(Quoting, Paraphrasing, Summarising, Avoiding Plagiarism, and Documenting)



Paraphrase Summarise Plagiarism



Common Knowledge


Final Questions

Further Help


When doing research, it is important to consult and refer to outside sources of information. Outside sources of information can include any of the following: magazines, books, journals, previously-published papers, newspapers, internet documents, conversations, public lectures, recordings or interviews.

Sometimes you may want to consult outside sources of information in order to gain background knowledge and/or to quote, paraphrase or summarise from it. Whether you consult a source for background knowledge or whether you decide to quote, paraphrase or summarise, you must document, that is, acknowledge the source. This documentation is important for two reasons. Firstly, it gives credit to the original source of the words or ideas. If it is not done, you have plagiarised. Secondly, it gives the reader information about where to find additional sources of information if he/she wants to investigate the subject further.

The documentation of the source can be done in a variety of ways. (See Documentation section.) Traditionally there has been a distinction made between references and citations. References, traditionally, referred merely to material that was used by the writer in gaining background knowledge for the paper. Citations referred to the sources of information either specifically quoted, paraphrased or summarised by the writer. Today the trend is to combine references and citations into one listing. Whether citations and references are combined will depend on the documentation system you use. (See Documentation.)

When writing academic papers, you will most often need to incorporate outside sources into your writing. Incorporating information from a source into your own writing will require that you to do one of the following:



Quoting means using the exact words of an author. Quotation marks are used in such cases. If the passage is more than 4 lines of typed text, you can block it into your text. This means that you can set it 4-5 spaces in from both the right and left hand margins.

Quotations should be used when the author's original words are essential, for example, with definitions or passages where the specific wording should or cannot be altered in any way or where you want a specific person's words to be attributed accurately to that person (e.g., a legal transcript, a specific definition).



Paraphrasing means rewriting a passage into your own words and sentence structure. A paraphrase should accurately reflect all the main and supporting ideas of the original author and it should not include your own opinions or slant on what the original author wrote.

Occasionally it is impossible to find a better word than the one the author has used to express a meaning. If you come across this situation, by all means, quote the words you need to use within the paraphrase itself. Remember that a paraphrase should not include your own comments or critique of what the author has said and that a paraphrase must be cited as it is not your own idea. It is a rewording of the author's original ideas and as such needs to be documented.

Paraphrasing can be very useful when you need to reword a technical passage into language your reader will understand or when you need to ensure that your style of writing will not be "interrupted" by just quoting a passage verbatim into your writing. If you find yourself paraphrasing long passages, you need to ask yourself whether the passage could be summarised instead.

The following steps can be used when paraphrasing:



Summarising is writing a shortened account of a passage highlighting only its main points. Your selection of what the main points are will depend on what you want to highlight about the passage. Additionally, the length of the summary will depend on how long the original passage was and what your purpose is in writing it. Although a summary should be written in your own words and even though it can contain your own unique focus, you still need to document it as the ideas from which the summary was generated are still the intellectual property of the original writer. If you do use words, phrases or even sentences of the original author in the summary itself, be sure to use quotation marks.

Literature reviews in articles and thesis papers often make use of sentence summaries of articles. For example, Watson (1978) discusses the problem of planned obsolescence by looking at three glaring case studies in the automobile industry. He makes special note of how management initiatives to overcome the practice often fail.



Plagiarism is using another person's words, ideas or organisation (train of thought) without giving proper credit, that is, without documenting the source. Ways to avoid plagiarism include the following:

  1. Learn the documentation system required in your field. Keep a copy of it with you while you are taking notes and writing and use it.

  2. Take down notes systematically when doing research.

  3. Note carefully whether you have taken something verbatim (i.e., needing quotation marks), or whether you have paraphrased or summarised.

  4. Keep accurate documentation information on all outside sources regardless of the form of the source, e.g., books, talks, conversations, interviews, radio broadcasts, government documents.

  5. Document the source regardless of whether you have written a quote, a paraphrase or a summary.

  6. Remember that numbers and pictorial representations, such as, graphs, charts, statistics need to be documented as well.



Documentation of a source can be done in a variety of ways. For quoting, paraphrasing, or summarising, you will need to cite the source from which you took the words or ideas.

Citations have several characteristics.  They can be marked by any one of the following:

The information in these parentheses or notes refers readers to either the bottom of the page or to the end of the paper where complete information indicating the source can be found. This information generally includes the original source/author's name, title of the source, publisher, place of publication, date of publication and page numbers from which the quote, paraphrase or summary came.


The following is an example:

Smith, Paul 1996 Management Failures in the Automotive Industry. New York: New York University Press, p.65.

There are a variety of ways of arranging the information found within citation marks and on citation notes or pages. Several well-known styles/systems of documentation arrangement include the following:

Ask within your own academic department what style to use when you cite information. Some departments may even provide you with a style referencing sheet to consult. You can also look at the journals in your field to find out what citation system is used.


Common Knowledge

Common knowledge does not need to be cited. Many writers have difficulty deciding what common knowledge is even in their own fields. Of course, it is most difficult to decide what common knowledge is in a field with which you are unfamiliar. Before deciding whether something is common knowledge, ask whether most people in that field take this knowledge for granted. If the answer is yes, then the information is probably considered common and does not need to be cited. However, if you did consult sources to gain general background information on the subject, list them on reference/citation page according to the documentation style you are using.


  1. Write down three ideas or concepts in your own field that are considered common. Explain or describe them as fully as you can in writing.


  1. Select an article of your own choosing. Alternatively, you can select an article from the article folder (in the Resource Room) that is either relevant to your field or that is of interest to you.

     3.  Select 5-6 passages of one-two sentences each to paraphrase.

    4.   Summarise the entire article in one to two paragraphs covering the main ideas discussed in the piece. Then summarise              the article briefly in no more than 2-3 sentences.

    5.   Select at least one passage from the article that you would chose to quote.


    6.   Incorporate any of the paraphrases, summaries, quotations, or common knowledge into a piece of writing making              sure you document your sources correctly.


Final Questions

  1. Which documentation system does your department use?
  1. Did you use that documentation system when you incorporated the quote, paraphrase and summary into your writing? If no, why not?
  1. What was the most difficult aspect of the writing?
  1. What was easiest?
  1. What do you feel you need to practice more?




Hamp-Lyons, Liz and Karen Berry Courter. Research Matters New York: Newbury House, 1984, pp. 1-15.

Pathway on paraphrasing (See ELSC Resource Room.)


Trzeciak, John and S.E. MacKay. Study Skills for Academic Writing (Student's Book) New York: Phoenix, 1995, pp. 19- 55.

Pathway on summarising (See ELSC Resource Room.)


Herrernan, James A.W. and John E. Lincoln Writing: A Concise Handbook New York: Norton, 1997, pp. 237-260

Lester, James D. Writing Research Papers: A Complete Guide 7th ed. New York: Harper Collins, 1993.

Synthesising (combining two or more sources)

See Research Matters pages 17-28.


Last revised: September, 1998

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