How to Quote and Paraphrase:  An Overview

Writers quote and paraphrase from research in order to support their points and to persuade their readers.  A quotation or a paraphrase from a piece of evidence in support of a point answers the reader’s question, “Says who?”

This impact is especially true in academic writing since scholarly readers are most persuaded by effective research and evidence.  For example, readers of an article about a new cancer medication published in a medical journal will be most interested in the scholar’s research and statistics that demonstrate the effectiveness of the treatment.  Conversely, they will not be as persuaded by emotional stories from individual patients about how a new cancer medication improved the quality of their lives.  While this appeal to emotion can be effective and is common in popular sources, these individual anecdotes do not carry the same scholarly or scientific value as well-reasoned research and evidence.

Of course, your instructor is not expecting you to be an expert yet on the topic of your research paper.  While you might conduct some primary research, it’s a good bet that you’ll be relying on secondary sources such as books, articles, and websites to inform and persuade your readers.  You’ll present this research to your readers in the form of quotations and paraphrases.

A quotation is a direct restatement of the exact words from the original source.  The general rule of thumb is any time you use three or more words as they appeared in the original source, you should treat it as a quotation.  A paraphrase is a restatement of the information or point of the original source in your own words with your own syntax.

While quotations and paraphrases are different and should be used in different ways in your research writing (as the examples in this section suggest), they do have a number of things in common.  Both quotations and paraphrases should:

  • be introduced to the reader, particularly the first time you mention a source;
  • include an account of the evidence that explains to the reader why you think the evidence is important, especially if it is not apparent from the context of the quotation or paraphrase; and
  • include a proper citation of the source.

The method you should follow to properly quote or paraphrase depends on the style guide you are following in your academic writing.  The two most common style guides used in academic writing are APA (American Psychological Association) and MLA (Modern Language Association). Your instructor will probably assign one of these styles before you begin working on your project; however, if he/she doesn’t mention this, be sure to ask.