Quoting and Paraphrasing

Learning Objectives

Explain how to paraphrase and summarize effectively in public speaking.


Man striking same pose as a sculpture in an art galleryWhereas in written language, quotations are marked off with quotation marks or indented blocks, spoken delivery generally doesn’t specify where a quote begins and ends. The written version of the speech, though, whether in outline, note, or manuscript form, should mark the beginning and end of the quote (and cite it properly).

For instance, when President Ronald Reagan gave his famous 1987 speech at the Berlin Wall, he said, “in 1947 Secretary of State George Marshall announced the creation of what would become known as the Marshall Plan. Speaking precisely forty years ago this month, he said: ‘Our policy is directed not against any country or doctrine, but against hunger, poverty, desperation, and chaos.'” The quotation marks aren’t acknowledged out loud, but they are in the manuscript. [1]

Ethically, it is important not to use quotations out of context. If a politician says, “My critics say I’m a liar and a crook,” it would be misleading and unethical to quote the politician as saying, “I’m a liar and a crook.”

Paraphrasing and Summarizing

Unless a quote is short, simple, and memorable, or unless the exact wording of the quote is important, you might want to use a paraphrase or a summary. Paraphrasing and summarizing are similar. When we paraphrase, we process information or ideas from another person’s text and put it in our own words.

Paraphrasing is often a better choice than using a direct quote in spoken presentations because it allows you to simplify written language and quickly explain specific terms. If the original text refers to an idea or term discussed earlier in the text, your paraphrase may also need to explain or define that idea. You may also need to interpret specific terms made by the writer in the original text.

As with quotations, your paraphrase should be true to the original intention of the passage you’re paraphrasing. Be careful not to add information or commentary that isn’t part of the original passage in the midst of your paraphrase. You don’t want to add to or take away from the meaning of the passage you are paraphrasing. Save your comments and analysis until after you have finished your paraphrase.

The main difference between paraphrase and summary is scope: if summarizing means rewording and condensing, then paraphrasing means rewording without drastically altering length. However, paraphrasing is also generally more faithful to the spirit of the original; whereas a summary requires you to process and invites you to form your own perspective, a paraphrase ought to mirror back the original idea using your own language.

Remember that both paraphrase and summary require citations. Even when you use someone else’s ideas but put those ideas into your own words, you still need to acknowledge the source!

To Watch

In this speech, public radio host Celeste Headlee explains what she’s learned about being a good conversationalist.

You can view the transcript for “How to Have a Good Conversation | Celeste Headlee | TEDxCreativeCoast” here (opens in new window).

What to watch for:

In this speech, Headlee uses a number of quotations, citations, and paraphrases. Note how she uses these different forms and how she cites the sources verbally. When she quotes directly from an article by Paul Barnwell, she conspicuously reads from her notecard, to show that the sentence should be understood as a word-for-word quotation. In other places, though, she summarizes large research reports or paraphrases ideas from other experts.