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Quoting, Summarizing, and Paraphrasing : Is my quotation effective?

Effective quotations

One of the greatest challenges writers face is making sure that their quotations, paraphrases, or summaries really add to the paper’s meaning, instead of just adding to its length. Take a look at these ineffective and effective uses of a quotation and see if you can think of some of the questions that you need to ask yourself as you include references in your own paper.

Ineffective use of a quotation: 

Today, we are too self-centered. “We are consumers-on-the-run…the very notion of the family meal as a sit-down occasion is vanishing. Adults and children alike eat…on the way to their next activity” (Gleick, 1999, 148). Everything is about what we want.

  • This example is ineffective because the quotation isn’t integrated with the writer’s ideas. The introduction and follow up sentences are about being self-centered, but the quotation is about being busy. There is no real connection between the claim and the quotation. Furthermore, the quotation’s significance is not discussed, which makes it difficult for the reader to see the relationship between the evidence and the writer’s point.

A more effective use of a quotation: 

North Americans are too self-centered. Even our families don’t matter as much anymore as they once did. Other people and activities take precedence, as Gleick (1999) noted: “We are consumers-on-the-run…the very notion of the family meal as a sit-down occasion is vanishing. Adults and children alike eat…on the way to their next activity” (148). Sit-down meals are a time to share and connect with others; however, that connection has become less valued, as families begin to prize individual activities over shared time, promoting self-centeredness over group identity.

  • This example is effective because it uses a “lead-in” phrase to introduce the direct quotation. This “lead-in” phrase helps to integrate the quotation with the writer’s ideas. The writer discusses and comments upon the quotation immediately afterwards, which allows the reader to see the relationship between the quotation and the writer’s point.

Tip: Discussing your evidence’s significance develops and expands your paper! For more information on using evidence, please see the "Writing an Academic Paragraph" video in Paragraphs.

If you've watched the "Introduction to Academic Writing" or "Writing an Academic Paragraph" videos, you will already be familiar with the Oreo cookie model of demonstrating critical thinking through providing a claim, evidence, and analysis. Keeping that model in mind when you're using quotations, summaries, or paraphrases may help you remember that you have an opportunity on either side of your reference to include information that will help your reader understand how the reference connects to your writing. No matter what order you do it in, you will want to do three things with each quote:

  1. First, introduce your point 
  2. Second, quote, paraphrase, or summarize 
  3. Third, connect the pieces together

Using the example above, here are those three pieces:

  1. Introduce the point (claim): Today, Americans are too self-centered. Even our families don’t matter as much anymore as they once did.
  2. Provide the quotation, paraphrase, or summary (evidence): Other people and activities take precedence, as Gleick (1999) noted: “We are consumers-on-the-run…the very notion of the family meal as a sit-down occasion is vanishing. Adults and children alike eat…on the way to their next activity” (148).
  3. Connect the pieces together (analysis): Sit-down meals are a time to share and connect with others; however, that connection has become less valued, as families begin to prize individual activities over shared time, promoting self-centeredness over group identity.

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Adapted from Using someone else's words: Quote, summarize, and paraphrase your way to success © Center for Teaching and Faculty Development at San Francisco State University. Adapted with permission.