Source Use

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Quotation & Paraphrase

When you are writing a paper and you want to incorporate material from another source in your writing, you will want to consider two of the primary ways to do so: quotation and paraphrase. If you are at a point when you are trying to decide whether to directly quote material or paraphrase it, consider the purpose you are trying to achieve (Lunsford 225). You are writing for an audience with a purpose, and the choice you make to either use a quote or a paraphrase should be made with the thought of reaching your audience (Stedman 244). Also consider and familiarize yourself with the discipline (e.g., English, Psychology, Engineering, etc.) in which you are writing. Some disciplines rely heavily on direct quotation, while others do not, so you’ll want to consider that when deciding how to use sources.

According to Lunsford, if the exact wording that your source uses is “so memorable or powerful, or expresses a point so perfectly, that you cannot change it without weakening its meaning,” then you should quote that source (225). You might also quote an author to emphasize that particular author’s opinion, to “show you are considering varying perspectives,” or to lend your own writing authority by quoting “respected authorities whose opinions support your ideas” (Lunsford 225). (See “Quotation” below.)

However, if you want to explain an author’s point of view in your own words, or you want to borrow ideas, details, facts or statistics that are important to your point, then you should consider paraphrasing. This is a useful strategy especially when the author you are paraphrasing has important ideas but is not a particularly important authority or their wording is verbose, mundane, or awkward. See “Paraphrase” below.

It’s not an either/or decision, though. You will often use elements of both paraphrase and quotation when you incorporate sources. You may change some words to help fit the source material into your writing, but borrow a few key words verbatim and put them in quotation marks, as described in the “Quotation” section below.

Whether you quote or paraphrase your source, or both, you must write a properly formatted in-text citation and Works Cited (for MLA) or References (for APA) entry to give proper credit to the author and to allow your reader to follow up on your research. See other Wiki entry?


One strategy for incorporating another’s ideas into your own writing is to quote your source. Quotation is when you borrow the exact words that your source uses. It may just be one key word, a few words, a key phrase, or an entire passage. For quotations as short as one word or as long as four lines, you will put the borrowed material in quotation marks. For quotations that are longer than four lines, you will use block quotation format. See the Purdue OWL for more information about formatting quotations [1].

It’s usually a bad idea to leave quotations by themselves. If you’re borrowing more than a few words, or you want to emphasize the author you’re borrowing from, it’s a good idea to introduce the author before the quotation, like so:

   According to Smith, “it’s a good idea to introduce your source” (43).

If you’re borrowing just a word or short phrase, or the author is not particularly important to your discussion, you can choose to incorporate the shorter quotation into your own writing, like so:

   When you’re quoting sources, you should “introduce your source” (Smith 43).

You’ll notice that the last example, in addition to quotation, uses paraphrase, by altering “it’s a good idea to” into “you should.” Partial paraphrasing is a common strategy for making quotations a more fluent part of your writing.

You can test the fluency of your incorporation of quotations by removing the quotation marks and seeing if it still makes sense (and then putting the quotation marks back, of course).


The other main strategy for incorporating sources into your writing is to paraphrase your source. Andrea Lunsford, in her book Everyday Writer with Exercises, emphasizes the importance of including the most relevant details of an author’s argument in the same order that the author offered them. To paraphrase effectively, she says, a writer must also refrain from weighing in on the topic or offering one’s own thoughts (220).

An effective paraphrase must include a complete transformation of the language in the passage (220). You will find that keeping a thesaurus handy will help when you are working to change the text to your own words. You need to make sure that you comprehend the meaning of the passage you are paraphrasing; if there are any terms you don’t know, make sure to research them so that you can explain them in your own way[2].

Also, you need to make sure that the syntax of your sentences, that is, the way they are put together or ordered, is different from the way the original author’s sentences were put together or ordered. Taking a look at articles (a, an, the), prepositions (of, for, about), or conjunctions (and, but, yet) may seem tedious, but these are a few examples of the kind of connecting glue that holds sentences together and that you will want to look at changing as well (220-221). Andrea Lunsford refers to changing this connecting glue as changing the “sentence structures” (221). If you find yourself following the sentence structure or word choices of the source too closely, then you should consider quoting the source instead.

Taking a look at how authors actually handle paraphrase is one of the best ways to get a handle on it. When you see how professional writers do this work, you can begin to emulate them, that is, handle your own paraphrasing tasks in a similar way. Purdue Owl offers many examples of effective paraphrases of specific passages[3][4]. Try looking at the passages on the exercise page first, write practice paraphrases, and then check your answers. Ask yourself if you have completely transformed the language, in terms of changing wording and order/structure.

When you are writing a paper, and you want to transition from a paraphrase to your own thoughts or argument, make sure to cite your paraphrase, and then move on by using a phrase that shows your reader that you intend to offer your own thoughts on the matter. You might try a phrase such as “I think…” or “I intend to prove…” to handle the transition (Stedman 253-254).

Works Cited

Lunsford, Andrea. The Everyday Writer with Exercises. Boston: Bedford/ St. Martin’s, 2013. Print.

“MLA Formatting Quotations.” Purdue Online Writing Lab. Purdue University, 06 April 2013. Web. 10 Nov. 2013.

“Paraphrase: Write it in Your Own Words.” Purdue Online Writing Lab. Purdue University, 14 May 2012. Web. 10 Nov. 2013.

“Paraphrasing Exercise.” Purdue Online Writing Lab. Purdue University, 21 April 2010. Web. 10 Nov. 2013.

“Paraphrasing Exercise Answers.” Purdue Online Writing Lab. Purdue University, 21 April 2010. Web. 10 Nov. 2013.

Stedman, Kyle D. “Annoying Ways People Use Sources.” Writing Spaces: Readings on Writing. Eds. Charles Lowes and Pavel Zemliansky. 242-256. Anderson, South Carolina: Parlor Press, 2011. Writing Spaces. Web. 10 Nov. 2013.

  1., “MLA Formatting Quotations.” Purdue Online Writing Lab. Purdue University
  2., “Paraphrase: Write it in Your Own Words.” Purdue Online Writing Lab. Purdue University
  3., “Paraphrasing Exercise.” Purdue Online Writing Lab. Purdue University
  4., “Paraphrasing Exercise Answers.” Purdue Online Writing Lab. Purdue University