Paraphrasing, summarising, quoting

What’s the difference? 

If you are writing an essay, or any piece of academic literature, you will probably draw on material from literature written by others, who are usually experts in their field. Such material should never be presented as your own ideas, and the source of the material should always be cited. 

The three commonly used ways of using material drawn from external sources are (i) paraphrasing, (ii) summarising, and (iii) quoting. 

What is paraphrasing and when should it be used?

Paraphrasing is rewriting sentences, paragraphs or even entire documents in one’s own words. This involves changing the sentence structure and changing words where appropriate, but never changing the meaning.  If you wish to present an argument based on the ideas and opinions of another person, then the appropriate text should be paraphrased. It does not necessarily involve paraphrasing an entire document, but just the sentences and maybe paragraphs where you are drawing on the work of another person.  Whenever paraphrasing is used, the original source must always be cited according to whichever reference system is used.  

What is summarising and when should it be used?

Summarising the work of other writers is similar to paraphrasing, but involves only the main points and omits the less important details. Your summary should give a general précis summarised in just a few sentences.  Before you write the summary, it is essential that you understand the passage thoroughly, and that you are sure what are the main points and what are the less important details. It is also necessary that the summary is in your own words, even in the case of short sentences.  

You should use a summary where the details are not relevant to your own essay, in which case your argument can be presented only by mentioning the main points. Another occasion when you would write a summary is when the work from which you are drawing contains a great deal of technical detail. An example of this is when the work has been written by an expert, and although you understand the detail, your potential readers may not. Another situation where you would use a summary is if the original passage is exceptionally long. When giving a summary of another person’s work, you should always quote the source according to whichever referencing system you are using.

What is quotation and when should it be used?

A quotation is when you quote from another person’s work, word for word. This must be in quotation marks. You should never edit or paraphrase text which is in quotation marks because it can be considered as misquoting the author. A citation should always be given according to whichever reference system you are using. Examples of when you would use a quotation are when it expresses an idea in a better way than you can yourself, and that it cannot be paraphrased. Another example is when the quotation expresses and idea particularly powerfully. Quotation is normally used for short sentences or even for phrases.

Quotation should not be overused, and you should have good reason for using it. If you give too many quotations, it could give the impression that you do not understand the original. This could also break up the continuity of your writing.  

Occasionally, you may wish to include a longer quotation in your work, although this should be used rarely. This is known as block quotation, and it has a different approach in that a long quotation should not be inside quotation marks. It should be indented and should begin on a new line. Also, the punctuation mark comes before the citation rather than after it. Each reference system has its own rules for block quotations; for example, APA considers block text to be over 40 words. If you using a block quotation, then you should check the current rules of whichever reference system you are using.

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