5 Using Paraphrases & Quotations

Often, when you are writing a college essay, you will want to include other people’s ideas and research. This is a good way to enter the scholarly conversation about your topic, and to demonstrate your credibility as an author, because it shows that you have read and considered other experts’ ideas. Your audience will be able to see that you understand what has already been said about the topic, before you contribute your new ideas. In addition to summarizing (as discussed in a previous chapter), there are two other ways to incorporate other people’s ideas: by writing a paraphrase, or by using a direct quotation.

In general, paraphrasing means using your own words to express another person’s idea. When writers talk about using “a paraphrase,” they mean something a bit more specific: a paraphrase is a re-statement of another person’s idea, using your own words, and in about the same length as the original. Note that successful paraphrasing is not the same thing as “patchwriting,” which happens when you  just change a couple of words or re-arrange a few words. You want to avoid patchwriting and use paraphrases instead, to preserve academic integrity and avoid plagiarism.

Quoting means using the exact words of another person in your work. When you use quotations, you must always use quotation marks (“….”) to show that these words belong to someone else.  When you write a paraphrase or use a quotation, you must include citations to stay honest with your academic work. After we practice paraphrasing and quoting, we will work on citations in the next chapter.

Paraphrases & Quotations

In general, it is preferable to use paraphrases rather than long quotations in a short academic essay. Using a paraphrase demonstrates that you understand the original author’s ideas thoroughly; using quotations can make it seem like you are just “dropping in” a quote that seems related into your paper. Sometimes, however, a quotation is preferable, as when the original author captures an idea so perfectly that their exact words are an important part of the message. Other times, it may be that the original quotation is full of discipline-specific jargon, and needs to be quoted as is. The next two sections will discuss both strategies so that you can choose which is better for your audience, purpose, and context.

Using Paraphrases


Paraphrasing well is very useful, but paraphrasing can be a difficult skill to master. It takes a great deal of practice to paraphrase academic material well, and even more practice to paraphrase well in a second language. You need to have excellent command of sentence structure and vocabulary in order to be an expert at paraphrasing. Working on this skill will help you to develop other language skills as well. The more you practice, the better you will be at paraphrasing. And remember: always include information about where you got the information you are paraphrasing in an in-text citation. That way, your readers can find the original author’s work to read, if they are interested in learning more.

Once you have found a piece of writing – perhaps a sentence or two – that you would like to paraphrase, what do you do? Allow yourself time to follow the steps below.

Steps for Paraphrasing Successfully

  1. Read and annotate the original piece. Take notes on the author’s main ideas in your own words.
  2. Put the original aside. Go for a walk, stretch, take a nap.
  3. Re-read the original piece and look at your notes. Did you miss any main ideas?
  4. Find a friend, or use your phone or computer to record yourself. Using your notes, talk about the author’s main ideas.
  5. Write a first draft of a paraphrase. Your paraphrase should be about the same length as the original. If you get stuck, try using the paraphrasing strategies below. Think of this as an English-to-English translation of the author’s ideas.  Remember to include information about your source (title, author) so that you remember where you found the original work.
  6. Re-read the original piece, and your paraphrase. Did you miss any main ideas? Did you remember to indicate whose original ideas these are (the in-text citation)? Remember to include only the author’s ideas here; do not add your own opinion or analysis.
  7. Revise your paraphrase as necessary. Make sure it sounds like something YOU have written – not the original author.

In an essay, you will also need to connect your paraphrase to your own ideas, and explain why you are using the author’s ideas. Often, writers will start by paraphrasing another author’s work, and then writing a response to it to express their own opinions and ideas.

As you practice writing paraphrases, it might be helpful to use a bilingual dictionary, an English-to-English dictionary, a translator, and/or a thesaurus. Ask your instructors about their policies for using these resources.

Paraphrasing Strategies
  1. use synonyms (unique -> uncommon)
  2. use antonyms (unique -> not ordinary)
  3. change word forms (unique individual -> individual’s uniqueness)
  4. switch active voice to passive voice (They made mistakes. -> Mistakes were made.)
  5. switch passive voice to active voice (Lunch was served. -> They served lunch.)
  6. use different conjunctions (but -> however)
  7. change sentence structure (simple to compound, compound to complex, compound to two simple sentences, etc.)

Note: You will want to use these strategies in combination to achieve the most successful paraphrases.


Activity ~ Paraphrasing Practice

Here is a brief passage from Sarah Boxer’s article in The Atlantic, “An Artist for the Instagram Age”:

“The fact that some folks have managed to make the scene while others get left out in the cold is integral to the excitement of participatory art. The thrill is akin to exotic travel, or getting to see Hamilton. Because not everyone who wants the experience actually gets the experience, these works, even if their intentions and messages are democratic, tend to become exclusive affairs.”

Which of the following is an appropriate paraphrase of this passage? (Focus on the paraphrases, not the incomplete in-text citation.) Why is that one better? Why is the other one less useful as a paraphrase? Discuss with your partner.

  1. The truth that many people have been able to attend these events as others have been shut out of them is key to what makes this kind of art appealing. The excitement is similar to visiting foreign countries or attending a showing of a sold-out musical. Since some people who wish to attend can’t do so, these art forms, despite not necessarily wanting to, often end up denying access to many would-be attendees.
  2. Boxer notes that this kind of art only maintains its appeal as long as there are more people clamoring to view it than can possibly actually view it. This reliance on scarcity means these artists are ultimately relying on elitist principles to find their success and remain in demand.

Using Quotations

Quotations are useful when you feel like you just can’t say something better than the author did; they can be very powerful when you use them in the right situation. For instance, you may want to preserve the language of the time of the original, as in a historical document:

The opening lines of the U.S. Constitution read “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union,…”

or the rhythm and word choice of a speaker:

“I have a dream,” said Dr. Martin Luther King, “that one day….”

Or you may need to keep the original intact because it contains discipline-specific jargon that cannot be paraphrased successfully because the resulting paraphrase would be too long or unwieldy:

Computer scientists claim that “[u]sing a free Amazon Elastic Compute Cluster (EC2) t2.micro instance, [they] demonstrate that unCaptcha can solve reCaptcha’s audio challenges with 85.15% accuracy in 5.4 seconds, on average” (Bock et al. 2).

In these cases, directly quoting the original author or speaker may be the best choice. But be careful: you want to use quotations sparingly. If you use too many quotations, you will appear to be unsure about your own writing, or you will appear lazy. (It’s much easier to “drop” quotations in to an essay than to paraphrase and summarize the original author’s ideas.) Writing a paraphrase or summary shows that you really understand the author’s ideas, because you are explaining the ideas in your own words.

Note: When you use a summary, a paraphrase, or a direct quotation, you must always include attribution and make sure you have a matching entry for the source on your Works Cited page. See our chapter on In-text Citations & Works Cited Pages ~ MLA Format for more information.


For more advice and practice about using paraphrases, consult “Paraphrase and Summary” from the University of Toronto University College’s Writing Centre, and “Fair Paraphrase” from Yale University’s Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning.
For more on using quotations, see “Using Quotations” from the University of Toronto University College’s Writing Centre.

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Portions of this chapter were paraphrased from, and the Paraphrasing Practice Activity was from “Paraphrasing,” from The Word on College Reading and Writing by Carol Burnell, Jaime Wood, Monique Babin, Susan Pesznecker, and Nicole Rosevear, which is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.


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Works Cited

Bock, Kevin et al. “unCaptcha: A Low-Resource Defeat of reCaptcha’s Audio Challenge.” Usenix Workshop of Offensive Technologies (WOOT) 17. August 2017. Vancouver, BC. Conference Presentation.

King, Martin Luther, Jr. “I Have a Dream.” March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. 28 August 1963. Washington, D.C. Speech.

United States Constitution. Preamble.



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ENGLISH 087: Academic Advanced Writing Copyright © 2020 by Nancy Hutchison is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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