Paraphrase, Summary, Quotation

Incorporating Source Material into Written Documents

If you use source material for background information, or as an integral part of any professional communication, make sure to incorporate and identify that material appropriately.

In written documents such as formal reports and proposals, you can incorporate other sources into your writing by paraphrasing, summarizing, or using direct quotes. With each of these techniques, you must always cite your source, both within your communication (usually brief information in parentheses within your text) and at the end, in a list of sources.

  • A paraphrase presents another author’s idea in your own words and sentence structures, without quotation marks, since is it no longer a word-for-word quotation.
  • A summary condenses the main idea of a whole text, a piece of a text, or several texts into substantially shorter form, capturing the most important elements. Like paraphrases, summaries are written using your own words and sentence structures.
  • A direct quotation uses exactly the same words and punctuation as the source you are taking it from, and puts those exact words in quotation marks.


A paraphrase re-states information and ideas from a source using your own wording and sentence structure. A paraphrase is usually about the same length as the original piece of text. Paraphrasing offers a way to maintain your own writing style and voice throughout the writing.  It helps cut down on the number of different styles from different sources, creating a sleeker, easier reading experience for your reader.  Most of all, though, paraphrasing is a means of helping you understand what your sources are saying, in order to incorporate that information into your own writing.  You have to understand the source’s ideas fully in order to rewrite them clearly.


When you paraphrase, make sure not to simply substitute one word for another, retaining the same sentence structure as the original text.  Paraphrasing requires you to use your own sentence structures as well as words, so that you are not inadvertently plagiarizing the source.

In general, it is best to paraphrase when:
  1. There is no good reason to use a quote to refer to your evidence. If the source’s exact words are not especially important to the point you are trying to make, you are usually better off paraphrasing.
  2. You are trying to explain technical information or complicated language to a more general reading audience.
  3. You need to balance a direct quote in your writing. You need to be careful about using too many direct quotations because they may be written in very different writing styles, so potentially may make your communication awkward and difficult to read. Paraphrases can help create sentence fluency in your writing.

Writing a Paraphrase

  • Make sure that you understand the original source that you intend to paraphrase.
  • Rewrite it at least twice, in your own words.  After the first rewriting, set it aside for a short time.  When you go back to it, you’ll most likely see that you’ve retained some of the original source’s wording and sentence structure.  On a second (or third, or fourth) rewriting, try to make the language and sentence structure your own, while retaining the meaning of the original text. If you find that the original text uses a key word or phrase that you don’t want to rewrite, know that you can always include it in quotation marks within your paraphrase.
  • Attribute the paraphrase at the start (e.g., “According to…”), and include a citation at the end.  Your readers should be able to distinguish your own information from paraphrased information, and the attribution and citation signal the beginning and end of the paraphrase.


Summarizing involves condensing and rewriting just the main points of your source into your own words and sentence structures. This technique is appropriate when major ideas are relevant to your communication, or when you need to simplify complex information into a few key points for your audience. Be sure to review the source material as you summarize it. Identify the main idea and restate it as concisely as you can—preferably in one sentence. Depending on your purpose, you may also add a few more sentences condensing any additional, important main ideas from the information you want to summarize. Check your summary to make sure it is accurate and complete.

Remember that summarizing involves condensing main ideas of a source, or a section of a source, into a much shorter overview. A summary outlines a source’s most important points and general position.

Writing a Summary

  • Decide what part of the source is most relevant to your communication’s purpose.
  • Read through the material, cross out non-vital information, and underline what you believe to be the most important points, even if those points are words or phrases. Your summary will focus on the main points.
  • Re-state the main points in your own words. Make sure your sentences are condensed, and that they use your original language and sentence structure.
  • Follow the order of ideas in the original text.
  • Never include your own opinions in a summary; stick to your source’s main ideas.
  • Attribute your source at the start (e.g., “Smith states that…”), and include a citation at the end to give credit to the original author.

Direct Quotation

Direct quotes can be powerful when used sparingly and with purpose. Direct quotes mean that you use your source’s wording, sentence structure, and punctuation exactly. Quoting directly can sometimes help you make a significant point. If a source’s words are especially vivid, memorable, or well phrased, quoting them may help you hold your reader’s interest. However, use quotations sparingly for impact.

Some valid reasons for quoting include:

  1. When not using the author’s exact wording would change the original meaning
  2. To lend authority to the point you are trying to make
  3. When the language of the quote is significant

Using Direct Quotations

When you do choose to quote directly from a source, follow these guidelines:

  • Make sure you have reproduced the original statement exactly (exact wording, sentence structure, and punctuation).
  • Represent the author’s ideas honestly. Quote enough of the original text to reflect the author’s point accurately.
  • Use ellipses (…) if you need to omit a word or phrase.
  • Use brackets [ ] if you need to insert or replace a word or phrase. Only insert a word or phrase if you need to clarify the quotation for your reader.  E.g., “The result of that [the new sales campaign] was shown in a 26% increase in sales of tractors and a 32% increase in sales of backhoes, according to Timor Marketing.”  Only replace a word or phrase if there is an error in the original text.  E.g., “Harrison and Greene state that the results of [their] sales campaign have made them one of the most sought-after advertising firms in the state.” (In this case, “their” replaced “there,” which was incorrect.)
  • Make sure any omissions, insertions, or changed words do not alter the meaning of the original text.
  • Remember to cite your quotation at the end. With quotations, you can but do not have to use an attribution at the start, as the quotation marks signal that you are no longer using your own words, and the citation at the end identifies the source of the quotation.

Incorporating Source Material into Presentations

The same rules about using paraphrases, summaries, and quotations apply to presentations, with one big caveat. If you’re using source information on a slide, keep it exceptionally brief.  Do not show lengthy quotes or paraphrases.  Keep lengthy information for your narration, as opposed to putting it on a slide.

You also need to cite your source if you use a paraphrase, summary, or quote on a slide.  Citations are often put into smaller size text.


The following video offers a comprehensive review of the different ways of using source material, and offers some examples for you to try.  Although the video was created for academic writing, and uses one particular citation format (APA), the same concepts hold true for professional writing, for which APA citation format can be used.