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Humanities LibreTexts

11.5: Using sources

  • Page ID
    25438
    • Alexandra Glynn, Kelli Hallsten-Erickson & Amy Jo Swing
    • North Hennepin Community College & Lake Superior College

    Quoting, paraphrasing, summarizing sources

    First, a note: it is difficult to talk about quoting, summarizing and paraphrasing without also talking about in-text citation, which is where you say where you got the information that’s being quoted, summarized, or paraphrased. Therefore, you’ll see in text citations (and full citations at the end of this section) for the source used as you must always cite outside sources when they’re used in a piece of writing.

    More information about citation—in the writing itself as well as for a Work Cited (MLA) or References (APA) page—will be linked in the section that follows.

    Proper quoting, paraphrasing, and summarizing aren’t just about grammatical correctness; using them is a fine art. You can choose which of the three you want to use at certain times in your work to support your ideas. They all have different effects, so as you’re learning what they are and practicing, consider how a quote’s effect might be different than a summary’s effect, which are both different than a paraphrase.

    Before we say anything else, though, we have to tell you that the number one thing to remember when using research in any paper is this:

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    All right. Now, let’s get down to business:

    Quoting sources

    Quoting is the easiest way of incorporating outside sources. Unfortunately, because it is the easiest way, it is also not necessarily the best way.

    People sometimes have the tendency to dump a bunch of quotes in their papers and think that’ll make them look smart. Trust me; it doesn’t. Too much quoting will make you look like you don’t care, you’re lazy, and/or you don’t have an original thought of your own, and it also puts several different styles of writing in the same piece, which can interrupt the flow of ideas and read awkwardly. Sometimes, however, quoting is the most effective way of getting the information down, so if you must, be sure to use the author’s exact words and put quotation marks around it.

    Example: Mentioning the author before the quote*:

    MLA: An example of the difficulty of writing papers appears in Sweet Agony by Gene Olson: “There is no more demanding task than writing. No matter how long one works at it, no matter how many words are produced, room for improvement will always remain” (13).

    APA: An example of the difficulty of writing papers appears in Sweet Agony by Olson (1972): “There is no more demanding task than writing. No matter how long one works at it, no matter how many words are produced, room for improvement will always remain” (p. 13).

    *Note: The phrase “An example of the difficulty of writing papers appears in Sweet Agony by Gene Olson:” is called a signal phrase or tag. Other examples of signal phrases are “Olson states,” “Olson claims that” and “Olson suggests.” There are many others, too. These phrases help to introduce source material in quoting, summarizing, and paraphrasing. Thoughtful use of tags is important to help cite correctly as well as encourage the flow of your writing.

    Example: The same quote without mentioning the author before it. In this example, the citation information follows the quote, in parenthesis:

    MLA: “There is no more demanding task than writing. No matter how long one works at it, no matter how many words are produced, room for improvement will always remain” (Olson 13).

    APA: “There is no more demanding task than writing. No matter how long one works at it, no matter how many words are produced, room for improvement will always remain” (Olson, 1972, p. 13).

    Consider the effect of citing in the parentheses versus using a tag in the sentence itself. If it’s the first time you’re using a source in the text, it’s not a bad idea to use a tag; after that, you can do either.

    Quoting sources: Long quotes

    For essays written using the MLA documentation style, quotes that are more than four typed lines (not sentences, but lines as they appear on the page), or for essays written using the APA documentation style, quotes that are more than 40 words (or longer), make a block quote. Check this out:

    MLA: Writing is difficult. Everybody knows this. It has been said over and over through the centuries. As Gene Olson states:

    There is no more demanding task than writing. No matter how long one works at it, no matter how many words are produced, room for improvement will always remain. Herein lies the ultimate frustration of writing; herein also lies its bittersweet charm and challenge. It’s like chasing butterflies in a world where there are always more butterflies, each new batch prettier than the last. (13)

    APA: Basically the same thing, but use “Olson (1972)” in the tag and (p. 13) in the parentheses.

    Note that the indenting takes the place of quotes. Block quotes should be used sparingly, as they break up the flow of the paper and can cause reader impatience.

    Finally, when using quotes, make sure you set up the quote in the text with your own ideas and after the quote, interpret it in some way for the reader, such as discussing how it fits in with your other ideas. That will help the reader understand the quote itself and make you more credible to the reader.

    Quoting sources: Paraphrasing

    Paraphrasing is when you take an exact quote and put it into your own words and writing style, capturing the same ideas as the original. It is approximately as long as the original as you go sentence-by-sentence, putting the original all in your own words. Quotation marks go around the exact phrasing that is borrowed from the original, and paraphrases are always cited.

    Original quote: “There is no more demanding task than writing. No matter how long one works at it, no matter how many words are produced, room for improvement will always remain” (Olson 13).

    Paraphrase using MLA: As Gene Olson states in Sweet Agony, writing can take a lot out of a person. One can write long and hard, coming up with a ton of text, but one can always do better (13).

    APA: Follow the same rules as quoting in APA.

    See that? It’s the same idea as the original and the same length, but different words. Can you see how this might have a different effect on a reader than a direct quote?

    In case you were wondering, here's an example of the original quote paraphrased poorly:

    Poor paraphrase: Writing is a demanding task. One works a long time at it and produces many words, but there's always room for improvement.

    This is not good because it is too close to the original, using many of the same words and phrases, and it's also missing a citation. This would be considered plagiarism.

    Quoting sources: Summarizing

    Summaries do just that: they sum up the main idea or spirit of the original text. Summaries are significantly shorter than the original text. Though there are no quotation marks (unless you use some of the exact phrasing from the original), you still cite.

    Original quote: “There is no more demanding task than writing. No matter how long one works at it, no matter how many words are produced, room for improvement will always remain” (Olson 13).

    Summary in MLA: Writing is difficult, mostly because it can always be better (Olson 13).

    Summary in APA: Writing is difficult, mostly because it can always be better (Olson, 1972, p. 13).

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