamma radiation causes dangerous mutations.
  4. (generalized report) Gamma radiation causes dangerous mutations (Banner 1974).
  5. (full paraphrase) A new study (Stark 2018) has suggested that Banner (1974) greatly exaggerated the causal role of Gamma radiation in human mutation.

In the examples 5a-e above, note that:

  • reports with verbs in past tenses + naming the author in the sentence (e.g., b, c) suggest more distance from / doubt about the finding
  • reports with verbs in present tenses + naming the author in the reference only (e.g., d) suggest more proximity to / agreement with the finding
  • reports with verbs in present perfect tenses (e.g., e) suggest ongoing or still relevant discussion about the finding


Hyland, Ken. 2001. “Activity and Evaluation: Reporting Practices in Academic Writing.” In Academic Discourse, edited by John Flowerdew, 115–30. London; New York: Routledge.