Should I paraphrase or quote?

In general, use direct quotations only if you have a good reason. Most of your paper should be in your own words. Also, it's often conventional to quote more extensively from sources when you're writing a humanities paper, and to summarize from sources when you're writing in the social or natural sciences—but there are always exceptions.

In a literary analysis paper, for example, you'll want to quote from the literary text rather than summarize, because part of your task in this kind of paper is to analyze the specific words and phrases an author uses.

In research papers:

Quotation Warnings:

Paraphrasing

Definition: Putting an author's ideas in your own words

Ways to avoid plagiarism:

MLA Example:

Original passage:

Annie Oakley's life spanned years of tremendous change for American women. By the time of her death in 1926, Americans were celebrating the liberated, urban-focused, modern times of the Jazz Age. Women had won the right to vote, wore less restrictive clothes, and followed a changing ideal that was loosening some of the restrictions on women's roles and behavior that had reigned through the nineteenth century.

Incorrect paraphrasing:

Annie Oakley's life spanned years of significant changes for American women. By the time she died in 1926, women had the vote, wore looser clothing, and embraced the freedom from restrictive 19th century roles and behaviors.
(Sounds too much like the original passage. Also the sentence structure is too similar to the original text.)

Correct paraphrasing:

As discussed in the biography on PBS's American Experience web page, sharpshooter Annie Oakley lived through a period of many liberating changes for women, from the Victorian era through the first quarter of the 20th century. Examples include voting rights for women as well as the freedom to wear comfortable and practical clothing (Annie Oakley).

Summarizing

Definition: Condensing an author's ideas to a more succinct statement

Ways to avoid plagiarism:

MLA Example:

Original passage:

By 1964, there were an estimated 33,500 restaurants in the United States calling themselves "drive-ins," but only 24,500 offered hot food, the remainder being ice cream and soft-drink stands primarily. Layout varied from drive-in to drive-in, but three principal spaces could always be found: a canopy-covered driveway adjacent to the building, a kitchen, and a carhop station linking kitchen and parking lot. The smallest drive-ins offered carhop service only, but many also featured indoor lunch counters and booths, sometimes on the scale of the coffee shop.

Summary:

In the chapter "Quick-Service Restaurants in the Age of Automobile Convenience," The authors note that by the mid-1960s, nearly 35,000 self-proclaimed "drive-in" restaurants in the United States existed. Most served hot meals while others served just ice cream and soft drinks. No specific blueprint defined the typical drive-in; however, three characteristics describe this new type of casual eating establishment: a covered driveway, a kitchen, and a carhop station (Jackle and Sculle 55).²

Note:

You do not need to be paranoid about two or three words in a summary that occur together in the original. Putting them in quotation marks is annoying and distracting; you have already given a citation and a rhetorical frame, so the reader does not assume you are writing the material from scratch. This sample just overdoes it:

… Most served hot meals while others served just "ice cream and soft drinks." No specific blueprint defined the typical drive-in; however, three characteristics describe this new type of casual eating establishment: a "covered driveway," "a kitchen, and a carhop station" (Jackle and Sculle 55).

Putting words such as ice cream and soft drinks or covered driveway in quotation marks turns them into scare quotes—you are sending the message that even though we called these things ice cream, soft drinks, or covered driveway, they only appeared to be so. They were really something else. It's like calling someone a "real body-builder" (in quotes) to imply that he hangs around the gym but never does any actual lifting. (Think of the wiggly-fingers gesture when you are talking with a friend.)


1. "Quoting and Paraphrasing." The Writing Center - University of Wisconsin Madison, writing.wisc.edu/handbook/assignments/quotingsources. Accessed 1 June 2020.

2. "Examples of Using Direct Quotes, Paraphrasing, and Summarizing." Las Positas College Library, www.laspositascollege.edu/library/documents/LPCplagiarism_examples.pdf. Accessed 12 May 2014.


The views and opinions expressed in this page are strictly those of the page author.
The contents of this page have not been reviewed or approved by Ashland University.
Revised 6/19/20 • Page author: Curtis Allen • e-mail: callen@ashland.edu.