When to Quote, Paraphrase, or Summarize

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This section features advice for using sources well in your writing projects.

If your final product is a research paper, essay, or presentation much of your writing will be devoted to:

  • Reporting what others have said about your research question.
  • Describing the situation surrounding your research question for your audience and explaining why it’s important.
  • Convincing your audience that your answer is correct or, at least, the most reasonable answer. Giving them evidence.

To accomplish this you will often paraphrase, summarize, or use direct quotes when appropriate. 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.

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Choose a direct quote

  • when what you’re quoting is the text you’re analyzing
  • when a direct quote is more accurate and concise than 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
  • when the author has used particularly effective language that is just too good to pass up.

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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 relevant to your research project 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.

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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 convey how the author’s message.

For more tips on paraphrasing and summarizing, including an example of how to do one of each we suggest visiting the Excelsior Owl Writing Lab. While you’re at this site, you’ll notice other helpful information available about the writing process.


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Critical Thinking in Academic Research Copyright © 2022 by Cindy Gruwell and Robin Ewing is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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