Have you ever heard the expression “Two heads are better than one”?

Cerberus with three heads

Source: File:Héraldique meuble Cerbère.svg, Tretinville, Wikimedia Commons

What about three heads? That’s how many heads Cerberus had. Cerberus was the dog that guarded the underground in Greek mythology, a dog you wouldn’t want to mess with. Did those three heads make him a more powerful guard dog than a dog with only one head? Hercules certainly thought so when he was given the task (thought to be impossible) of capturing Cerberus and dragging him out of the underworld and up to the land of the living.

No matter how many heads we are talking about, multiple heads make a guard dog more powerful. Multiple heads won’t just help a guard dog; they can also help a writer. Using multiple heads can make you a more powerful writer. What are we talking about, though? You can’t just grow a couple more heads. No, but you can use other people’s brains by using their ideas in your writing. If you only use one person’s ideas, you are not using all the power you could. Why not use the ideas of two or three people instead of just one?

Let’s bring this lesson back from the Greek land of monsters to our familiar world. We’ll forget about Cerberus for a while and think about getting a new puppy, hopefully a puppy with just one head. Like most puppies, this new puppy has to be housetrained. Do you know what to do to housetrain a puppy? Maybe you have some ideas, but it wouldn’t hurt to also seek out some ideas from the heads of other people who have written about this. It will be best if you can make use of ideas from two or three sources rather than just one.

Since we are imagining that you are getting a new puppy, let’s also imagine that you have been asked to write an expository paper by combining ideas from several sources. In this paper, you will put together, or synthesize, the ideas from three sources so you are using all three “heads” at the same time.


Looking at Sources

Puppy on the lawn

In this lesson, we are going to use housetraining advice from three sources: the websites of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), Cesar Millan, and the American Kennel Club.

The first information comes from the HSUS. We looked at the website and made notes of information that seemed important. We didn’t copy the notes word for word from the website; instead, we paraphrased them. This means we used our own words instead of the words on the website.​

Below are three ideas we found on this site about housetraining a puppy. Click the arrow below the slide to advance to the next slide.

Our second source is the website of Cesar Millan, a well-known dog authority. Here’s what we learned. (Remember to click the arrow under the slides to see what we learned!)

The third set of ideas come from the American Kennel Club.

Images used in this section:

Source: puppy-puppies-cute-bulldog-1785772, kim_hester, Pixabay

Organizing the Information: Creating Subtopics

Puppy on the lawn

We have a lot of information now, but how can we organize it?

You might have noticed that some advice is repeated (in different words) by two or, in some cases, all three sources. If all the sources agree about something, it must be important, so we want to be able to mention this in our paper. If we can divide our main topic into subtopics and write about one subtopic at a time, we can more easily write that “All three sources agree that . . .” or “This is the only source that made the point that . . .”

To create subtopics, we need to look through the advice we have from the three sources and find categories. We can think of this as sorting things into baskets. Which ideas would go into the same basket, and what would the labels be for each of the baskets?

The first advice from the HSUS is to take a puppy outside every two hours.

We could label it Every Two Hours, but that label is too specific.

We could label it Teaching a Puppy Not to Relieve Itself in the House, but since almost all of our ideas will fit in that basket, that label is too general.

We need something in between: a label that is not too specific and not too general. How about When to Take the Puppy Outside? This will be the label for our first basket.

bucket with label of 'When to Take the Puppy Outside'

The next idea from the HSUS is about where to take the puppy when it goes outside. There is another idea about this on our list, so we know we will have at least two ideas to put in this basket. We will make Finding a Spot our second label.

bucket with label of 'Finding a spot'

What’s left? Let’s look at the next idea: Give your puppy a reward after it uses the bathroom outdoors. Our next label can be Rewards.

bucket with label of 'Rewards'

Let’s try filling these labeled baskets to see if all our ideas fit. In the exercise below, choose the basket label that best fits each idea. (Notice that we included initials of the sources—Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), CM (Cesar Millan), and KC (Kennel Club)—so we can refer to the sources when we write about each idea.) Don't forget to click on the arrow to advance to the items in the exercise.

The ideas in each of these baskets fit together. All the ideas in Basket 1 are about when to take the puppy out. In Basket 2, they concern finding a spot, and every idea in Basket 3 is about rewards. Can you see that each of the baskets can be a paragraph? Your topic sentence for each paragraph will be a restatement of the basket label.

You might also notice that the paragraphs are arranged in a logical order: first you take the puppy out; then you find a place; after the puppy relieves itself, you give it a reward.

By sorting the ideas into baskets, we have set up the basic organization of the paper.

Images used in this section:

Source: labrador-[]-puppy-1369502, benniejonasson, Pixabay

Source: trash-can-garbage-can-waste-basket-23653, Clikr-Free_Vector-Images, Pixabay

Giving Credit

Now we have subsections for our paper. As we write, we are going to have to give credit to the sources of the ideas. The words that do this are called a signal phrase.

Look at the example below:

The note:   The source:
Take a puppy outside every two hours.   Humane Society of the United States
  source + verb = signal phrase:  
  The Humane Society of the United States says  

puppy looking attentive

Adding the signal phrase to the information in the note, we get this sentence:

The Humane Society of the United States says that puppies should be taken outside every two hours.

Did you notice that there are no quotation marks around the idea from the Humane Society of the United States?

The reason there are no quotation marks around this idea is that it is not a direct quotation. Remember that we were using paraphrases of the ideas from our sources. This means that this is a statement in our own words, not the words of the HSUS author.

Images used in this section:

Source: dog-puppy-pet-animal-cute-954520, SCAPIN, Pixabay

Model Paper

puppy looking attentive

What’s left to do? We have a lot of notes to put into our paper, we have them divided into subtopics that can become paragraphs, and we have arranged them in a logical order. What more is needed?

Well, what we need is our own contribution to this paper. We will need to start off with an introduction that tells our readers what we are going to be giving information about and add a conclusion that highlights the importance of the advice we have reported.

Source: rottweiler-puppy-dog-dogs-cute-1785760, kim_hester, Pixabay

Look at the model paper that follows and identify which sentences match each of the essay parts:

Getting Smart about Housetraining

1. Puppies are cute. 2. There is no doubt about that. 3. Bringing a new puppy into the family is always an exciting experience. 4. Who doesn’t love a new puppy? 5. Actually, there is a time when you might not love having a new puppy around. 6. People who are excited about a new puppy in the family are sometimes dismayed when they find the puppy has to be housetrained. 7. Housetraining a puppy doesn’t have to be difficult, although there is no denying that it will take some time and some effort. 8. There is a lot of good advice about how best to housetrain a dog or puppy. 9. Three good sources of information are the websites of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), Cesar Millan, and the American Kennel Club.

10. One of the ideas that all three sources agree on is that a puppy should be taken outside frequently. 11. Cesar Millan tells us that puppies will have to go outside very soon after they eat. 12. As soon as possible is best, but at least within 30 minutes. 13. Millan’s website explains that since puppies have such good digestive tracts, they will need to relieve themselves very soon after eating or drinking. 14. The Kennel Club’s website adds to this idea the fact that along with such efficient digestion, puppies have very small bladders. 15. That means they can’t go very long without a restroom break. 16. The Kennel Club website adds a list of other times when it is very likely that a puppy will need to go outside. 17. The times listed on the website include after waking up in the morning, after waking up from a nap, before going to sleep at night, after exercise or playing with a chew toy, and, of course, after eating and drinking. 18. According to the Kennel Club, the more chances you give your puppy to do the right thing by going to the bathroom outdoors, the sooner the puppy will learn to cooperate and do what you expect. 19. That only makes sense. 20. Even human beings learn better when they know what is expected.

21. The three sources also agree that picking a particular spot for the puppy to relieve itself is a helpful idea. 22. Cesar Milan explains that the puppy will be able to tell that this is a spot for going to the bathroom because the puppy will smell that it has used this spot before. 23. He also adds that it is important to take the puppy to a spot where it feels safe. 24. The HSUS is in agreement and cautions that it’s important for owners not to let the puppy relieve itself just any place. 25. There should be a specific place for the puppy’s bathroom.

26. Once the puppy has learned that its bathroom is outside and in a particular place, the puppy needs to be rewarded. 27. The Kennel Club, Cesar Millan, and the HSUS all say that every time the puppy relieves itself outside, you should give the puppy a treat or at least an encouraging pat. 28. The reward should be immediate, not after you go back in the house, according to the HSUS. 29. This will help the puppy know that it is doing what you want it to do. 30. This will speed up the housebreaking process.

31. Following these ideas about housetraining, you will be able to spend more time watching your puppy do cute puppy things like chasing a ball or wanting to be petted or just being a puppy. 32. Also, you will spend less time being angry at the puppy for just doing what it has to do.

Now, identify the parts of this model text by selecting the correct responses in the exercise below. Remember to click on the arrow under each exercise to advance to the next item.

There is no reason to stop at three sources. If you want even more power in your writing, you can include more than three. After all, Cerberus was no match for the Hydra, the monster that waited on a cliff for Ulysses’ boat to sail past so it could reach down with one of its heads and snatch a sailor.

Learn to synthesize ideas from multiple sources in your writing, and you’ll be a writer with “monster” power.

Hydra with nine heads

Source: Hydra,



Bovsun, M. (2015, November 2). How to potty train a puppy, a comprehensive guide to success. Retrieved from the American Kennel Club website articles/how-to-potty-train-a-puppy/

How to housetrain your dog or puppy. (n.d.). Retrieved from the Humane Society of the United States website

Millan, C. (n.d.). Housebreaking your puppy: Do’s and don’ts. Cesar’s Way: Achieving Balance and Harmony. Retrieved from