3.4: Using Source Text: Quoting, Paraphrasing, and Summarizing

Learning Objectives

Target icon3. Quote source text directly with accuracy and correct punctuation.

4. Use effective reading strategies to collect and reframe information from a variety of written materials accurately.

5.  Locate, select, and organize relevant and accurate information drawn from a variety of sources appropriate to the task.

6. Integrate and document information using commonly accepted citation guidelines.

Once you have a collection of credible sources as part of a formal secondary research project such as a report, your next step is to build that report around those sources, using them as anchors of evidence around your own arguments. If you began with an hypothesis and you’re using the sources as evidence to support it, or if you realize that your hypothesis is wrong because all the credible sources you’ve found poked holes in it, you should at this point be able to draft a thesis—your whole point in a nutshell. From there, you can arrange your sources in an order that follows a logical sequence such as general to specific or advantages versus disadvantages. We will examine organizational structures in the next chapter (Ch. 4) on drafting, but we are now going to focus on how to incorporate source material into usable evidence.

You essentially have four ways of using source material available to you, three of them involving text, and one media:

  • Quoting text: copying the source’s exact words and marking them off with quotation marks
  • Paraphrasing text: representing the source’s ideas in your own words (without quotation marks)
  • Summarizing text: representing the source’s main ideas in your own words (without quotation marks)
  • Reproducing media: embedding pictures, videos, audio, graphic elements, etc. into your document

In each case, acknowledging your source with a citation at the point of use and follow-up bibliographical reference at the end of your document (see §3.5 below) is essential to avoid a charge of plagiarism. Let’s now look at each of these in turn.

3.4.1: Quoting Sources

Quoting is the easiest way to use sources in a research document, but it also requires care in using it properly so that you don’t accidentally plagiarize, misquote, or overquote. At its simplest, quoting takes source text exactly as it is and puts quotation marks (“ ”) around that text to set it off from your own words. The following points represent conventions and best practices when quoting:

  • Use double quotation marks: In North America, we set off quoted words from our own words with double quotation marks (“ ”). Opening quotation marks look a little like a tiny superscript “66” and the closing marks like “99.” For a pneumonic device, you might want to think of a quotation as a hockey legend play with Mario Lemieux (jersey number 66) setting up Wayne Gretzky (99) for the goal.
    • You may have seen single quotation marks and think that they’re also acceptable to use, but that’s only true in the UK and some other Commonwealth countries, not in Canada; some European countries use << >> to set off quotations instead.
    • Also use double quotation marks for putting a single word or two in “scare quotes” when you’re drawing attention to how people use certain words and phrases—again, not single quotation marks since there is no such thing as quotation marks “lite.”
    • Use single quotation marks only for reported speech when you have a quotation within a quotation, as in, “The minister responded to say, ‘No comment at this time’ regarding the allegations of wrongdoing.”
    • If no parenthetical citation follows immediately after the closing quotation marks, the sentence-ending period falls to the left of those closing quotation marks (between the final letter and the “99”); a common mistake is to place the period to the right of the closing quotation marks ( . . . wrongdoing”.).
  • Use a signal phrase to integrate a quotation: Frame a quotation with a “signal phrase” that identifies the source author or speaker by name and/or role along with a verb relating how the quotation was delivered. The signal phrase can precede, follow, or even split the quotation, and you can choose from a variety of available signal phrase expressions suitable for your purposes (Hacker, 2006, p. 603):
    • According to researchers Tblisky and Darion (2003), “. . .”
    • As Vice President of Operations Rhonda Rendell has noted, “. . .”
    • John Rucker, the first responder who pulled Mr. Warren from the wreckage, said that “. . .”
    • Spokespersons Gloria and Tom Grady clarified the new regulations: “. . .”
    • “. . . ,” confirmed the minister responsible for the initiative.
    • “. . . ,” writes Eva Hess, “. . .”
  • Quote purposefully: Quote only when the original wording is important. When we quote famous thinkers like Albert Einstein or Marshall McLuhan, we use their exact words because no one could say it better or more interestingly than they did. Also quote when you want your audience to see wording exactly as it appeared in the source text or as it was said in speech so that they can be sure that you’re not distorting the words as you might if you paraphrased instead. But if there’s nothing special about the original wording, then you’re better to paraphrase properly (see §3.4.2 below) than to quote.
  • Block-quote sparingly if at all: In rare circumstances, you may want to quote a few sentences or even a paragraph at length if it’s important to represent every single word. If so, the convention is to tab the passage in on both the left and right, not use quotation marks at all, set up the quotation with a signal phrase or sentence ending with a colon, and place the in-text citation following the final period of the block quotation. Consider the following example:
    • Students frequently overuse direct quotation [when] taking notes, and as a result they overuse quotations in the final [research] paper. Probably only about 10% of your final manuscript should appear as directly quoted matter. Therefore, you should strive to limit the amount of exact transcribing of source materials while taking notes. (Lester, 1976, pp. 46-47)
  • Don’t overquote: As the above source says, a good rule of thumb is that your completed document should contain no more than 10% quoted material. Much above that will look lazy because it appears that you’re getting quotation to write your document for you. Quote no more than a sentence or two at a time if you quote at all.
  • Quote accurately: Don’t misquote by editing the source text on purpose or fouling up a transcription accidentally. Quotation requires the exact transcription of the source text, which means writing the same words in the same order in your document as you found them in the original.
    • To avoid introducing spelling mistakes or other transcription errors, best practice (if your source is electronic) is to highlight the text you want to quote, copy it (ctrl. + c), and paste it (ctrl. + v) into your document so that it matches the formatting of the rest of your document (i.e., with the same font type, size, etc.). To match the formatting, use the Paste Options drop-down menu that appears beside pasted text as soon as you drop it in and disappears as soon as you perform any operation other than clicking on the drop-down menu.
  • Use brackets and ellipses to indicate edits to quotations: If you need to edit a quotation to be grammatically consistent with your own sentences framing the quotation (e.g., so that the tense is consistently past-tense if it is present-tense in the source text), add clarifying words, or delete words, do so using brackets for changed words and ellipses for deleted words as you can see in the Lester block quotation above.
    • Though many people mistakenly refer to parentheses ( ) as “brackets”, brackets are squared [ ] and are used mainly to indicate changes to quoted words, whereas parentheses follow the quotation and mark off the citation. If you were to clarify and streamline the final sentence of the block quotation a few points above, for instance, you could say something like: Lester (1976) recommended “limit[ing] the amount of exact transcribing . . . while taking notes” (p. 47). Here, the verb “limit” in the source text needs to be converted into its participle form (having an -ing ending) to follow the past-tense verb in the sentence framing the quotation grammatically. Sneakily adding the “ing” to “limit” without using brackets would be misquotation because “limiting” appears nowhere in the original.
    • Notice that the ellipsis above is three spaced periods (not three stuck together, as in “…”) and that one doesn’t appear at the beginning of the quotation to represent the words in the original prior to “limit” nor at the end to represent source text following the quoted words (“… limit …”). Use the ellipsis only to show that you’re skipping over unnecessary words within a quotation.
    • Be careful not to use brackets and ellipses in a way that distorts or obscures the meaning of the original text. For instance, omitting “Probably” and changing “should” to “[can]” in the Lester quotation above will turn his soft guideline into a hard rule, which are not the same.
    • If the quotation includes writing errors such as spelling mistakes, show that they’re the author’s (rather than yours) by adding “[sic]” immediately after each error (“sic” abbreviates sic erat scriptum, Latin for “thus it had been written”), as in:
      • When you said in the class discussion forum, “No one cares about grammer, [sic] it doesnt [sic] really matter,” you tend to undermine your credibility on the topic with poor spelling and a comma splice.
    • Capitalize as in the original, even if it seems strange to start a quotation with a capital (because it was the first word in the original) though it’s no longer the first word because it follows a signal phrase in your sentence. See the example in the point above, for instance.
    • Quotation is a powerful tool in the arsenal of any writer needing to support a point with evidence. Capturing the source’s words exactly as they were written or spoken is an honest way of presenting research. For more on quotation, consult Purdue OWL’s series of modules starting with the How to Use Quotation Marks page (Conrey, Pepper, & Brizee, 2017) and ending with their Exercise (2013).


Conrey, S. M., Pepper, M., & Brizee, A. (2013, April 3). Quotation mark exercise and answers. Purdue OWL. Retrieved from https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/577/05/

Conrey, S. M., Pepper, M., & Brizee, A. (2017, July 25). How to use quotation marks. Purdue OWL. Retrieved from https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/577/01/

Hacker, Diana. (2006). The Bedford handbook (7th ed.). New York: St. Martin’s. Retrieved from https://department.monm.edu/english/mew/signal_phrases.htm

Lester, J. D. (1976). Writing research papers: A complete guide (2nd ed.). Glenview, Illinois: Scott, Foresman.

3.4.2: Paraphrasing Sources

Paraphrasing or “indirect quotation” is putting source text in your own words and altering the sentence structure to avoid using the quotation marks required in direct quotation. Paraphrasing is the preferred way of using a source when the original wording isn’t important. This way, you can incorporate the source’s ideas so they’re stylistically consistent with the rest of your document and thus better tailored to the needs of your audience (presuming the original was tailored for a different audience with different needs). Also, paraphrasing a source into your own words proves your advanced understanding of the source text.

A paraphrase must faithfully represent the source text by containing the same ideas as in the original in about the same length. As a matter of good writing, however, you should try to streamline your paraphrase so that it tallies fewer words than the source passage while still preserving the original meaning. An accurate paraphrase of the Lester (1976) passage block-quoted in the section above, for instance, can reduce a five-line passage to three lines without losing or distorting any of the original points:

Lester (1976) advises against exceeding 10% quotation in your written work. Since students writing research reports often quote excessively because of copy-cut-and-paste note-taking, try to minimize using sources word for word (pp. 46-47).

Notice that using a few isolated words from the original (“research,” “students,” “10%”) is fine, but also that this paraphrase doesn’t repeat any two-word sequence from the original because it changes the sentence structure along with most of the words. Properly paraphrasing without distorting, slanting, adding to, or deleting ideas from the source passage takes skill. The stylistic versatility required to paraphrase can be especially challenging to EAL learners and native English users whose general writing skills are still developing.

A common mistake that students make when paraphrasing is to go only part way towards paraphrasing by substituting-out major words (nouns, verbs, and adjectives) here and there while leaving the source passage’s basic sentence structure intact. This inevitably leaves strings of words from the original untouched in the “paraphrased” version, which can be dangerous because including such direct quotation without quotation marks will be caught by the plagiarism-busting software that college instructors use these days. Consider, for instance, the following botched attempt at a paraphrase of the Lester (1976) passage that subs out words selectively (lazily):

Students often overuse quotations when taking notes, and thus overuse them in research reports. About 10% of your final paper should be direct quotation. You should thus attempt to reduce the exact copying of source materials while note taking (pp. 46-47).

Let’s look at the same attempt, but colour the unchanged words red to see how unsuccessful the paraphraser was in rephrasing the original in their own words (given in black):

Students often overuse quotations when taking notes, and thus overuse them in research reports. About 10% of your final paper should be direct quotation. You should thus attempt to reduce the exact copying of source materials while note taking (pp. 46-47).

As you can see, several strings of words from the original are left untouched because the writer didn’t go the distance in changing the sentence structure of the original. The Originality Report from plagiarism-catching software such as Turnitin would indicate that the passage is 64% plagiarized because it retains 25 of the original words (out of 39 in this “paraphrase”) but without quotation marks around them. Correcting this by simply adding quotation marks around passages like “when taking notes, and” would be unacceptable because those words aren’t important enough on their own to warrant direct quotation. The fix would just be to paraphrase more thoroughly by altering the words and the sentence structure, as shown in the paraphrase a few paragraphs above. But how do you go about doing this?

Paraphrase easily by breaking down the task into these seven steps:

  1. Read and re-read the source-text passage so that you thoroughly understand each point it makes. If it’s a long passage, you might want to break it up into digestible chunks. If you’re unsure of the meaning of any of the words, look them up in a dictionary; you can even just type the word into the Google search bar, hit Enter, and a definition will appear, along with results of other online dictionary pages that define the same word.
  2. Look away and get your mind off the target passage. Process some different information for a while (e.g., a few minutes of gaming or social media—but just a few!)
  3. Without looking back at the source text, repeat its main points as you understood them—not from memorizing the exact words, but as you would explain the same ideas in different words out loud to a friend.
  4. Still without looking back at the source text, jot down that spoken wording and tailor the language so that it’s stylistically appropriate for your audience; edit and proofread your written version to make it grammatically correct in a way that perhaps your spoken-word version wasn’t.
  5. Now compare your written paraphrase version to the original to ensure that:
  • You’ve accurately represented the meaning of the original without:
    • Deleting any of the original points
    • Adding any points of your own
    • Distorting any of the ideas so they mean something substantially different from those in the original, or even take on a different character because you use words that, say, put a positive spin on something neutral or negative in the original
  • You haven’t repeated any two identical words from the original in a row
  1. If any two words from the original remain, go further in changing those expressions by using a thesaurus in combination with a dictionary. When you enter a word into a thesaurus, it gives you a list of synonyms, which are different words that mean the same thing as the word you enter into it.
  • Be careful, however; many of those words will mean the same thing as the word you enter into the thesaurus in certain contexts but not in others, especially if you enter a homonym, which is a word that has different meanings in different parts of speech.
    • For instance, the noun party can mean a group that is involved in something serious (e.g., a third-party software company in a data-collection process), but the verb party means something you do on a wild Saturday night out with friends; it can also function as an adjective related to the verb (e.g., party trick, meaning a trick performed at a party).
  • Whenever you see synonymous words listed in a thesaurus and they look like something you want to use but you don’t know what they mean exactly, always look them up to ensure that they mean what you hope they mean; if not, move on to the next synonym until you find one that captures the meaning you intend. Doing this can save your reader the confusion and you the embarrassment of obvious thesaurus-driven diction problems (poor word choices).
  1. Cite your source. Just because you didn’t put quotation marks around the words doesn’t mean that you don’t have to cite your source. For more on citing, see §3.5.2 below).

For more on paraphrasing, consult the Purdue OWL Paraphrasing learning module (Cimasko, 2013), Exercise, and Answer Key.


Cimasko, T. (2013, March 22). Paraphrasing. Purdue OWL. Retrieved from https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/976/02/

3.4.3: Summarizing Sources

Summarizing is one of the most important skills in communications because professionals of every kind must explain to non-expert customers, managers, and even co-workers the complex concepts on which they are experts, but in a way that those non-experts can understand. Adapting the message to such audiences requires brevity but also translating jargon-heavy technical details into plain, accessible language.

Summarizing is thus paraphrasing only the highlights of a source text or speech. Like paraphrasing, a summary is indirect quotation that re-casts the source in your own words; unlike a paraphrase, however, a summary is a fraction of the source length—anywhere from less than 1% to a quarter depending on the source length and length of the summary. A summary can reduce a whole novel or film to a single-sentence blurb, for instance, or it could reduce a 50-word paragraph to a 15-word sentence. It can be as casual as a spoken run-down of a meeting your colleague was absent from and wanted to know what he missed, or an elevator pitch selling a project idea to a manager. It can also be as formal as a memo report on a conference you attended on behalf of your organization so your colleagues there can learn in a few minutes of reading the highlights of what you learned in a few days of attending the conference, saving them time and money.

The procedure for summarizing is much like that of paraphrasing except that it involves the extra step of pulling out highlights from the source. Altogether, this can be done in six steps, one of which includes the seven steps of paraphrasing, making this a twelve-step procedure:

  1. Determine how big your summary should be (according to your audience’s needs) so that you have a sense of how much material you should collect from the source.
  2. Read and re-read the source text so that you thoroughly understand it.
  3. Pull out the main points, which usually come first at any level of direct-approach organization (i.e., the prologue or introduction at the beginning of a book, the abstract at the beginning of an article, or the topic sentence at the beginning of a paragraph); review §3.3 above on reading for main points and §4.1 below on organizational patterns.
    • Disregard detail such as supporting evidence and examples.
    • If you have an electronic copy of the source, copy and paste the main points into your notes; for a print source that you can mark up, use a highlighter then transcribe those main points into your electronic notes.
    • How many points you collect depends on how big your summary should be (according to audience needs).
  4. Paraphrase those main points following the seven-step procedure for paraphrasing outlined in §3.4.2 above.
  5. Edit your draft to make it coherent, clear, and especially concise.
  6. Ensure that your summary meets the needs of your audience and that your source is cited. Again, not having quotation marks around words doesn’t mean that you are off the hook for documenting your source(s).

Once you have a stable of summarized, paraphrased, and quoted passages from research sources, building your document around them requires good organizational skills. We’ll focus more on this next step of the drafting process in the following chapter (Ch. 4), but basically it involves arranging your integrated research material in a coherent fashion, with main points up front and supporting points below proceeding in a logical sequence towards a convincing conclusion. Throughout this chapter, however, we’ve frequently encountered the requirement to document sources by citing and referencing, as in the last steps of both summarizing and paraphrasing indicated above. After reinforcing our quoting, paraphrasing, and summarizing skills, we can turn our focus on how to document sources.

Key Takeaway

key iconIncluding research in your work typically involves properly quoting, paraphrasing, and/or summarizing source text, as well as citing it.


Find an example of professional writing in your field of study, perhaps from a textbook, trade journal, or industry website that you collected as part of the previous section’s informal annotated bibliography exercise.

  1. If you’ve already pulled out the main points as part of the previous exercise, practice including them as properly punctuated quotations in your document with smooth signal phrases introducing them.
  2. Paraphrase those same main-point sentences following the seven-step procedure outlined in §3.4.2 above. In other words, if Exercise 1 above was direct quotation, now try indirect quotation for each passage.
  3. Following the six-step procedure outlined in §3.4.3 above, summarize the entire source article, webpage, or whatever document you chose by reducing it to a single coherent paragraph of no more than 10 lines on your page.


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3.4: Using Source Text: Quoting, Paraphrasing, and Summarizing Copyright © 2019 by Jordan Smith; Melissa Ashman; eCampusOntario; Brian Dunphy; and Andrew Stracuzzi is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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