48 Summarizing, Quoting, and Paraphrasing

Lisa Ford and Christina Frasier

Learning Objectives

  • Identify expectations for relying on source material in academic essays.
  • Differentiate between summarizing, quoting, and paraphrasing
  • Identify when to quote and when to paraphrase


Quoting, Paraphrasing, and Avoiding Plagiarism

  • How to Summarize:  An Overview
  • How to Quote and Paraphrase:  An Overview
  • When to Quote, When to Paraphrase
Learning how to effectively quote and paraphrase research can be difficult and it certainly takes practice. Hopefully, your abilities to make good use of your research will improve as you work through the exercises in part two and three of The Process of Research Writing, not to mention as you take on other research writing experiences beyond this class.  The goal of this chapter is to introduce some basic strategies for summarizing, quoting and paraphrasing research in your writing and to explain how to avoid plagiarizing your research.

How to Summarize:  An Overview

A summary is a brief explanation of a longer text.  Some summaries, such as the ones that accompany annotated bibliographies, are very short, just a sentence or two.  Others are much longer, though summaries are always much shorter than the text being summarized in the first place.
Summaries of different lengths are useful in research writing because you often need to provide your readers with an explanation of the text you are discussing.  This is especially true when you are going to quote or paraphrase from a source.
Of course, the first step in writing a good summary is to do a thorough reading of the text you are going to summarize in the first place.  Beyond that important start, there are a few basic guidelines you should follow when you write summary material:
  • Stay “neutral” in your summarizing.  Summaries provide “just the facts” and are not the place where you offer your opinions about the text you are summarizing.  Save your opinions and evaluation of the evidence you are summarizing for other parts of your writing.
  • Don’t quote from what you are summarizing.  Summaries will be more useful to you and your colleagues if you write them in your own words.
  • Don’t “cut and paste” from database abstracts.  Many of the periodical indexes that are available as part of your library’s computer system include abstracts of articles.  Do no “cut” this abstract material and then “paste” it into your own annotated bibliography.  For one thing, this is plagiarism.  Second, “cutting and pasting” from the abstract defeats one of the purposes of writing summaries and creating an annotated bibliography in the first place, which is to help you understand and explain your research.

How to Quote and Paraphrase:  An Overview

Writers quote and paraphrase from research in order to support their points and to persuade their readers.  A quote or a paraphrase from a piece of evidence in support of a point answers the reader’s question, “says who?”
This is especially true in academic writing since scholarly readers are most persuaded by effective research and evidence.  For example, readers of an article about a new cancer medication published in a medical journal will be most interested in the scholar’s research and statistics that demonstrate the effectiveness of the treatment.  Conversely, they will not be as persuaded by emotional stories from individual patients about how a new cancer medication improved the quality of their lives.  While this appeal to emotion can be effective and is common in popular sources, these individual anecdotes do not carry the same sort of “scholarly” or scientific value as well-reasoned research and evidence.
Of course, your instructor is not expecting you to be an expert on the topic of your research paper.  While you might conduct some primary research, it’s a good bet that you’ll be relying on secondary sources such as books, articles, and information from websites to inform and persuade your readers.  You’ll present this research to your readers in the form of quotes and paraphrases.
A quote is a direct restatement of the exact words from the original source.  The general rule of thumb is any time you use three or more words as they appeared in the original source, you should treat it as a quote.  A paraphrase is a restatement of the information or point of the original source in your own words.
While quotes and paraphrases are different and should be used in different ways in your research writing (as the examples in this section suggest), they do have a number of things in common.  Both quotes and paraphrases should:
  • be “introduced” to the reader the first time you mention a source;
  • include an explanation of the evidence which explains to the reader why you think the evidence is important, especially if it is not apparent from the context of the quote or paraphrase; and
  • include a proper parenthetical citation of the source.
The method you should follow to properly quote or paraphrase depends on the style guide you are following in your academic writing.  The two most common style guides used in academic writing are the Modern Language Association (MLA), and the American Psychological Association (APA).  Your instructor will probably assign one of these styles before you begin working on your project, however, if he/she doesn’t mention this, be sure to ask.

When to Quote, When to Paraphrase

The real “art” to research writing is using quotes and paraphrases from evidence effectively in order to support your point.  The key to learning the art of using evidence from sources correctly is to understand the role format plays and the follow some basic guidelines that hold true for many professional formats. There are certain guidelines and suggestions, like the ones we offer in the previous section and the ones below.
But when all is said and done, the question of when to quote and when to paraphrase depends a great deal on the specific context of the writing and the effect you are trying to achieve.  Learning the best times to quote and paraphrase takes practice and experience.
In general, it is best to use a quote when:
  • The exact words of your source are important for the point you are trying to make.  This is especially true if you are quoting technical language, terms, or very specific word choices.
  • You want to highlight your agreement with the author’s words.  If you agree with the point the author of the evidence makes and you like their exact words, use them as a quote.
  • You want to highlight your disagreement with the author’s words.  In other words, you may sometimes want to use a direct quote to indicate exactly what it is you disagree about.  This might be particularly true when you are considering the antithetical positions in your research writing projects.
In general, it is best to paraphrase when:
  • There is no good reason to use a quote to refer to your evidence.  If the author’s exact words are not especially important to the point you are trying to make, you are usually better off paraphrasing the evidence.
  • You are trying to explain a particular piece of evidence in order to explain or interpret it in more detail.  This might be particularly true in writing projects like critiques.
  • You need to balance a direct quote in your writing.  You need to be careful about directly quoting your research too much because it can sometimes make for awkward and difficult to read prose.  So, one of the reasons to use a paraphrase instead of a quote is to create balance within your writing.
  • You are writing in APA format. In general, APA writing uses fewer quotes because the focus is on the substance of the evidence rather than how the original source states the evidence. Overall, MLA uses quoting more than APA.

Remember: No matter what format you are using and no matter whether you are paraphrasing or quoting–make sure to cite your evidence with a correctly constructed  parenthetical citation!


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From College to Career: A Handbook for Student Writers Copyright © by Lisa Ford and Christina Frasier is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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