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Quotes, Paraphrases, and Summaries

1. Quotes, Paraphrases, and Summaries: What They Are and How to Use Them


What is "quoting"?
Quoting a source brings the exact words of the source into your paper and encloses them in quotation marks.

When should I use a quote?
Though there are many reasons you might want to use direct quotes in your essay, in most instances you should use them to:

  • Argue with and/or extend an argument – use a direct quote when you have already laid out an argument but need an outside voice to push against or to help you take the argument to a new place.
  • Lend authoritative support to your own argument – use a direct quote when you want to bolster your claim with the aid of an authoritative voice. Bringing in the voices of experts to corroborate your claims shows that your claim is sound and can be trusted.
  • Add eloquence or power – use an eloquent or powerful direct quote when you need to paint a vivid picture, make a lucid point, or provide stunning punctuation to an idea.

Whatever the reason you choose to use a direct quote, it should be distinctive enough that it would lose something essential if it was paraphrased or summarized.

What should I keep in mind when I use quotes in my essay?
Because quotes highlight outside voices, they should be used sparingly to prevent your voice from getting lost. Ideally, your essay should never consist of more than 1/3 quotes. Beware, too, of exceedingly long quotations. In general, try to keep your direct quotes to 3 or fewer lines of text at a time. If your quote exceeds three lines, you will need to block it – that is, you will need to set it off from the flow of the main text by indenting the entire quote 1 inch (or ten spaces). Use blocked quotes only when you must.


What is “paraphrasing”?
Paraphrasing is restating a source's ideas in your own words. Paraphrased material tends to be roughly the same length as the passage being paraphrased and does not use quotation marks.

When should I use a paraphrase?
Paraphrase a source when a good chunk of information is needed, but you want to limit your quotes and maintain your own voice in the essay. 

What does a paraphrase look like?
Compare the original and paraphrased passages below:

Original Passage:

Once the food industry saw there was a profit to be made,'organic' stopped being a guarantee of attention to flavor or individual care.   --Corby Kummer’s “Back to Grass.

Paraphrased Passage:

Unfortunately, when big business realized how much interest was developing in "organic" beef, the emphasis turned away from health and reverted back to making a profit (123).

The paraphrased passage contains none of the exact language of the original passage, yet manages to convey the same information in roughly the same space and maintains the writer’s own voice.

How do I make sure I’m not plagiarizing when I paraphrase a source?
Even though the language in a paraphrase may be your own, you should take special care to ensure that the style of the paraphrase is also your own.  In other words, do not attempt to simply reproduce the original passage by plugging different words into an existing framework.  For example, notice how the passage below bears too similar a resemblance to the original passage:

Original Passage:

Whatever the current troubles of McDonald's and other burger purveyors, beef remains America's most popular meat.

Faulty Paraphrase:

Despite the recent problems of McDonald’s and other fast-food sellers, beef is still America's favorite meat.

To avoid a faulty paraphrase which veers too close to plagiarism, try reading through the passage twice, setting it aside so it is completely out of your line of vision, and writing it in your own words as if you were explaining it to a friend. You might also try this same strategy by first explaining the information to yourself verbally before you write it down. In either case, do not look at the original passage when you are trying to paraphrase it, no matter how tempting it might be to do so.


What is "summarizing"?
Summarizing is condensing a source's main ideas into your own words. Summarized material is shorter than the passage being summarized and does not use quotation marks. 

When should I use summary?
Summarize a source when readers need to know the essential details, but not all the details. 

What does a summary look like?
Compare the original with the summarized passage below:

Original Passage:

Whatever the current troubles of McDonald's and other burger purveyors, beef remains America's most popular meat. Many meat lovers…have decided to go organic—a choice always to be applauded, for the benefits that chemical-free farming brings to the environment and the health of farm workers, and a choice made easier by the adoption last October of a national organic standard. But organic, vexingly, will not necessarily satisfy people who care about flavor and freshness. Once the food industry saw there was a profit to be made, "organic" stopped being a guarantee of attention to flavor or individual care.  --Corby Kummer's "Back to Grass."

Summarized Passage:

In his essay, "Back to Grass," Corby Kummer comments on the demise of the organic beef ranching industry, painting a picture of how organic farming has been corrupted by the never-ending search for profit (123).

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