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Quoting, Paraphrasing, and Summarizing

This information and exercise was adapted from the Purdue Online Writing Lab.


This page is intended to help you become more comfortable with the uses of and distinctions among quotations, paraphrases, and summaries. The first section compares and contrasts the terms, while the second part offers a short excerpt that you can use to practice these skills.

What are the differences among quoting, paraphrasing, and summarizing?

These three ways of incorporating other writers' work into your own writing differ according to the closeness of your writing to the source writing. Obviously, a quotation must be identical to the original, using a narrow segment of the source. Paraphrased material is usually shorter than the original passage, taking a somewhat broader segment of the source and condensing it slightly. Summaries are significantly shorter than the original and take a broad overview of the source material.
  • Quotations must match the source document word for word and must be attributed to the original author.
  • Paraphrasing involves putting a passage from source material into your own words. A paraphrase must also be attributed to the original source.
  • Summarizing involves putting the main idea(s) into your own words, including only the main point(s). Once again, it is necessary to attribute summarized ideas to the original source.

Why use quotations, paraphrases, and summaries?

Quotations, paraphrases, and summaries serve many purposes. You might use them to:
  • provide support for claims or add credibility to your writing
  • refer to work that leads up to the work you are now doing
  • give examples of several points of view on a subject
  • call attention to a position that you wish to agree or disagree with
  • highlight a particularly striking phrase, sentence, or passage by quoting the original
  • distance yourself from the original by quoting it in order to cue readers that the words are not your own
  • expand the breadth or depth of your writing
Writers frequently intertwine summaries, paraphrases, and quotations. As part of a summary of an article, a chapter, or a book, a writer might include paraphrases of various key points blended with quotations of striking or suggestive phrases as in the following example:
     In his famous and influential work On the Interpretation of Dreams, Sigmund Freud 

     argues that dreams are the "royal road to the unconscious" (page), expressing in 

     coded imagery the dreamer's unfulfilled wishes through a process known as the 

     "dream work" (page). According to Freud, actual but unacceptable desires are 

     censored internally and subjected to coding through layers of condensation and 

     displacement before emerging in a kind of rebus puzzle in the dream itself (pages).


How to use quotations, paraphrases, and summaries

Copy the essay below and paste it in an MS Word document.  Write a short summary analysis paper in which you summarize, paraphrase, and quote from the original essay.  You should also include your own personal response to the essay.

A good way to start is to read the entire text, noting the key points and main ideas. Then, write your personal response to the essay (this will give you some distance from the author's voice and help you compose using your voice); this will probably be your conclusion.  Next, summarize in your own words what the single main idea of the essay is. (This might be your introduction or second paragraph).  Then, paraphrase important supporting points that come up in the essay. Also consider any words, phrases, or brief passages that you believe should be quoted directly. There are several ways to integrate quotations into your text. Often, a short quotation works well when integrated into a sentence. Longer quotations can stand alone. Remember that quoting should be done only sparingly; be sure that you have a good reason to include a direct quotation when you decide to do so. You'll find guidelines for citing sources and punctuating citations in The SF Writer.

When you've completed this exercise, send it to jeanette.corey-gruenes@mankato.msus.edu as an MS Word attachment.  Please type "Comp 101" as the subject, and don't forget to include your word count.


Sample essay for summarizing, paraphrasing, and quoting

So That Nobody Has To Go To School If They Don't Want To


A decline in standardized test scores is but the most recent indicator that American education is in trouble.

One reason for the crisis is that present mandatory-attendance laws force many to attend school who have no wish to be there. Such children have little desire to learn and are so antagonistic to school that neither they nor more highly motivated students receive the quality education that is the birthright of every American.

The solution to this problem is simple: Abolish compulsory-attendance laws and allow only those who are committed to getting an education to attend.

This will not end public education. Contrary to conventional belief, legislators enacted compulsory-attendance laws to legalize what already existed. William Landes and Lewis Solomon, economists, found little evidence that mandatory-attendance laws increased the number of children in school. They found, too, that school systems have never effectively enforced such laws, usually because of the expense involved.

There is no contradiction between the assertion that compulsory attendance has had little effect on the number of children attending school and the argument that repeal would be a positive step toward improving education. Most parents want a high school education for their children. Unfortunately, compulsory attendance hampers the ability of public school officials to enforce legitimate educational and disciplinary policies and thereby make the education a good one.

Private schools have no such problem. They can fail or dismiss students, knowing such students can attend public school. Without compulsory attendance, public schools would be freer to oust students whose academic or personal behavior undermines the educational mission of the institution.

Has not the noble experiment of a formal education for everyone failed? While we pay homage to the homily, "You can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink," we have pretended it is not true in education.

Ask high school teachers if recalcitrant students learn anything of value. Ask teachers if these students do any homework. Quite the contrary, these students know they will be passed from grade to grade until they are old enough to quit or until, as is more likely, they receive a high school diploma. At the point when students could legally quit, most choose to remain since they know they are likely to be allowed to graduate whether they do acceptable work or not.

Abolition of archaic attendance laws would produce enormous dividends.

First, it would alert everyone that school is a serious place where one goes to learn. Schools are neither day-care centers nor indoor street corners. Young people who resist learning should stay away; indeed, an end to compulsory schooling would require them to stay away.

Second, students opposed to learning would not be able to pollute the educational atmosphere for those who want to learn. Teachers could stop policing recalcitrant students and start educating.

Third, grades would show what they are supposed to: how well a student is learning. Parents could again read report cards and know if their children were making progress.

Fourth, public esteem for schools would increase. People would stop regarding them as way stations for adolescents and start thinking of them as institutions for educating America's youth.

Fifth, elementary schools would change because students would find out early they had better learn something or risk flunking out later. Elementary teachers would no longer have to pass their failures on to junior high and high school.

Sixth, the cost of enforcing compulsory education would be eliminated. Despite enforcement efforts, nearly 15 percent of the school-age children in our largest cities are almost permanently absent from school.

Communities could use these savings to support institutions to deal with young people not in school. If, in the long run, these institutions prove more costly, at least we would not confuse their mission with that of schools.

Schools should be for education. At present, they are only tangentially so. They have attempted to serve an all-encompassing social function, trying to be all things to all people. In the process they have failed miserably at what they were originally formed to accomplish.