Section 4.2: Quoting and Paraphrasing

Fundamentals of Social Research by Adam J. McKee

When you’re working on a paper or essay, sometimes you might come across a line or two in someone else’s writing that fits perfectly with what you want to say. In those cases, you might decide to use a quotation. Quotations are like “copy-pasting” someone else’s exact words into your paper. It’s a way to borrow their words because they’ve explained something clearly or uniquely.

Direct Quotations

However, while quotations can be useful, it’s essential to use them thoughtfully. Imagine your paper is a puzzle, made up of all your ideas. If you use too many big pieces from other people (long quotes), your puzzle won’t fit together nicely. It’s always a good idea to keep your quotes short. This helps to make sure that your paper flows smoothly and remains focused on your own thoughts and words.

So, when should you use a quote? Ideally, only when it’s necessary. This could be when an author has a unique way of explaining something or says something crucial that you want your readers to know. It’s all about balance. By choosing your quotes carefully, you can make your paper stronger while still showcasing your own ideas and understanding.

An Example

Using quotations from notable documents can lend authority and weight to your writing. Let’s take a line from the Declaration of Independence, for example: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” If you want to emphasize a particular point about equality, you might integrate a part of this sentence into your own writing.

In APA style, it could look something like this:

The foundational belief in equality has been a cornerstone of American values since its inception. As highlighted in the Declaration of Independence, it is stated that “all men are created equal” (Declaration of Independence, 1776). This assertion underscores the importance of equal rights and opportunities for every citizen.

In this manner, the partial sentence from a historical document is seamlessly woven into the paragraph, providing both context and credibility to the point being made.


Paraphrasing is a valuable skill in writing, particularly when conveying someone else’s ideas or concepts. By definition, when you paraphrase, you take in what another author has said and then express it using your own words. It’s like listening to a friend’s story and then retelling it in your own way, capturing the main points but using your unique voice and style.

There are distinct benefits to mastering the art of paraphrasing. Firstly, it ensures that your writing remains consistent. When you are piecing together information from various sources, translating everything into your own style and tone makes the entire paper or essay feel more unified and cohesive. Readers will find it easier to follow, and your voice as a writer will remain clear and dominant. Additionally, paraphrasing often fits more seamlessly into the overall narrative of your work. While direct quotations can sometimes feel jarring or out of place, a well-crafted paraphrase smoothly integrates the original idea while aligning with the rhythm and flow of your writing. In essence, it lets you stand on the shoulders of other thinkers, allowing their insights to bolster your work while ensuring that your unique perspective shines through.  In the example below, we see how a writer can use a brief quote to establish the “flavor” of the document and paraphrasing and summation to develop an overall theme in a unified voice.

Example: When addressing issues related to citizenship and individual rights in the U.S., the 14th Amendment is pivotal. The amendment asserts, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside” (U.S. Constitution, Amend. XIV, sec. 1). In essence, this amendment guarantees that anyone born or naturalized in the U.S. is granted citizenship. This declaration has profound implications for discussions on immigration, birthright, and civil rights, emphasizing the inclusive nature of American identity and the foundational promise of equal protection under the law. Through the 14th Amendment, the Constitution enshrines the principles of fairness and justice for all individuals, regardless of their origins.


Summarizing is a technique that allows writers to distill the essence of another author’s work, presenting the core ideas in a compact and clear manner. Unlike simply repeating the content, summarizing requires understanding, processing, and then re-expressing the primary themes or points the original author aimed to convey. By definition, when you summarize, you’re sifting through a larger body of work, extracting the pivotal elements, and presenting them in a way that provides a quick and comprehensive overview to your readers.

While summarizing shares some similarities with paraphrasing, there are distinct differences between the two. The primary distinction is brevity. Summarizing aims to be more concise, making it an excellent tool for condensing extensive pieces of information or lengthy arguments into shorter, easily digestible portions. For instance, instead of diving into all the details of a 20-page research paper, a well-crafted summary might boil down its main findings and implications into a single paragraph. This method is particularly useful when a writer needs to provide context or reference multiple sources, allowing readers to grasp the central arguments without getting overwhelmed by exhaustive details.

Example: If an author wrote a long paragraph about the importance of language in shaping society, culture, and thoughts, you might summarize it as: “Language plays a central role in forming societies and guiding individual thinking.

Giving Proper Credit

In academic and professional writing, giving proper credit by citing sources is a foundational principle, not just a mere formality. When you borrow ideas from others—whether you’re quoting, paraphrasing, or summarizing—it’s crucial to recognize the original authors. This citation practice honors the intellectual work of others and provides a clear reference point for readers wanting to delve deeper into the original sources. Quotations demand a heightened level of care. When replicating exact words from a source, they should be ensconced in quotation marks. For extended excerpts, a block quote format, separated from the main text, signals its verbatim nature to the reader.

However, the mere act of quoting doesn’t suffice. Introducing quoted material effectively is an art in itself. Rather than abruptly inserting a quote, skillful writers seamlessly weave it into their narrative, providing context or a lead-in. This introduction might clarify why the quote is relevant, who the author is, or how it fits into the broader argument. For instance, instead of simply dropping in a statement, a writer might preface with, “As renowned historian Dr. Jane Smith argues…” Such introductions ensure that the reader understands the quote’s significance and origin.

Another nuance in the art of quoting is the use of partial sentences. Often, an entire sentence or paragraph isn’t necessary to make your point. In such cases, extracting the most relevant fragment and integrating it into your sentence maintains brevity without losing the quote’s essence. For example, if the original statement is, “In the realm of astrophysics, black holes, as enigmatic as they are, have puzzled scientists for decades,” a writer might use only, “black holes…have puzzled scientists for decades.” This practice ensures conciseness while retaining the core message.

Yet, caution is crucial. An over-reliance on quotes can render a paper disjointed, seeming more like a patchwork of external thoughts rather than a fluid and original analysis. While quotations can add authority or insight, the challenge lies in maintaining a balance. Successful writers master the judicious use of sources, ensuring their voice remains dominant and that their work remains a harmonious blend of original thought and external influence.

Beware the Pitfalls of Generic End-of-Paragraph Parenthetical Citations

As we approach the culmination of our discourse on quoting and paraphrasing, it is imperative that we address a deceptive and injurious practice – the usage of generic end-of-paragraph parenthetical citations. These generic citations, often used as a superficial way to attribute sources, not only undermine the credibility of the writer but also obscure the very essence of academic honesty and integrity.

Relying on these vague attributions is analogous to setting a trap for oneself. Writers risk:

  1. Misrepresentation: Failing to precisely cite the original source of a specific piece of information may lead readers to mistakenly attribute ideas, theories, or data to the wrong author.
  2. Plagiarism: The cardinal sin of academia. While unintentional, generic citations can result in inadvertent appropriation of someone else’s intellectual work.
  3. Compromised Credibility: Scholars and readers value precision. A paper filled with generic citations can be perceived as lazy, potentially reducing the credibility of the author and the respect for the work.
  4. Loss of Nuance: The exact location of a quote or idea within a larger work can be critical for understanding its context and significance. Generic citations rob the reader of this depth.

To employ generic end-of-paragraph citations is to willingly wade into treacherous waters. It’s akin to offering someone a map but blurring the details, leaving them lost and confused. Academic writing demands respect – for the reader, for the original authors, and for the sanctity of the research process. Let us uphold this respect, shun these perilous shortcuts, and strive for clarity, precision, and honor in our scholarly endeavors.

Example of Deplorable Practice

“Many experts believe that climate change is primarily caused by human activities. Greenhouse gas emissions have increased dramatically over the past century, leading to global temperature rises. This has resulted in melting polar ice caps and rising sea levels. Various studies have shown that these changes can be linked directly to carbon emissions from human activities (Smith et al., 2019; Johnson, 2020; Davis & Lee, 2021).”

(Note: The specific ideas, quotes, or data from each source are not clearly identified, making it unclear which source provided which piece of information.)

Corrected Paragraph

“Smith et al. (2019) assert a widely-held view among experts: human activities stand as the primary culprits behind climate change. Echoing this, Johnson (2020) meticulously documents the surge in greenhouse gas emissions over the past century, which he attributes to the noticeable rise in global temperatures. Meanwhile, Davis & Lee (2021) draw attention to the undeniable aftermath of these temperature increases: the melting of polar ice caps and the relentless rise of sea levels. Through their comprehensive research, they intricately connect these alarming environmental transformations to the carbon emissions generated by human endeavors.”

(Note: Here, each source is properly introduced and associated with specific information, ensuring clarity and accurate attribution.)

Skilled Integration of Sources

In the world of academic writing, particularly in the social sciences, the ability to integrate various sources seamlessly is a hallmark of excellence. This integration is not just about adding references but weaving them into the fabric of one’s argument. Expert writers have honed the skill of blending quotations, paraphrases, and summaries into their narratives, creating a symphony of voices that bolster their central themes. For instance, when discussing societal norms in sociology, an adept writer might blend Durkheim’s classic theories with contemporary studies, using direct quotes to emphasize pivotal ideas while paraphrasing broader concepts.

However, the power of direct quotations shouldn’t be underestimated. While paraphrasing and summarizing provide an overview, quotations deliver the original’s potency, especially when the phrasing is particularly evocative or definitive. Imagine writing about cognitive dissonance in psychology; using Festinger’s exact words in certain instances can capture the concept’s essence more powerfully than any paraphrase might.

Crafting a well-sourced paper, however, goes beyond mere inclusion of references. It’s akin to creating a mosaic where every piece, be it a quote, paraphrase, or summary, has its specific place. Over-relying on any one method, especially direct quotations, can disrupt the paper’s flow, coming across as overdependence on external voices rather than original analysis. A paper on gender dynamics, for instance, would suffer if it heavily quoted Butler, Beauvoir, or Foucault without offering fresh perspectives or analyses.

In formal academic writing, especially in disciplines like anthropology or political science, the guidance often leans towards minimalism regarding direct quotations. The emphasis is on presenting and synthesizing ideas, not merely replicating them. This approach demands that writers deeply understand their sources, extracting core ideas and presenting them in a fresh light. For example, when discussing power dynamics, one doesn’t need to consistently quote Weber. Instead, by understanding his theories and presenting them in a modern context, perhaps relating them to recent global events, the writer showcases both comprehension and originality.

In essence, the journey of mastering source integration is continuous. It’s about striking a balance, ensuring that each quotation, paraphrase, and summary enhances the narrative rather than overshadowing it. By diligently practicing and understanding these methods, writers can craft works that stand as both well-informed and uniquely their own, a testament to rigorous study and individual insight.

Introduce Quoted Material

One of the most troublesome aspects of properly documenting source material is introducing someone else’s ideas without using the same verbs repeatedly.  In addition to providing variety, different verbs can be used to add a degree of precision. The following list provides alternatives to states as a means of introducing a quote:

Introductory Words

Agrees Emphasizes Contradicts Notes Affirms
Writes Negates Rejects Discusses Believes
Asserts Refutes Implies Acknowledges Reports
Disputes Argues Addresses Grants Declares
Denies Thinks Agrees Maintains Insists
Endorses Contends Comments Confirms Concedes

Many skilled writers choose to incorporate quoted material into their own sentences, borrowing only a key phrase from the cited work.  This is an excellent strategy because it preserves the flow of your own paper, as well as demonstrating a command of the literature. Quote only sparingly, and use as little of another author’s wording as you can.  Most of the time, direct quotes are not necessary, and add nothing to the paper. Lawyers have the notion of a rebuttable presumption.  This means that something is presumed to be true, but the court will allow the lawyer to argue against it being true.  In scholarly writing, work under the rebuttable presumption that quotations are a bad idea and harm the quality of your paper.  If you can come up with a compelling reason to use the quoted material, then do so. But always remember to properly cite it, providing all of the necessary citation information, including page numbers.

Examples of Introductory Word Use

  • Agrees: Smith (2023) agrees, “It is essential to prioritize ecological strategies” (p. 12).
  • Emphasizes: Johnson (2023) emphasizes, “Early interventions are the most effective” (p. 45).
  • Contradicts: Lee (2023) contradicts previous theories, stating, “Social structures don’t always dictate behavioral patterns” (p. 89).
  • Notes: Davis (2023) notes, “The findings were consistent across multiple demographic groups” (p. 134).
  • Affirms: Rodriguez (2023) affirms, “There is an undeniable correlation between the two variables” (p. 58).
  • Writes: As Thompson (2023) writes, “Culture plays an indispensable role in shaping perceptions” (p. 44).
  • Negates: Kim (2023) negates the former assumption, mentioning, “The data does not support the initial hypothesis” (p. 110).
  • Rejects: Wallace (2023) rejects the traditional view, asserting, “Newer methodologies offer a clearer perspective” (p. 23).
  • Discusses: Perez (2023) discusses the intricacies of the topic, stating, “There are multiple layers to consider for a comprehensive understanding” (p. 77).
  • Believes: Murphy (2023) believes, “Ethical considerations should be central to any research design” (p. 99).
  • Asserts: Gupta (2023) asserts, “The approach requires a more nuanced understanding” (p. 10).
  • Refutes: Wang (2023) refutes earlier conclusions, declaring, “The recent findings offer a completely different narrative” (p. 141).
  • Implies: Chen (2023) implies, “There might be underlying causes that we haven’t examined” (p. 60).
  • Acknowledges: Jackson (2023) acknowledges, “There were limitations in the methodology of the study” (p. 32).
  • Reports: O’Malley (2023) reports, “The majority of respondents favored the proposed changes” (p. 51).
  • Disputes: Foster (2023) disputes, “These claims are not backed by concrete evidence” (p. 120).
  • Argues: Patel (2023) argues, “The model requires a significant overhaul to remain relevant” (p. 15).
  • Addresses: Phillips (2023) addresses the criticisms, noting, “There are reasons for the chosen approach” (p. 78).
  • Grants: Graham (2023) grants, “The opposing viewpoint has some valid concerns” (p. 66).
  • Declares: Ali (2023) declares, “This is a groundbreaking discovery for the field” (p. 90).
  • Denies: Ortiz (2023) denies any biases, stating, “The research was conducted with utmost objectivity” (p. 102).
  • Thinks: Williams (2023) thinks, “Further studies are essential to validate these findings” (p. 127).
  • Agrees: Russo (2023) agrees, “Collaborative efforts yield more holistic results” (p. 13).
  • Maintains: Vasquez (2023) maintains, “Despite challenges, the project was successful in its aims” (p. 54).
  • Insists: McCoy (2023) insists, “The discrepancies can be explained through a closer examination” (p. 29).
  • Endorses: Mendez (2023) endorses the method, highlighting, “It has proven effective in several scenarios” (p. 38).
  • Contends: Kumar (2023) contends, “The prevalent theory is outdated and needs revision” (p. 71).
  • Comments: Fischer (2023) comments, “The results were unexpected but significant” (p. 84).
  • Confirms: DuBois (2023) confirms, “The correlation was consistent in all tests” (p. 46).
  • Concedes: Singh (2023) concedes, “There are valid critiques of the paper that will be addressed in future research” (p. 105).

When Quotes Are a Good Idea

An obvious exception to the general rule of not using quotations is where the particular wording of a source is critically important.  This situation arises frequently in law. Carefully consider the terms of art used by legislatures and courts in drafting legal documents.  When considering a particular statute (such as defining a criminal offense), quoting the statute verbatim is the best course of action. This is not always the case.  Judges often write voluminously, and a summary of the legal logic and reasoning is often more useful than a reading of the original.

As previously discussed, the idea of definitions is of critical importance in scientific writing.  When the author of a study carefully defines a variable, it is likely that you will want to reproduce that definition verbatim in a review that includes that study.  This is especially true when there is contention among authors as to what the proper definition is.

Context and Clarity

When quotes are used, the careful writer will provide context for the quote.  Never allow a quote to stand on its own. This strategy may work well in some styles of literary writing, but it is never a good idea in social scientific writing.  Make sure the logic of including the quoted material is obvious to the reader. This rule can easily be followed by introducing a quote every time you use one. Make the introduction obvious.  One method of assuring this is to read the paragraph containing the quoted material aloud. When most people read scientific papers, they mentally omit the parenthetical material. When read aloud without the parenthetical material, is it apparent who is being quoted?  If not, recast your sentences such that it becomes readily apparent. Skillful writers will also explain the significance of the quoted material to the reader.

Simplified Summary

When you write, sometimes you’ll want to use what someone else has said. There are three ways to do this:

  1. Quoting: Copying their words exactly. Use “quotation marks” around these words. Do this when their exact words are really important.
  2. Paraphrasing: Reading their idea and then writing it in your own words. This is a good choice because it keeps your paper in your style.
  3. Summarizing: Taking the main ideas from someone else’s work and writing them in your own words. It’s a bit like paraphrasing but shorter.

Remember, always tell your reader where you got the idea from (this is called ‘citing’). If you use someone else’s exact words, be extra careful to show this with quotation marks or by indenting the quote. Only use quotes when they really add something special. Practice makes perfect; the more you try these methods, the better you’ll get!

Modification History

File Created:  07/25/2018

Last Modified:  09/21/2023

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This work is licensed under an Open Educational Resource-Quality Master Source (OER-QMS) License.

Open Education Resource--Quality Master Source License


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