Paraphrasing vs. Direct Quotations

Learning Objective:

  • Understand when to paraphrase and when to directly quote a source.

LESSON
As you write, it is important to provide evidenceFacts, statistics, or expert testimony that supports a claim. to support the claimsA statement that something is true, such as the thesis of an essay. A successful writer must present evidence to prove his/her claim. that you make in both your thesis statementA brief statement that identifies a writer's thoughts, opinions, or conclusions about a topic. Thesis statements bring unity to a piece of writing, giving it a focus and a purpose. You can use three questions to help form a thesis statement: What is my topic? What am I trying to say about that topic? Why is this important to me or my reader? and topic sentenceA sentence that contains the controlling idea for an entire paragraph and is typically the first sentence of the paragraph.. QuotingTo use the exact words of someone else in a writing. Quotes are indicted in a writing using quotation marks and attributive phrases. and paraphrasingThe use of different words to express the meaning of an original text or speech. source materialsInformation that is quoted or paraphrased from outside works, such as journal articles, online documents, and books. can be an excellent way to reinforce your claim.  While quotations and paraphrases are similar, they should not be used interchangeably. This lesson will help you understand when it is appropriate to use a direct quotationAn exact copy of the words from a speech or text. These words are placed inside quotation marks to show that they are a perfect repeat of the original. versus paraphrasing it.

When to Paraphrase

Paraphrase in these situations:

1. To use fewer words yet state the same thoughts as the original textWords that make up a book, essay, article, poem, or speech..

Sometimes the choice to paraphrase a sourceA person, book, article, or other thing that supplies information. instead of directly quoting it is a matter of being conciseDescribes writing that only uses words that are necessary for clarity, meaning, and interest.. Unless the quote is exceptionally meaningful, always choose to paraphrase.

Here is an example of an original text and its paraphrase:

Original Text:

"When my car was towed for the third time this winter, I went down to the police station and yelled, 'I've had it!' They told me to go to the impound lot and tell them that, but I stood my ground and demanded to know, for the citizens of this community, why our cars keep getting towed when there is no formal issuance of a snow emergency." Lisa Johnson, Renville Daily News, D4.

Paraphrase:

The writer expressed frustration and anger regarding the towing of her car; she even went to the police station and demanded to know why cars were being towed when no snow emergency had been declared (Johnson, D4).

2. To emphasize your own authority.

When you quote a source, your audience's attention moves from you, the writer, to the author of your source material; however, when you skillfully paraphrase material, the focus stays on you and your well-supported claims.

Example:

Original Text:

"Most cities are taking a more active role in developing and maintaining assistance programs for people who are homeless. Perhaps unrelated, but it turns out that a large percentage of our urban homeless populations are returning combat veterans. It's hard to understand how they can go from leading lives of total and complete structure and selflessness to drifting from street corner to bus stop in the cold. It's also difficult to grasp why we are not kinder or more giving to these people. I am not sure I understand cities. Then again, I don't know if homeless people in rural areas are treated any better." Steven Jones, Urban Development Now, page 37.

Paraphrase:

In an article in Urban Development Now magazine, a writer argues that cities have, essentially, a moral obligation to actively promote and develop programs for homeless people, and that the obligation is particularly important when a large number of homeless people are veterans who have sacrificed for their country and are now cast adrift (Jones, 37).

3. To share information and ideas from another source and not the original language.

Many sources that you will use may contain information and ideas that are relevant to your claim, but in language that is not particularly powerful or meaningful. In these instances, paraphrase the information.

Example:

Original Text:

Everyone is up in arms about schools making changes to their physical activity programs. People are crying out for more recess time. It's been said that the free time and movement actually helps kids think and concentrate. I happen to agree with the schools—cut the recess time. I am more interested in my child understanding fractions and decimals than playing on the monkey bars. I want her to go to a good college. No one gets into good colleges these days without high test scores. So that's what we, like most parents, want to see from our schools. Helen Pierson, Daily News, page C5.

Paraphrase:

While there is a movement of parents and school personnel expressing grave concerns about the limited physical activity of children during the school day, some agree with the school decision to focus on academics and raising test scores (Pierson, C5).

When to use Direct Quotations

Quote in these situations:

1. To emphasize the expertise of the original author.

When you quote people who are well-regarded in their fields, their authority translates to you and bolsters your claims; however, do not over-quote, because then your audience will assume that you have no authority.

Example:

Original Text:

"The journey to true personal happiness is an individual one. In all my decades of clinical work, when I ask patients to deeply consider what brings them joy, no two answers have ever been alike. Just as our DNA is unique, so are our personalities and our preferences." Psychologist Dr. Jerome Friend, Journey to Happiness, page 12.

Quote:

There is not one formula for achieving true happiness because happiness is different for everyone. As psychologist Dr. Jerome Friend observes about how his patients describe their own happiness, "no two answers have ever been alike. Our DNA is unique, so are our personalities and our preferences" (12).

2. To maintain especially moving or historically meaningful language.

While it is possible to rephrase Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous "I Have a Dream" speech, it is probably unwise to do so. Particular lines from Shakespeare, the Gettysburg address, and the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States are all similar. Sources like these have language that is revered and will be more effective if quoted directly.

Example:

Original Text:

"So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance." First Inaugural Address, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Quote:

As Roosevelt said in his First Inaugural Address, "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself."

3. To preserve a statement that is exceptionally well-worded.

Sometimes an author says something in such a way that its meaning would be weakened if we were to put it into our own words.

Example:

Original Text:

"I was glad my father was an eye-smiler. It meant he never gave me a fake smile because it's impossible to make your eyes twinkle if you aren't feeling twinkly yourself. A mouth-smile is different." Roald Dahl, Danny the Champion of the World, page 9.

Quote:

Smiles are as unique as personalities, but some smiles are more genuine than others. As Roald Dahl describes in his famous children's story, Danny Champion of the World: "I was glad my father was an eye-smiler. It meant he never gave me a fake smile because it's impossible to make your eyes twinkle if you aren't feeling twinkly yourself. A mouth-smile is different" (9).

Note that outside sources should make up no more than thirty percent of your entire essay. Your readers are interested in your ideas, and the sources that you use should not substitute for your claims and analysisTo analyze is to make a thoughtful and detailed study of something. An analysis is the end result of analyzing.. Additionally, be judicious in your use of quotes.

When you do choose to quote, rather than paraphrase, be mindful of transitionsTying two events, passages, or pieces of information together in a smooth way. In writing, transitions are sometimes called links.. An essay full of quotations and quotation marks will be very choppy. It will help your reader if you introduce your quotation properly and take the time and effort to explain the quotation and how it adds to your own reasoning and arguments. Quotations should never stand alone in an essay.

Also note that your use of quotations and paraphrases can be dictated by the discipline you are writing for. Humanities or social science papers will tend to include several quotations, while most science and technology papers will not.

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