Quoting, Paraphrasing, and Summarizing

Including information, statistics, images, or other elements from reputable sources is an important way to bolster your argument in an academic paper.  Such material can serve as a starting point for your essay, give background and context for your ideas, provide evidence of your claims, or demonstrate alternate points of view.  Developing your skills as a writer involves honing your ability to use sources, and being able to use sources properly ensures you will avoid plagiarism.


There are three ways you can incorporate source material into your papers.  The first and most straightforward is quotation.  A quotation or quote takes the exact wording from a source, placed in quotation marks and followed by a citation. Take the following sentence as an example:

The words between the quotation marks are taken directly from the website listed in parentheses at the end of the sentence.  That parenthetical reference is a citation that gives credit to the source of the quotation.  Though that is a very informal type of citation, it tells the reader where and with whom the ideas and words originated, so it is clear that I did not develop them myself.  There are various approaches to citation, and your teacher will generally specify which style you should use in your course or discipline.

Notice also that I introduced the quote with my own words.  Never use a quote as a complete standalone sentence!  Even quotes that are 2 or more sentences long should be introduced in your own words.  Make sure to give whatever context or background information is necessary for the reader to understand the quote.  Also remember to follow the quote with an explanation of its significance so the reader knows why it is important and how it relates to your main points.  Remember, the focus of your writing assignments is your ideas, not those of your sources.

More information about integrating quotes into your writing can be found here.


Paraphrase involves taking information or an idea from a source and putting it into your own words.  Quotation marks are not needed, but a proper citation is!  You must always give credit to the source from which you took the information or ideas, even if you are not using their exact words.  Additionally, when you paraphrase, make sure that you really are putting the concepts into your words – changing a couple words to synonyms is not enough.

For example, the quote on plagiarism given in the previous section could be paraphrased as follows:

That sentence takes SPS’s definition and explains it in a different way.  The meaning is the same (and still comes from SPS’s website as shown in the citation), but the way the idea is stated is not.

On the other hand, the following two examples are both INCORRECT paraphrases.  The first because the wording is too close to an actual quotation, and the second because no citation is included.

  • According to SPS, plagiarism occurs whenever a person presents someone else’s ideas, research or writings as his/her own (http://sps.cuny.edu/acad_policies/acad_integrity.html).
  • According to SPS, plagiarism occurs whenever a person makes it seem like they were the source of someone else’s words, concepts, or work.


Like paraphrasing, summarizing requires you to put the ideas of a source into your own words.  The difference is a matter of scale: paraphrase takes a particular point or piece of information from a source and rewords it in approximately the same amount of space; summary, on the other hand, takes the overall meaning or a main idea of a source and explains it in a much more concise way.  Summary thus involves distilling the most important concepts of a source and presenting them quickly and clearly.

Rather than taking a particular quote from the SPS webpage on academic integrity, I could present a summary of the information there.  A very brief summary would be:

  • Cheating, plagiarism, obtaining unfair advantages, and/or falsifying any documents are serious infractions of academic integrity, and SPS has a rigorous approach to preventing such activities and taking appropriate actions when they do occur (http://sps.cuny.edu/acad_policies/acad_integrity.html).

Even though no quotation is used and I have only given the broadest overview of ideas from the SPS website, I still need to include a citation to show where the ideas came from.  More detailed summaries are also possible, but again citations will be necessary!

Using a combination of quotations, paraphrases, and summaries to support your argument will make your essays more convincing and effective.  Properly crediting your sources will ensure that you adhere to the standards of academic integrity and that you avoid any unintentional plagiarism.

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