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Quoting, summarizing, and paraphrasing

Learn how to quote, summarize, and paraphrase other scholars' works and avoid plagiarism

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What is a direct quotation?

When you use the exact words of another author in your paper, you are directly quoting that author. The words of the other author should be enclosed in quotation marks and cited correctly.

You will need to decide when to use quotations and when to use your own words. Quotations used sparingly have more impact. Remember, they are only there to support your ideas. Use a quotation when you want to:

  • Let a great passage speak for itself. 
  • Show the different sides of an argument in the debater’s own words. 
  • Incorporate highly technical information correctly.
  • Analyze specific language and/or word choice in a passage.

Tip: A quotation isn't necessary for information that is considered common knowledge. See What is Common Knowledge? for more information.

Using quotations

How will using quotations improve your writing?

Read the two examples below. What differences do you notice between them?

Example A Example B
Frederick Douglass maintained that it was a concerted effort on the part of slave owners to make the slaves feel less than human. Frederick Douglass maintained that it was a concerted effort on the part of the slave owners to make the slaves feel less than human. In the narrative of his life, he wrote that, “by far the larger part of the slaves know as little of their ages as horses know of theirs, and it is the wish of most masters within my knowledge to keep their slaves thus ignorant” (p. 255). 

Both excerpts discuss the same topic, but the quotation in the second example supports the idea with an example.

How should you select a quotation?

Well-selected quotations and references in your paper clarify and illustrate points to make your paper more persuasive. When you choose your quotation, see if you can answer these questions about it:

  • Does this quotation illustrate or explain my point? If so, how? 
  • Does the quotation add strength to my paper because it comes from a respected source? Or does the 
  • quotation weaken it? 
  • What part of the quotation is the most important? Have I chosen to include only that portion?

Tip: Remember, your paper is still your paper; your professor is looking for your ideas, not just how well you quote the ideas of others. Choose your sources carefully.

Author credit

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.