Summarizing, Paraphrasing, and Using Direct Quotes Handout

Somewhere along the way, many students come to believe that the only way to actually cite a source is to directly quote the material. This mistake leads to a few others, such as the overuse of direct quotes in an attempt to show evidence and the failure to provide appropriate documentation for paraphrases and summaries.

It is time to clear up any confusion on this matter! ANY TIME you use another person's ideas in your writing, you are citing that material, and you must cite and document accordingly!

This page offers advice on summarizing and paraphrasing. It should also help you determine when the moment is ripe for a direct quote.

The best way to explain the deceptively basic arts of summarizing, paraphrasing, and using quotes is by analyzing examples of each. Let's use the excerpt below as our "original work." Read the whole excerpt, and then learn to distinguish the three means of incorporating sources into your paper:

The variety of potential problems associated with electronic records preservation is great, but one of the most pressing concerns facing managers of these records is future readability. Recent history in IT has shown us that the latest and greatest in digital media becomes obsolete in about a decade, and this condition creates a situation in which records stored by electronic means today are likely to be inaccessible in just a few short years. As Eiteljorg emphasizes, even files in the best-kept condition will become obsolete over time due to the technological nature of digital media.5 In other words, regardless of the quality of the chosen electronic storage device, the fact remains that electronic records are digital documents - binary code that is only readable by machine, and machines are constantly changing.6 While CD-ROMs and optical discs have proven more durable than, say 5 ¼-inch floppies, there is no guarantee that in twenty years the available hardware will be able to physically accept them, much less read them.7 Therefore, unlike human-readable media such as paper and microfilm, the questions evoked by digital records are not only based upon how we must care for archival collections to prevent deterioration, but also force us to ask ourselves, "how are we going to access and read this thing in the future?"

As yet, there is no proven method to confidently circumvent the obsolescence/unreadability pitfall, but one approach that a number of companies have taken to delay it is to implement a data migration initiative. Basically, migration involves periodically transferring records from their current electronic medium to another medium deemed more suitable in preparation for anticipated technological changes.8 The idea is that the original medium is expected to become obsolete in the foreseeable future while the technology of the new medium will remain common and current (and therefore, the records will remain accessible) plenty long enough for the next hot new yet-to-be-discovered digital machine to become its successor when the formerly new medium is threatened with obsolescence.9 Migration is often chosen as the best available alternative because it does not require record managers to store and maintain a near-museum of old computer hardware, which would be quite expensive in terms of time and space, not to mention the consultation fee to pay Sparky, the only mechanic east of the Mississippi who can still repair Apple IIe’s.10 Regularly migrating records with extended retention periods and/or archival value would in theory keep the records accessible throughout their life spans.

Excerpt taken from "Migration as a Solution to Obsolescence in Electronic Archives: or, Why won’t my Atari 2600 work on this TV set?" by Kathryn W. Hayes, April 7, 2008. All Rights Reserved.

Summarizing

To summarize a piece means to briefly restate the main points of a piece in your own words (i.e., to tell the reader the gist of the piece, to "capture the essence," etc.).

Our Summary of the above excerpt from a class paper:

In her 2008 paper, Hayes points out that long-term storage, preservation, and accessibility of electronic records is problematic due to the constantly changing nature of technology, but periodic data migration to updated media types is one way to prolong the accessibility and readability of electronic records.

As you see, the summary above hits only and all of the main points of the excerpt: that electronic records have unique preservation problems, and data migration is one remedy to these problems. (And look, there we have another summary!)

When to use a summary in a paper: Summaries are great for setting context for your argument, such as in the introduction of your paper or in the literature review section of an article, thesis, or support paper. However, in most cases summaries should not be used as evidence. Why? Because a summary is too general to serve as credible evidence in scholarly writing. Take into consideration our summaries above: could either really support a point as evidence? The summary does not tell us why or howelectronic records have preservation problems, nor does it state why or how data migration is a viable solution.

Paraphrasing

To paraphrase is to restate a specific idea from a source in your own words. A paraphrase does not provide the gist of the entire piece as a summary would, but instead it serves to work a single point or idea into your paper to serve as evidence for your claims.

Part of the above excerpt for paraphrasing (see our paraphrase below):

Migration is often chosen as the best available alternative because it does not require record managers to store and maintain a near-museum of old computer hardware, which would be quite expensive in terms of time and space, not to mention the consultation fee to pay Sparky, the only mechanic east of the Mississippi who can still repair Apple IIe’s.10 Regularly migrating records with extended retention periods and/or archival value would in theory keep the records accessible throughout their life spans.

Our paraphrase:

According to Hayes, one reason record managers favor data migration is that it can prolong the accessibility of electronic records while avoiding the costly and impractical need to accumulate bulky, aging and obsolete machinery that would be necessary to read these data in their original format (2008, 4).

As you can see, the paraphrase hones in on one particular point in the author's argument, and expresses it in our own words. And of course, you must document the citation in the format specified by your instructor (we're using Turabian parenthetical citations here).

ATTENTION! WARNING!: Merely swapping out words for synonyms is notparaphrasing, nor is simply altering the sentence structure. It falls far below the standards of graduate level writing, and it borders on plagiarism even if you do cite it, because it is really no more than misquoting a passage and omitting the quotation marks. Additionally, paraphrasing should not twist the author's words or alter the original intent or context of the passage.

Two examples of UNACCEPTABLE attempts at paraphrasing:

According to Hayes, keeping and maintaining a store of old computer hardware as well as paying a mechanic to repair the old IBM would be quite costly in terms of space and time, so records managers often go with data migration as a good alternative.

According to Hayes, data migration is the only alternative that records managers have. If they do not migrate data, organizations have to store and maintain a variety of old computers. Periodically migrating records with long retention periods and/or enduring value keeps the records accessible throughout their life spans.

Paraphrasing is not as simple as it seems at first glance, is it? It takes practice and careful attention to make sure that your paraphrase accurately restates the author's intended point while still being expressed truly in your own words.

When to use paraphrasing: You will find yourself paraphrasing sources quite frequently in your papers. In fact, most of your citing should come in the form of paraphrasing. Why? Because paraphrasing is the ideal way to provide evidence for your own ideas. From our paraphrased example, we find out one way how (why?) data migration works.

Using Direct Quotes

Now that you're a pro at summarizing and paraphrasing, it's time to get into the nitty-gritty of direct quotes. As you may have guessed, to quote a source means to restate a sentence, phrase, or passage word-for-word from the text and enclose the quoted portion in quotation marks. Sounds simple enough, right? Again, what seems like a simple, straightforward process turns out to be one requiring careful thought and a good sense of timing. Allow us to elaborate.

The Rules of Quotes

  1. Introduce quotes using a signal or attribution phrase to contextualize them and indicate how you want your reader to use them.
  2. Use quotes judiciously.
  3. Use a direct quote only when you could not have said it better yourself.
  4. Use a direct quote to avoid misrepresenting the author's intent when that passage contains evidence you wish to refute.
  5. Use proper block quote formatting for quotes longer than four lines of text.
  6. Proofread all quotes to make sure they are quoted accurately.

Part of the above excerpt for quoting (see our quote below):

While CD-ROMs and optical discs have proven more durable than, say 5 ¼-inch floppies, there is no guarantee that in twenty years the available hardware will be able to physically accept them, much less read them.7 Therefore, unlike human-readable media such as paper and microfilm, the questions evoked by digital records are not only based upon how we must care for archival collections to prevent deterioration, but also force us to ask ourselves, "how are we going to access and read these things in the future?"

Our Quote: 

As Hayes states in her paper on the future of electronically produced records, "the questions evoked by digital records are not only based upon how we must care for archival collections to prevent deterioration, but also force us to ask ourselves, 'how are we going to access and read these things in the future?'"(2008, 5).

As you can see, we followed all of the applicable quoting rules here. We introduced the quote by announcing from whom and from what context we took the quote. We used a passage that we believe makes our point better than any paraphrase could have done. The entire quoted portion is encapsulated within quotation marks, and we follow the sentence with the proper parenthetical citation. You may also note that the portion we quote itself contains a phrase in quotation marks. To denote this in our paper, we simply change the double quotes to single, and place our quotation marks at the beginning and end of the entire passage (for more on the parenthetical citation rules, see the Turabian Citation Basics Handout).

Additional Sources:

Turabian, Kate L. A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations. 8th Ed. Revised by Wayne C. Booth, Gregory G. Colomb, Joseph M. Williams, and the University of Chicago Press Editorial Staff. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013.