Quoting, paraphrasing, and summarizing

In all academic writing you will need to be able to quote, paraphrase, and summarize and, importantly, know when to do what. What connects the three is that they allow you to work with other people’s writing to support your argument. This is another place where we can see how writing is really a conversation between you, your material, and your implied reader.

Why use quotations, paraphrases, and summaries?

Quotations, paraphrases, and summaries serve many purposes. You might use them to:

  • Provide support for claims or add credibility to your writing by showing your understanding of the field or material you are working with.
  • Refer to work that leads up to the work you are now doing establishing your knowledge of the history of your field and subject.
  • Give examples of several points of view on a subject, some of which might disagree with your argument or thesis.
  • Call attention to a position that you wish to agree or disagree with.
  • Highlight a particularly striking phrase, sentence, or passage by quoting the original and then using the quote for your own argument. Remember to always credit the writer.
  • Distance yourself from the original by quoting it in order to cue readers that the words are not your own.

What are the differences among quoting, paraphrasing, and summarizing?

These three ways of incorporating other writers’ work into your own writing can be distinguished according to the closeness of your writing to the source writing.

Quotations must be completely identical to the original and only be a small segment of the original text. They must match the source document word for word and must be attributed to the original author. Also, you should only quote if you actually need and use the quote.

Paraphrasing involves putting a passage from source material into your own words. A paraphrase must also be attributed to the original source. Paraphrased material is usually shorter than the original passage, taking a somewhat broader segment of the source and condensing it slightly. For more information on constructing a legitimate paraphrase, see How to paraphrase.

Summarizing involves putting the main idea(s) into your own words, including only the main point(s). Once again, it is necessary to attribute summarized ideas to the original source. Summaries are significantly shorter than the original and take a broad overview of the source material.