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Academic Coaching & Writing

V. Presenting the Work of Others: When to Paraphrase and When to Quote

Sep 18, 2013 by Dr Sally

In the last blog, you learned how to structure your literature review. Another important decision as a writer is choosing how to refer to the ideas of others in your review. In this blog, you will learn when to quote directly from a source and when it is better to simply paraphrase the quotation or idea.

Most of your literature review should be in your own words. Your focus, topic, and research question are at the center of how you organize your literature review, how you organize the concepts, and how you analyze others’ ideas related to your topic.

Yet, you need to acknowledge how others have contributed to your ideas. Knowing when to paraphrase and when to quote is important because it demonstrates your scholarly ability to

  • choose and quote the most relevant material for your subject and argument,
  • analyze the relevant material within the context of your own argument,
  • introduce and synthesize the relevant quotations into your literature review, and
  • focus critically on the language of the quotations.

When to Paraphrase and When to Quote

As a rule, summarize or paraphrase when you find you want to

  • emphasize the idea expressed, not the specific language used to express it, or
  • express in fewer words the key point of the source.

On the other hand, quote from a source when you

  • perceive that the author makes a point in an insightful, original, or concise way, and
  • determine that it is important to capture the author’s words to maintain the meaning or the impact.

For example, in a literary analysis paper, you most likely will quote from a literary text because you may need to analyze the specific words and phrases an author uses.

To sum it up, paraphrase when you want to communicate the idea expressed. Quote when you want to communicate the specific language used to express the idea.

How to Paraphrase

Here are some simple steps you can follow to learn to paraphrase:

  1. Read the passage several times until you understand its meaning and relevance to the point you are making, and can restate it in your own words. If you don’t understand the passage, it doesn’t make sense for you to use it.
  2. Look away from the original passage. Imagine that you are summarizing the passage to a friend who is unfamiliar with your topic. Usually you do not need to paraphrase the entire passage.
  3. Rewrite the passage in your own words, summarizing only the material that helps you make your point.
  4. Check your version against the original to make sure that you have accurately expressed the relevant information in your own words.

Use direct quotations of phrases from the original within your paraphrase if the original language is essential to the point. And, even though you have paraphrased, you still must cite the source.

Here’s an example from Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address, one of the most quoted speeches in 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.”

If you were trying to paraphrase Lincoln’s words, you might come up with something like the following:

During the American Revolution in 1776, the founders of our country created a new democratic state that promised freedom and equality for all its citizens.

However, you might decide to quote Lincoln’s remarks rather than paraphrase them if you want to convey the language he used rather than the facts he portrayed.

How to Quote

First, be sure that the material you want to quote needs to be quoted and not paraphrased.

Second, only quote the essential and relevant material.

Remember that, as is true throughout your literature review, your job as a writer is to help your reader make sense of your argument. This means that you can’t simply drop quotations into your paper and expect your reader to know why you used the quotation. You need to hold your reader’s hand and explain how the quotation relates to your argument.

For information about how to format and punctuate quotations, visit the University of Wisconsin’s Writing Center.

Finally, whether you paraphrase or quote from a source, you always need to introduce the material in a way that guides your reader and makes sense.

How to Connect the Words and Ideas of Others to Your Ideas

When you paraphrase or use a quotation in your work, you need to do two things:

  • Attribute the paraphrase or quotation to the author and reference his or her text.
  • Analyze the paraphrase or the quotation afterwards so that the reader knows why you included it. As a general rule, do not end paragraphs with someone else’s words. The reader needs to know your thoughts, assertions, and perspectives on how the idea or passage fits into your argument.

Remember that one of your crucial jobs in writing the literature review is to guide your reader through your text. Always make clear how the words of others support the argument you are making.

In this blog, you have learned how and when to paraphrase and quote material to support your argument.

It bears repeating that whenever you use others’s ideas, either paraphrasing or directly quoting them, you must cite the source to acknowledge their work. In fact, using citations properly is so important that it will reflect poorly on you and your work if you don’t do it exactly as it should be done.

Therefore, in the next blog, you will learn how to cite your sources correctly and how important it is to find out what documentation style your discipline, department, college, or university expects you to use.

  • Okoth says:

    May 24, 2016 at 12:22 pm

    Very informative as I am currently engaged in undertaking literature review for my PhD proposal development

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