Quoting means using exact words taken from another author/source.
Paraphrasing means restating ideas from an outside source in precise detail, using your own words.
Summarizing means restating major ideas or conclusions from an outside source as concisely as possible in your own words.
Guidelines for Quoting Sources
Quoting a source means taking exact words from that source and using them in your own writing.
Any time you quote another author, you need to format the quote in a way that makes it absolutely clear where the words taken from your source begin and end. This is usually accomplished by putting quotation marks around the other author’s words, as in this example:
The opening words of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, “Four score and seven years ago,” are so famous that Google Docs is programmed to autofill them as soon as one types the phrase “four score.”
It’s essential to use quotation marks any time you include words from an author in your own writing, even if the quotation is just a word or two long. There’s only one significant exception to this rule: with longer quotations, it’s sometimes appropriate to set the author’s words off in a block quote. For example:
In the opening of the Gettysburg Address, Lincoln places the end of the Civil War into the broader context of American History,
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.
Some documentation systems still require writers to use quotation marks for block quotes, but others, such as MLA Style, do not require this.
Most formal documentation systems require writers to include some kind of indicator at the end of each quotation, usually a parenthetical note or a footnote, that tells readers exactly where those words came from. We haven’t included such an indicator in the examples above because the source is clearly identified before the quote, and we consulted an online version of the Gettysburg Address, so there are no page numbers to cite. In such situations, MLA Style does not require a parenthetical note, but this might change in a formal class setting, depending on your instructor’s preferences and the documentation system they wish you to use.
Guidelines for Paraphrasing Sources
Paraphrasing a source means restating ideas from that source fully, in precise detail, using your own words. Paraphrasing is useful when you want to explore or engage the content of your source at length, but for some reason the original language would be difficult for your readers to understand. This might happen, for example, if your source includes a great deal of discipline-specific terminology and you’re writing to a general audience, or if the grammar of the original makes it difficult to integrate the author’s words coherently into your writing.
As with quotations, it’s important to let your readers know exactly when you begin and end a paraphrase. This can usually be accomplished by including a clear transition at the beginning of the paraphrase and a parenthetical note at the end. (See Example 2a below)
A good paraphrase will usually take roughly the same number of words as the original author did to express the same points. However, since a paraphrase is technically your writing, you cannot use words or phrases that come directly from your source. Thus, to write a paraphrase, you need to find a way to capture the complete meaning of your original source, using exclusively your own words.
There are only two significant exceptions to this rule, and both relate to the use of terminology:
Exception 1: When, in the passage you’re paraphrasing, an author uses specific terminology that is common and easily recognizable to your readers, and rephrasing it would alter the meaning of a passage (e.g. referring to a correlation as “statistically significant”), then it’s generally acceptable to use the author’s terminology in your paraphrase without placing it in quotation marks.
Exception 2: When, in the passage you’re paraphrasing, an author uses specific terminology of their own invention that it’s important for your readers to know or that it would be difficult to paraphrase without using, you can use the original author’s term in your paraphrase. Depending on the citation system you’re using and the preferences of your instructor, you may or may not need to put quotation marks around these terms the first time you use them. Either way, though, it should be absolutely clear from the context of your writing when you introduce a term from another author’s writing. (See Example 2b below)
Guidelines for Summarizing Sources
Summarizing means concisely restating the major ideas from a source in your own words. A good summary will convey the ideas from the source in as few words as possible without distorting those ideas or leaving out crucial information from the original context. Summaries are useful when you want to introduce substantial ideas or conclusions from another author into your own writing, but you don’t intend to engage those ideas or conclusions in depth.
Summaries generally present less of a challenge for writers than paraphrases, because they do not require you to restate the details and nuances of the original author’s ideas. However, writing summaries does create a certain amount of responsibility, as you’ll need to decide which ideas from your source should be included in your summary and which ideas can be left out. To be effective, a summary needs to present the source’s ideas in a way that serves the piece you are writing. To be ethical, though, a summary also needs to present these ideas without distorting or altering the original’s author’s meaning or leaving out essential pieces of context.
Once again, it’s essential for a writer to indicate when a summary begins and ends, as well as to clearly identify the source being summarized. The methods for this are the same as with a paraphrase: include a clear transition at the beginning of the summary and either a notation or another clear transition at the end. (See Example 3a below.)
The rules for using terminology in a summary are the same as with a paraphrase: Whenever possible, a summary should be written entirely with your own words. However, if an author uses common terminology that is integral to the ideas you’re summarizing and that you anticipate your readers will be familiar with, it’s okay to use those terms in your summary without quotation marks. Conversely, when an author uses terms of their own invention that are integral to the ideas you’re summarizing, then you may use those terms as well, as long as you clearly indicate with your language (and, if your instructor requires it, with quotation marks) which terms come directly from your author.
Examples and Common Mistakes
Note: We’ve alternated between MLA and APA styles in the examples below because these are two of the most common documentation systems used in academic writing and also the easiest to reproduce on a webpage. They are far from the only systems, though, so make sure to follow the rules for the citation system assigned by your instructor for a given assignment.
“As efforts are focused on curbing the spread of COVID-19, essential services such as access to sexual and reproductive health services have been disrupted. According to preliminary data, in Zimbabwe, the number of caesarean sections performed decreased by 42% between January and April 2020 compared with the same period in 2019. The number of live births in health facilities fell by 21%, while new clients on combined birth control pills dropped by 90%. In Burundi, initial statistics show that births with skilled attendants fell to 4749 in April 2020 from 30, 826 in April 2019.”From the article “WHO Concerned Over COVID-19 Impact on Women, Girls in Africa,” published by the World Health Organization on June 18, 2020.
Example 1a: Appropriate Quotation (MLA Style)
The COVID-19 pandemic significantly affected reproductive health care in parts of Africa. For example, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), “in Zimbabwe, the number of caesarean sections performed decreased by 42% between January and April 2020 compared with the same period in 2019. The number of live births in health facilities fell by 21%, while new clients on combined birth control pills dropped by 90%.”
In the paragraph above, the author clearly indicates when their ideas end and the quote begins. Note that, since they identify the source of the quote beforehand and this is an online source with no page numbers, MLA style does not require any kind of parenthetical note at the end of the quotation.
Example 1b: Appropriate Quotation (APA Style)
In Africa, the COVID-19 pandemic made it more difficult for many women to access basic medical care. The World Health Organization noted on their website in June of 2020, “As efforts are focused on curbing the spread of COVID, essential services such as access to sexual and reproductive health services have been disrupted” (WHO, 2020).
Once again, the author clearly indicates where their words and and the words from their source begin. Since they’re using APA style, they also include a parenthetical note at the end, indicating the author of their source and the year it was published.
Example 1c: Inappropriate Quotation (Distorts Original Meaning)
In June of 2020, the World Health Organization called the world’s attention to a crisis in Africa, arguing that, “essential services… have been disrupted.”
In the quotation above, the author uses a handful of words taken out of context to imply conclusions that are not in the original article. The WHO article never calls the health care situation in Africa a “crisis” or anything similar, but the author’s introduction to the quote suggests that it does. Furthermore, the article focuses exclusively on services related to reproductive health care, but the author has deliberately cut out any words indicating this, which makes it appear that all essential services have been disrupted. This may or may not be true, but either way it’s not a conclusion this article supports.
Example 1d: Inappropriate Quotation (Text Not Fully in Quotation Marks)
In June of 2020, the World Health Organization reported that access to sexual and reproductive health services had been disrupted in parts of Africa. “According to preliminary data, in Zimbabwe, the number of caesarean sections performed decreased by 42% between January and April 2020 compared with the same period in 2019” (WHO, 2020).
In the quotation above the author uses language directly from the original article (“access to sexual and reproductive health services have been disrupted”) without putting these words in quotation marks. This means that the author has not fully documented the WHO article’s contribution to their essay.
Example 1e: Inappropriate Quotation (Source Not Clearly Identified)
In June of 2020, it was reported that “access to sexual and reproductive health services have been disrupted” in parts of Africa.
In this case, the author puts all words from the original in quotation marks, but does not clearly identify the source. Readers therefore know that these words come from another author, but do not know who the author is (no pun intended).
From “A Modest Proposal…” by Jonathan Swift (1729), reprinted by Project Gutenberg
“It is a melancholy object to those, who walk through this great town, or travel in the country, when they see the streets, the roads, and cabbin-doors crowded with beggars of the female sex, followed by three, four, or six children, all in rags, and importuning every passenger for an alms. These mothers, instead of being able to work for their honest livelihood, are forced to employ all their time in stroling to beg sustenance for their helpless infants who, as they grow up, either turn thieves for want of work, or leave their dear native country, to fight for the Pretender in Spain, or sell themselves to the Barbadoes.”From “A Modest Proposal…” by Jonathan Swift (1729), reprinted by Project Gutenberg
Example 2a: Appropriate Paraphrase (MLA Format)
In the first paragraph of his satirical essay, “A Modest Proposal…,” Jonathan Swift seems to affirm the sensibilities of his upper-class London readers: Swift’s narrator notes how sad it is for people to walk through London or journey through rural areas to see women who are surrounded by multiple children and begging every passerby for money. The narrator goes on to lament that these women are forced to spend their time begging, rather than getting more respectable employment, in order to feed their children. The narrator speculates that this same lack of jobs will affect the children as they get older, forcing them to become thieves or to leave England all together, possibly joining the rebel forces of King James or emigrating to the Americas. By engaging his readers on their own terms in this way, Swift accomplishes several things…
In this example, the author clearly identifies the source they’ll be paraphrasing in the opening clause, and they use a colon to indicate exactly where the paraphrase begins. The paraphrase itself rephrases Swift’s opening paragraph in close detail, using almost as many words as the original passage. However, by expressing Swift’s ideas in more modern language, the reader makes the passage more accessible to readers who might have trouble understanding Swift’s dense eighteenth-century writing style.
Once again, note that since the author identifies their source fully before the paraphrase, and the text they’re using is an online version with no page numbers, MLA Style does not require any kind of parenthetical note at the end of the paraphrase. However, the author’s transitional phrase (“By engaging his readers on their own terms…”) serves as a clear signal that the paraphrase is over and the author has moved on to their own analysis of Swift’s writing.
Example 2b: Appropriate Paraphrase (APA Style)
Swift opens his satirical essay, “A Modest Proposal…” by seeming to affirm the sensibilities of his upper-class London readers: Swift’s narrator notes how sad it is for people to walk through London or journey through rural areas to see “beggars of the female sex” who are surrounded by multiple children and begging every passesby for money. The narrator goes on to lament that these women are forced to spend their time begging, rather than pursuing an “honest livelihood,” to feed their children. The narrator speculates that this same lack of jobs will affect the children as they get older, forcing them to become thieves or to leave England all together, possibly joining the rebel forces of King James or or emigrating to the Americas (Swift, 1729).
This paraphrase is almost identical to Example 2a, but in this case the author has used a few of Swift’s own phrases in their paraphrase, using quotation marks to indicate which words come straight from the original source. This gives modern readers some sense of Swift’s distinct writing style and the way he engages the sensibilities of the readers in his time, while still making the passage accessible to modern readers. Also, note that in this case, the author has used an APA Style parenthetical note to indicate where the paraphrase ends.
Example 2c: Inappropriate Paraphrase (Mosaic Plagiarism)
At the beginning of “A Modest Proposal,” Jonathan Swift’s narrator describes the melancholy sight of seeing women begging throughout London and the surrounding countryside, sometimes surrounded by three, four, or six children, all in rags. The narrator goes on to say that these women are begging because widespread poverty has deprived them of an honest livelihood, and that their children will most likely grow up to be thieves or be forced to leave England forever (Swift, 1729).
This paraphrase suffers from “mosaic plagiarism,” which is when an author mixes their own words with occasional words or phrases from an outside source and offers no clear indication of this. In this case, the author uses some individual words (“melancholy”) and some longer phrases (“three, four, or six children, all in rags”) from Swift’s passage, but doesn’t place this borrowed language in quotation marks. The opening phrase and the citation at the end at least make it clear that the author is paraphrasing, but the lack of quotation marks still mean that the author has used Swift’s language in place of their own without giving Swift proper credit.
Example 2d: Inappropriate Paraphrase (Unclear Transitions)
At first, Swift panders to his readers in “A Modest Proposal…”. He suggests that it’s a sad experience to walk through London or the English countryside and see women begging, surrounded by children. All this begging must be the result of systemic property, because these women can’t get a reputable job and have no choice but to beg. Perhaps their children will grow up to be thieves, rebels, or emigrants. Surely a solution must be found, one that can remove all these poor people from upper-class eyes and make them useful members of society.
In this paraphrase, it’s difficult to tell when the author is paraphrasing ideas directly from Swift and when they’re commenting on Swift’s ideas or mixing them with their own. So, for instance, if you didn’t have access to Swift’s text you might wonder if Swift speculated that children of poor people might become “thieves, rebels, or emigrants,” or if that’s the essay author’s speculation. Conversely, you might assume that Swift suggests that something needs to be done to “remove all these poor people from upper-class eyes” in his opening paragraph, when in fact that’s not part of the original passage.
The article “Your coping and resilience strategies might need to shift as the COVID-19 crisis continues” by Craig Polizzi and Steven Jay Lynn. Published on the website The Conversation in 2020.
Note: Since summaries, by definition, condense large amounts of text via concise phrasing, it’s not practical to copy the original text here. You can follow the link article, though, if it helps you to understand the examples below.
Example 3a: Appropriate Summary (APA Style)
Psychologists Craig Polizzi and Steven Jay Lynn note that individuals might need to change their coping strategies as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. Three particular strategies they recommend are “cognitive reappraisal,” “problem-focused coping,” and “cultivating compassion and lovingkindness” (Polizzi and Lynn, 2020).
In this example, the author concisely summarizes the overall argument of Polizzi and Lynn’s article. They put the names for Polizzi and Lynn’s three coping strategies in quotation marks–it’s entirely possible that Polizzi and Lynn did not invent these terms, but even so, they’re not commonly recognized terms, so it’s appropriate to note that they came straight from the article. On the other hand, the term “coping strategies” is also used by Polizzi and Lynn throughout their article (including the title), but this is an extremely common psychological term, and thus it’s not necessary for the author to place it in quotation marks.
Example 3b: Inappropriate Summary (Distorts Original Meaning)
Psychologists Craig Polizzi and Steven Jay Lynn argue that if everyone simply practiced “cognitive reappraisal,” “problem-focused coping,” and “cultivating compassion and lovingkindness,” the psychological effects of the pandemic would be minimal (Polizzi and Lynn, 2020).
The wording of this summary significantly distorts Polizzi and Lynn’s argument. Though they do suggest that these three strategies can help people cope, they never suggest that the strategies will work for everyone, nor do they suggest that these strategies alone can minimize the effects of a global pandemic. Presumably, this author is trying to emphasize Polizzi and Lynn’s claims in order to support a point of their own, but summarizing a source in a way that changes its original meaning is unethical and, if readers discover the distortion, makes the author’s argument appear weaker rather than stronger.
Example 3c: Inappropriate Summary (Unclear Transitions)
Psychologists have argued that, as the global pandemic stretches on, individuals will face new types of stress. In light of these new stresses, it’s prudent for everyone to employ a variety of coping strategies to maintain self-care and build resilience. Three potentially useful strategies are “cognitive reappraisal,” “problem-focused coping,” and “cultivating compassion and lovingkindness.” (Polizzi and Lynn, 2020).
This summary does not clearly signal where their ideas end and the summary of Polizzi and Lynn begins. Did Polizzi and Lynn suggest that the ongoing pandemic will require people to adopt new coping strategies, or did they just describe the practices of “cognitive reappraisal,” “problem-focused coping,” and “cultivating compassion and lovingkindness,” and the author connected these ideas to the pandemic themselves? The citation at the end indicates where the summary stops, but without a clear beginning point, it’s impossible to tell for certain how Polizzi and Lynn contributed to this paragraph.