The English Corner at Richland College

When to Quote, Paraphrase, or Summarize

When writing, you need to know when it is appropriate to quote, paraphrase, or summarize. Each one also requires in-text citations with an entry on a Works Cited page.

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Direct Quote
A direct quote is an exact word-for-word copy of the author’s original words. Use quotation marks around the exact language to indicate you borrowed the words. Use a direct quote when the original wording unique or the source itself has a high degree of credibility or noteworthiness. It is best to use direct quotes for numbers like statistics. The source is identified by the in-text citation.

A paraphrase is where you rephrase the original text with different words and a different sentence structure while still maintaining the original meaning. Use a paraphrase when the original author’s words are confusing or stilted. Use a paraphrase to write the passage clearer. A paraphrase rewrites a quote in easy to understand language. Sometimes a paraphrase is used when only the main idea of the passage or sentence is needed. A paraphrase is usually the same length or shorter than the original passage. A paraphrase does not use quotation marks like a direct quote since you have rewritten the passage using your own words. However, you still need an in-text citation to show you borrowed the ideas.

A summary is where you rewrite the main idea of an original text in your own words. You don’t need every detail in a summary. It usually covers an entire essay or story, whereas a paraphrase is only a section or sentence. A summary is unbiased, neutral, and factual with no analysis or interpretation. Typically, a summary does not use direct quotes unless your instructor wants a direct quote in the summary. Even though you are using your own words, the ideas are not yours, so an in-text citation is required.

Common Knowledge
If a writer uses information that is common knowledge, no citations – internal or on the works cited page – are needed. A good rule of thumb in determining common knowledge is to ask five of your peers. A peer is someone your same age with the same education. If they all know the information, then you should be safe not citing it. The following will also help you determine if the information is common knowledge:

  • The information is undocumented in various respectable sources
  • The data is found in general encyclopedias
  • The information is factual and not controversial
    Common knowledge is influenced and changed by three things:
  • Age—Your common knowledge base increases as you get more life experience
  • Education—Your common knowledge base increases as you learn more

Handout created by Jane Stidham & Justine White

• Field of study—If you are in an advanced course, your instructor will expect you to know everything that came before that course. You will not need to cite it in a paper for that course. However, in another course, like English, you would need to cite much more!

If you are unsure about whether information is common knowledge or not, cite it to be sure. It’s better to over-cite than to plagiarize.

Shared language
Shared language is wording that is used by people in the same discipline. It is not considered plagiarism to use common words or unique phrases even if your sources use the same words, and no direct quotes are needed. Shared language is words or phrases that cannot not be rewritten using your own words without becoming incomprehensible or ridiculous. If you can find a synonym for a word, use it to be sure. Here are some examples of shared language.

  • Conventional designations: low-fat diet, upper respiratory infection, firewall
  • Bias-free language: wait staff, flight attendant, spokesperson, fire fighter
  • Discipline specific language: nursing degree, science fiction, global warming, chemical
    Shared language does not cover original terms created by authors. For example, in David Foster Wallace’s commencement address at Kenyon College, he refers to drifting absently through life as the “default setting.” When paraphrasing Wallace, “default setting” must be in quotes since he originally created the term and its associated meaning. It is not shared language.

For this Writer’s Notebook assignment, complete the following activities:

  1. Watch the Summarizing video above
  2. Reread and take notes over the essay “Literature is Political Because We Are Political Animals”
  3. Using the information from the video over summarizing and the quote, paraphrasing, and summarizing worksheet, write a summary of ” Literature is Political Because We Are Political Animals “
  4. Submit your completed assignment as an attachment by clicking on the link above.

Grading Rubric:

  • Maintain the original work’s meaning, covering all the sections of the original.                      20
  • Write in a direct, objective style, using your own words.                                                         10
  • Begin with a reference to the author (full name) and the title of the work and his/her thesis. 10
  • Focus on main ideas, avoiding specific examples, illustrations, or background material.       10
  • Combine main ideas into fewer sentences.                                                                             10
  • Maintain the balance of the original work.                                                                               10
  • Select precise, accurate verbs to show the author’s relationship to ideas.                             10
  • Use author tags throughout to remind the reader it’s a summary.                                           10
  • End by stating what the author hopes the reader will take away from the work.                     10
  • Total                                                                                                                                        100