When to Quote, Paraphrase, or Summarize
If your final product is a term paper or essay, much of your writing will be devoted to:
- Reporting what others have said about your research question.
- Convincing your audience that your answer is correct or, at least, the most reasonable answer. (Giving them evidence.)
- Describing the situation surrounding your research question for your audience and explaining why it’s important.
To do that writing you will often use direct quotes from your sources and will paraphrase and summarize sources. But how should you choose which technique to use when?
Tip: Citing Sources
Remember to cite your sources when quoting, paraphrasing, and summarizing. See How to Cite Sources for details.
Choose a direct quote when it is more likely to be accurate than would summarizing or paraphrasing, when what you’re quoting is the text you’re analyzing, when a direct quote is more concise that a summary or paraphrase would be and conciseness matters, when the author is a particular authority whose exact words would lend credence to your argument, and when the author has used particularly effective language that is just too good to pass up.
Choose to paraphrase or summarize rather than to quote directly when the meaning is more important than the particular language the author used and you don’t need to use the author’s preeminent authority to bolster your argument at the moment.
Choose to paraphrase instead of summarizing when you need details and specificity. Paraphrasing lets you emphasize the ideas in source materials that are most related to your term paper or essay instead of the exact language the author used. It also lets you simplify complex material, sometimes rewording to use language that is more understandable to your reader.
Choose to summarize instead of paraphrasing when you need to provide a brief overview of a larger text. Summaries let you condense the resource material to draw out particular points, omit unrelated or unimportant points, and simplify how the author conveyed his or her message.
The OSU Writing Center has more on paraphrasing and summarizing, including an example of how to do one of each. While you’re at this site, you’ll notice other helpful information available about essays and term paper construction.