How to Teach Paraphrasing, Quotation and Summary

In my 23 years of teaching College English at a large private University, I’ve found that even well-prepared students are often not clear about when and how to use summary, quotation, and paraphrase. Most probably, it isn’t because no one taught them how to use sources; however, often grammar lessons are dull and students either don’t pay close attention or forget.

The problem? Not understanding how to properly summarize, quote and paraphrase make students unsure of how to incorporate sources in their research papers, not to mention leading to dull and poorly written essays with a tendency to plagiarize. Below are my simple explanations of the difference between these three ways of using sources. After going over these instructions, I have my students practice these skills by doing a fun whole-class exercise. These steps have dramatically helped my students do better on their research papers and I hope they help your students too. Let me know your experiences in the comments!

  1. I usually lecture on quotation, paraphrase, and summary separately, then have students practice doing each of these using a paragraph from an essay in our book. You can do this all in one day, or spread it out over three class sections.
  2. Next, I use the “Paraphrasing Exercise” in class.
  3. Finally, I assign them the task of using all three from another essay in a short, one-page paper. Sometimes, I have students work in pairs to do this task in class. If I don’t have much time, I may assign this as homework instead, but because students have trouble with this concept, it helps for them to have me there while they work it out.
  4. To evaluate how well they’ve understood, I sometimes have them share out loud, or exchange papers and compare against the sample text.
  5. For final evaluation of whether they know how to do this correctly, you can have a test requiring them to paraphrase, quote and summarize, or you can require them to do all three on one of their required essays.

When do you use quotation rather than summary or paraphrase?

  • for support
  • to preserve vivid or technical language
  • to comment on a quotation
  • to distance yourself from a quotation
  • a paraphrase might alter the statement’s meaning
  • you can’t think of any way to say it that works as well as the original
  • if you paraphrase it might be difficult to tell it isn’t your view
  1. Use a quote only for famous sayings, for quoting an authority or when you can’t say the phrase in your own words
  2. Quote infrequently. Once a page would be plenty in a student paper.
  3. Never end a paragraph with a quote. Never expect the quote to make your point for you.
  4. Avoid long quotes (2-3 sentences would be the maximum length for a student paper of 2-4 pages).
  5. You must always explain how a quote supports your argument or how you disagree with the quote.
  1. Citation-comma-quotation: St. Paul declared, “It is better to marry than to burn.”
  2. Citation, colon, quotation (this format is used when the quotation is an example that illustrates your point). In first Corinthians, St. Paul commented on lust: “It is better to marry than to burn.”
  3. Direct Quotation Integrated: you make your sentence and the quotation smoothly combined so that only the quotation marks indicate which words belong to the person you cite. Instead of a comma, you will use a word like “that” or “to” which integrates the quotation into your sentence. St. Paul declared that “it is better to marry than to burn.”
  1. Quotation marks around what is actually quoted only.
  2. Separated has comma or colon before; integrated has no punctuation before.
  3. All periods and commas placed inside terminal quotation marks: “helpful words.” not “helpful words”.
  4. Semicolons, colons, and dashes placed outside of the terminal quotation marks.
  5. Question marks and exclamation points will be inside if the quotation is itself a question or exclamation. If your sentence is the question or exclamation, the punctuation mark goes outside.

1. You use brackets with three spaced dots.

2. Example: She said, “I’m not sure it was correct…therefore we shouldn’t go there.

4. Try to avoid omitting words of a quotation since it makes your quotation somewhat suspect (What was omitted? Would that change the meaning?). It also makes your work more difficult to read.

1. First time use the author’s full name (no title) and the full title of the work.

Example: Stephan Jones in his critical commentary, Author’s Go Crazy, explains his belief that novelists are really mentally insane most of the time.

2. Subsequently, use the last name of the author and a shortened version of the title. If this is a standard work, you should see how other references have shortened the title. If this is not a standard work, you should use two or three of the most important words in the title.

Example: In fact, Jones says that every novel should be suspect since the author’s mental state is usually so unstable.

  1. Most of the time you will use paraphrase rather than quotation. You will definitely use it if the source is not authoritative or interesting enough to quote.
  2. Paraphrasing makes it easier to incorporate the ideas of another writer into your paper.
  3. Use paraphrase to give your readers an accurate and comprehensive account of ideas in your source. These are the ideas you will explain, interpret or disagree with in your essay.
  1. A paraphrase records a short passage; a summary records a passage of any length.
  2. A paraphrase covers every point in the passage; a summary condenses and includes only main ideas.
  3. A paraphrase records ideas in the same order as the original passage; a summary changes the order of ideas when necessary to make the summary more coherent.
  4. A paraphrase does not interpret; a summary might explain or interpret.
  5. A paraphrase is a bit shorter than the original; a summary is much shorter than the original.
  6. A paraphrase is necessary when you want your reader to completely understand another author’s text or when you are arguing against specific points.
  7. A summary is used when you are referring only generally to the original or are using that piece as only one of several you are citing for a particular point.
  1. Misunderstanding: writer of paraphrase misunderstands the text.
  2. Adding: writer puts his own ideas into the text.
  3. Guessing: writer only understood part of the material and ignores the part they didn’t understand.
  4. Plagiarizing or sloppy paraphrasing: writer uses too many of the words, phrases and sentence structures of the original source.

Use the following steps for paraphrasing a passage with difficult words and concepts:

  1. Read the passage and circle unfamiliar words. Look these up in a dictionary and write a few synonyms for each difficult word.
  2. Write a literal paraphrase. This is a paraphrase which re-writes the passage with a word-for-word substitution. You should stay as close to the sentence structure of the original as possible.
  3. Write your final version in free paraphrase. Take your literal paraphrase and turn it into a free paraphrase by reconstructing and rephrasing the sentences to make them more natural and more like your own style of writing.
  4. Read through your free paraphrase to see that it makes sense and do a final revision.

Do you understand the material easily? You can use these steps to paraphrase it:

  1. Read the passage very carefully and write notes of main points on a sheet of paper
  2. Without looking at the passage, re-write it in your own words.
  3. Look at your re-writing and the original. Make sure you haven’t copied the same words or sentence structure. Also, be sure you’ve included all the information in the original passage.
  1. Begin the paraphrase in the same way you begin a quotation, with the author’s full name and the title of the work. If your paraphrase runs several sentences, you can indicate that you are still paraphrasing by using the author’s last name (Jones’s belief is that…) or a pronoun (Moreover, he states…).
  2. End by either starting a new paragraph, mentioning another author, making a clear comment on your opinion or analysis of this author’s statements (Although Jones believes that most people should never borrow money, college students are often unable to finish college unless they take out loans. His views are unrealistic and don’t take into account….).
  3. In some essays, it is appropriate to insert an “I” to indicate your views. (I believe his views are unrealistic and…).
  4. If you are incorporating more than one person’s views in your paragraph, you can end the first paraphrase by simply indicating in the next paragraph that you are paraphrasing someone else. It is best to link these with a transition which shows the relationship between the views of the two authors (While Jones believes that no one should ever take out a loan, James Johnson in his essay, “Financial Freedom for College Students,” takes a more measured approach…).

Using a short paragraph in your book that has interesting information you might want to put in a paper, you are going to practice paraphrasing. Paraphrasing correctly means you change the words, the phrases, the sentence order and the grammar of the original. Here is how:

  1. Read the original a couple of times carefully and think about what it means.
  2. Without looking at the original, write re-write the passage in your own words.
  3. Look back at the original and see if you have used any of the same words, phrases or sentence order. If you have, change them.
  4. Note: sometimes you do need to use a few of the same words if there is no other way to say it that wouldn’t change the meaning (although it can also help to ask someone else if they have an idea how to say that phrase differently).
  5. If you do find a phrase or longer idea you can’t re-write, then enclose it in quotation marks. It is ok to combine paraphrasing with quoting.
  6. Don’t forget to mention the source at the beginning of your paraphrase, and don’t forget parenthetical citation at the end.

Summarizing is easier than quoting and paraphrasing and you’ve probably practiced it since you were in first grade. Summarizing means answering these questions:

  • What is the main idea?
  • What is that passage about?
  • What is the most important point?
  • What is the author trying to claim?
  • What is the best evidence for the author’s claim?

Because your summary is much shorter than the original, you won’t be able to include many details or evidence. What should you include?

  • Ideas that you are going to argue against in your paper.
  • Evidence that supports your paper claim.
  • The main idea and point of view of the author.

Be careful that you don’t use evidence from the source dishonestly. You can disagree and argue against the point of view of an author, but don’t misrepresent that author’s point of view as agreeing with you.

The first time you cite a source, you should use the author’s first and last name. After that, you use the author’s last name. However, you can make your citations more interesting and professional if you use variations for “said” and for the last name of the author. In addition, using adverbs along with your source citations can effectively show your opinion of that source information or to give additional information. Examples:

Johnson says that students who have a higher grade point average in college have a 25% higher salary on their first job.

Johnson revealingly explains that students who have a higher grade point average in college, receive a higher salary on their first job.

Incredibly, Johnson elucidates his view that students who have a higher grade point average in college receive a higher salary on their first job.