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Citation Guide

Discover and explore the basics of why and how to cite.

Paraphrasing & Quoting: A Brief Guide

Good academic writing is an art form. Anyone can quote from a source. The skill comes in choosing the best part of a source to quote, or even better, paraphrase.  

To paraphrase (v.): to summarize the words and/or thoughts of another person (usually an author) in your own words and syntax (sentence structure). Paraphrasing allows you to reference the words or ideas of another person while best incorporating that material into your own argument and writing style. Paraphrased material, often called a paraphrased passage, must be cited.  

Important Note: It is acceptable to use a few words of the original source, so long as you use “quotation marks” around those words. 

Plagiarism is usually the intentional act of taking another person’s words or ideas and passing them off as your own. Clearly, copying anther student’s words without attribution is plagiarism and cheating. However, less obvious cases are the improper paraphrasing of a passage, where you provide an in-text citation to an author but still use the author’s original words without “quotation marks.” Paraphrasing is an essential component of writing, but it takes a little practice to do it well. 

Quotation (n.): The original words of a source (usually written) identified by “quotation marks” or used as a block indent. Quoted material must be cited. 

To Plagiarize (v.): To use the words or ideas of another author either without proper attribution or by improperly paraphrasing the author. Plagiarism may be committed either intentionally or unintentionally. Plagiarism is, in effect, theft. Avoid plagiarism by using “quotation marks” around quoted text and by using in-text citation for both quoted and paraphrased passages. Paraphrased passages must not include the author’s original language and syntax unless “quotation marks” are clearly used to indicate the author’s original words. 

Context (n.): The original meaning of the text or idea you are quoting or paraphrasing. 

Tips to Avoid Plagiarism when Paraphrasing

  • Do not use the author’s original sentence structure (syntax). You must use your own words and syntax. Just putting an in-text citation is not enough—you are responsible for actually paraphrasing the author’s ideas, not just making a few changes to the original.  
  • Do not use synonyms that you do now know. The “right click” thesaurus is meant to jog your memory and give you ideas. Do not misuse this function by changing the author’s word to a synonym you do not know. Also, do not use this function to just change a few words without using your own sentence structure. 
  • Re-read the original before moving on. Make sure that you are not using the author’s original words and/or phrases. If you do, put them in “quotation marks.” 
  • Do not forget to add an in-text citation.  

Paraphrasing: Best Practices

  • Choose the most relevant material to paraphrase or quote in your paper. All scholarly works rely on other authors and ideas to advance their own ideas and research. There is no such thing as an academic book or article that is wholly the work and ideas of a single person. The author of any reputable book, even a philosophical one, will educate herself on the works of others and occasionally or often reference them when making her own arguments. 
  • When you find that you need to reference another author or person, decide whether to quote or paraphrase. On the surface, quoting seems easier. In reality, paraphrasing is usually the best method, although you can include a few words or passages of the author’s original words in “quotation marks” when you paraphrase.  
  • Any reference to an external idea must be explained by you, the author. A reference to another author or idea never stands on its own. You must make it clear to the reader why you selected a particular idea to reference.  
  • Likewise, a quotation never stands on its own. You must explain why you chose to include the quotation.  
  • Avoid long quotations, even those that are more than one sentence. These longer passages are tiresome to read, and often readers will glance over them without actually reading them. A much better approach for long quotations is to paraphrase the material instead. Note: long quotations are most appropriate when the source you are quoting uses a particular style you wish to discuss and demonstrate to your reader. 
  • Avoid quoting an author who is quoting someone else. As a rule of thumb, if an author is quoting another published work, go and find that original published work and quote from it directly (you might mention that you found the work of author B from the work of author A). You need to verify the original context if you quote from someone else. However, in the case of an eyewitness report or interview, for example, it may make sense to quote an author’s quotation when the original source is not available. 

How to Avoid Plagiarism When Paraphrasing

To avoid plagiarism when paraphrasing you must put the author's original ideas into your own words.

Avoid plagiarism by not using the author's original words or sentence structure:

  1. Do not use any distinctive words from the author's original. The nouns, adjectives, and verbs in your paraphrased passage must be your own words, not words lifted from the author's original. You can use a few words or the odd phrase from the original source only if you include them in quotation marks.

    • Articles--a, an, the--and other similar words like prepositions--to, for, at, etc.--are not distinctive enough to qualify as original wording. Similarly, general terms and any word that is not a stylistic choice of the original author would not be considered distinctive. Just beware of the order in which they appear in the original. In general, it is better to quote, when in doubt, than not to quote. (See the second example, below, for a discussion on general terms that do not need quotation marks within a paraphrased passage.)

  2. Do not use the author's original sentence structure, that is, the original syntax. Students who copy-and-paste a passage and then only change some of the words are committing plagiarism because the author's original sentence structure is intact. When paraphrasing, focus on synthesizing information. You cannot synthesize from a cut-and-pasted passage!

See the examples below demonstrating good paraphrasing technique. See the tab (left-side menu) "Examples of Plagiarism" for instances of plagiarism in a paraphrased passage.

Paraphrasing Practice: First Example

This example refers to the following citation:

Bibliographic Citation (MLA) 

Wu, Katherine J. “Scientists Uncover Biological Signatures of the Worst Covid-19 Cases: Studies of patients with severe cases of Covid-19 show the immune system lacks its usual coordinated response.” New York Times, 4 Aug. 2020. 

Example

Original Passage:

Unable to marshal the right cells and molecules to fight off the invader, the bodies of the infected instead launch an entire arsenal of weapons — a misguided barrage that can wreak havoc on healthy tissues, experts said. 

Thoughts: In this passage, the author uses some distinctive turns of phrase to describe the effects of Covid-19 on the human body. To paraphrase this passage, as you probably should, be careful not to plagiarize the author’s original language. See the examples below of a quotation from this passage and possible options to paraphrase it.  

 

1. Student Example as a Quotation 

Katherine Wu summarizes the findings of scientists on the response of the human body to Covid-19, writing “Unable to marshal the right cells and molecules to fight off the invader, the bodies of the infected instead launch an entire arsenal of weapons — a misguided barrage that can wreak havoc on healthy tissues, experts said” (Wu). 

Thoughts: The above sentence takes the words of the author directly. This approach unnecessarily reproduces all of the original text. It does, however, provide an explanation of the source before the quotation. This explanation, whether before or after the quotation, is absolutely necessary. 

 

2. Student Example as a Paraphrased Passage (no quoted material) 

Katherine Wu summarizes the findings of scientists on the response of the human body to Covid-19, noting that the immune system response can essentially overreact to the threat posed by the virus, causing additional harm (Wu). 

Thoughts: This response is completely acceptable. It summarizes the original text in the author’s own words. Possibly, you, the author, are drawn to this passage because of Wu’s descriptive terminology. In that case, perhaps using a few of her descriptions would be more appropriate. See the next example. 

 

3. Student Example as a Paraphrased Passage with Quoted Material 

Katherine Wu summarizes the findings of scientists on the response of the human body to Covid-19, noting that the immune system response can essentially overreact to the threat posed by the virus, which she labels a “misguided barrage” (Wu). 

—Or— 

Katherine Wu summarizes the findings of scientists on the response of the human body to Covid-19, describing the immune response in military terms as the “launch” of “an entire arsenal of weapons,” which she labels a “misguided barrage” because of the additional harm inflicted by the body onto itself (Wu). 

 

Thoughts: Artfully paraphrasing does not necessarily involve using the author’s original words. Combining the techniques of quoting with paraphrasing is appropriate in the above example, however, because of the descriptive nature of the original text. If the original author’s words were merely clinical, it would possibly be less appropriate to quote them directly.  

Paraphrasing Practice: Second Example

This example refers to the following citation:

Bibliographic Citation (MLA) 

Wu, Katherine J. “Scientists Uncover Biological Signatures of the Worst Covid-19 Cases: Studies of patients with severe cases of Covid-19 show the immune system lacks its usual coordinated response.” New York Times, 4 Aug. 2020. 

Example

Original Passage: 

It’s almost as if the immune system is struggling to ‘pick a lane,’ Dr. Wherry said. This disorientation also seems to extend into the realm of B cells and T cells — two types of immune fighters that usually need to stay in conversation to coordinate their attacks. Certain types of T cells, for instance, are crucial for coaxing B cells into manufacturing disease-fighting antibodies. 

*Note: the author is paraphrasing while also briefly quoting a source in this example. 

 

Possible Student Example as a Paraphrased Passage 

Evidence suggests that Covid-19 creates difficulty in the immune system’s response and complicates the function of B cells and T cells in fighting the virus. In particular, the virus interrupts the normal function of T cells, negatively impacting the ability of B cells to produce antibodies (Wu). 

Thoughts: This example is a bit more difficult than the first. Here, the student has not used any quoted material. Note, though, that she has included clinical terms like “T cells,” “B cells,” and “antibodies.” that appear in the original. Should she have used quotation marks?—the answer is no. These are terms, not stylistic elements of the author’s original. There is no need to quote them (although, it is usually a lesser error to overquote than underquote!). It would have been plagiarism, for example, if the student used words like “manufacturing,” “disorientation,” “conversation,” etc. without “quotation marks.” Calling the relationship between T cells and B cells a “conversation” is a stylistic choice of the author, not a scientific term.  

 

Another Possible Student Example, Paraphrasing with Some Quoted Material  

Evidence suggests that Covid-19 creates a “disorientation” in the immune system’s response and complicates the ability of B cells and T cells “to coordinate” together to fight the virus. In particular, the virus interrupts the normal function of T cells, negatively impacting the ability of B cells to produce antibodies (Wu). 

Thoughts: Here the student decided to retain some of the author’s original stylistic content, meaning that she had to include “quotation marks” around the words she lifted from the author’s original. Overall, both of these examples demonstrate the student’s ability to transform the original passage into her own syntax (sentence structure). The next examples will demonstrate the serious error of plagiarizing the author’s original syntax. 

If you are experiencing problems with our guides and databases, please contact Janet S. Ward, jward@limestone.edu, Associate Professor and Web Services Librarian.