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Citing Sources: Quoting, paraphrasing, and summarizing

A guide to citing sources in MLA, APA, and Chicago format.

Quoting, paraphrasing, and summarizing

Whenever you refer to ideas, information, statistics, images, concepts, facts or anything else that you found from an outside source, you need to let your readers know where you found that information. Typically, this is done by quoting, paraphrasing, or summarizing the information, and then citing the authors that produced it. 

What's the difference between quoting, paraphrasing, and summarizing, and when do you do it?

Quoting - using an original section of text, word-for-word.  When do you use a quotation?

  • The quote is from a lead authority on your issue and helps to emphasize the point you want to make
  • The original author uses unique or memorable language that would be more effective in making a point.
  • It is difficult to paraphrase or summarize the quote without changing the intent of the author.
  • Your attempts at paraphrasing the quote end up being longer or more confusing.

Paraphrasing - putting information into your own words. Paraphrases are generally the same length or slightly shorter than the original text.  Paraphrasing well shows your understanding of the source material.  Paraphrasing may be used instead of a summary because it is more specific.  You may choose to paraphrase when:

  • The wording of the source text is less important than the content of the source text.
  • To reorganize information which supports specific points in your paper.
  • To clarify points for your audience when the original text may be more technical or specialized

Summarizing - taking the key points of source text and putting them into your own words.  Summaries are generally much shorter than the original text. You may choose to summarize:

  • When the wording of the source text is less important than the content of the source text.
  • To condense long material to highlight only points specific to your paper.
  • To omit excess details not important for your paper.
  • To simplify technical or specialized material for your audience.

In every case, you will need to cite the original source text using footnotes or endnotes, and include the citation for the original source on your Bibliography page.


For short quotations used in the text of the paper, use quotation marks.   A superscript number should be inserted directly after the final quotation mark.  For quotations longer than 5 lines, you should use a block quotation.  Block quotes use no quotation marks. The complete quotation is indented 5 spaces from the left margin, has a space before and after the quote, is usually single spaced, and is often introduced with a colon.  A superscript number should be inserted after the last word in the block.

In Text Quotation

On the subject of growing old, Mark Twain said "Aging is an issue of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it doesn't matter."15

Block Quotation

This description of how to do laundry in the 1920s shows that it was a labor
intensive chore before the advent of washing machines:
The clothes were lifted with a clothes stick from the boiler into a large pan and were well rinsed in two waters to remove the soap.  If the soap is not well rinsed out, yellow spots may appear when the clothes are put into the bluing water.  Bluing water was made in one tub and each piece was rinsed through it.  The pieces were well shaken out before they were put into the bluing water so they would not get streaked, and were not allowed to remain, but were dipped up and down a couple of times and then wrung as dry as possible.  While the clothes were in the boiler, Miss Ashley taught the girls how to make starch, and later one girl in every four made enough for her group.  Miss Ashley said that starch kept the clothes clean longer and made them look more like new.7