Quoting and Paraphrasing

 

Quoting

Avoid using direct quotes in your paper. They are problematic because (a) meaning can be altered when another author's words are removed from their context, (b) another author's writing style may not fit the writing style of your paper, (c) direct quotes give no indication that you understood the source, (d) quoting does not help the reader understand the source, and (e) direct quotes can be distracting to the reader and break the flow of your paper.

It is not necessary to use any direct quotes in a paper. If used at all, quotes should be limited to the following:

  • discussing the way an author expressed his or her ideas,
  • presenting a controversial or disputed statement,
  • conveying precise technical data or directions,
  • rhetorical effect, to introduce or emphasize a point.

Paraphrasing

Perhaps paraphrasing is best defined by what it is not. Changing or omitting a few words of another author’s statements in order to avoid a direct quote is not paraphrasing; it is, to be blunt, a form of plagiarism. Readers are led to believe that you are presenting your understanding of another author’s words, when in fact you are using that author’s actual words (mostly). Paraphrasing requires that you express ideas in your own terms. Of course, you will use some of the same terminology as the original author. If you are writing about corporate downsizing, for example, you can’t avoid that term. However, if you simply parrot the original author’s sentence structure, style, and diction, then you are not paraphrasing.

Here’s a strategy for paraphrasing: Read a section of the text you plan to reference, put the text aside, and write your own interpretation in your own words. If you can’t do it, you need to reread the text for better understanding before you try again. Sometimes reading aloud is helpful.

Following is an example of how to, and how not to, paraphrase.

The Original *

Vietnamese tradition wisely forbade the confiscation of land for the payment of debts, but the French ignored this tradition. A peasant's land was treated like any other real asset that could be seized for the payment of debts. Fearing the confiscation of their land for non-payment of taxes, many peasants turned to wealthy Vietnamese for loans (at interest rates that often exceeded 100% per annum) to meet their tax obligation in a futile attempt to stall off the inevitable. Slowly but surely Vietnam was transformed into a land of huge estates on which approximately seventy percent of the population toiled as sharecroppers. French tax policy was exploitative and shortsighted. Within two generations it created the social and economic conditions for revolution. (Quincy, 1995, p. 114)

*Source: Quincy, K. (1995). Hmong: History of a people. Cheney, WA: Eastern Washington University Press.

 

Paraphrase

Vietnamese tradition forbade the confiscation of land for the payment of debts. However, the French ignored the tradition and treated land like any other asset that could be seized for debt payment. Unable to pay taxes and fearing the loss of their land when they couldn't pay their taxes, peasants often borrowed from wealthy Vietnamese at exhorbitant interest rates. Eventually, many peasants lost their savings and their land. These confiscated lands were were consolidated into huge estates. Seventy percent of the peasants were forced into sharecropping for a few wealthy Vietnamese. The eventual rebellion by the Vietnamese can be traced to the unfair and misguided tax policies of the French (Quincy, 1995).

 

Paraphrase, Second Look

Take another look at the attempted paraphrase above; this time with words taken from the original source highlighted.

Vietnamese tradition forbade the confiscation of land for the payment of debts. However, the French ignored the tradition and treated land like any other asset that could be seized for debt payment. Unable to pay taxes and fearing the loss of their land when they couldn't pay their taxes, peasants often borrowed from wealthy Vietnamese at exhorbitant interest rates. Eventually, many peasants lost their savings and their land. These confiscated lands were were consolidated into huge estates. Seventy percent of the peasants were forced into sharecropping for a few wealthy Vietnamese. The eventual rebellion by the Vietnamese can be traced to the unfair and misguided tax policies of the French (Quincy, 1995).

The "paraphrase " is really plagiarism. Much of the paraphrase consists of identical words in the same grammatical form as the original. Even though the paraphraser found synonyms for some of the original words, the passage could still be considered plagiarism because the pattern of expression is so similar to that of the original. Now compare the paragraph above to the following more acceptable paraphrase, in which the ideas are expressed in a new way and the author's thesis is identified at the beginning.

 

Better Paraphrase (one possibility). The passage has been summarized as well.

Quincy (1995) traced the seeds of Vietnamese rebellion to French colonial tax policies, which violated the Vietnamese tradition of protecting land from seizure for debt. Inevitably, most independent peasant landowners had to forfeit their holdings, either to pay taxes or to pay debts to wealthy Vietnamese, who consolidated the seized lands into large plantations on which most of the population could only sharecrop as their living conditions declined.

If you believe that some of the author's key words—for example, the description of French tax policy—ought to be retained, then quote only those words in your paraphrase, like this:

Quincy (1995) traced the seeds of Vietnamese rebellion to "exploitative and shortsighted" (p. 14) French colonial tax policies, which violated the Vietnamese tradition of protecting land from seizure for debt. Inevitably, most independent peasant landowners had to forfeit their holdings, either to pay taxes or to pay debts to wealthy Vietnamese, who consolidated the seized lands into large plantations on which most of the population could only sharecrop as their living conditions declined.

 

Online Resources

Quoting, Paraphrasing, & Acknowledging Sources

University of Wisconsin-Madison

How to Paraphrase a Source

University of Wisconsin-Madison

Establishing Authorship

Paul C. Smith, Alverno College

Sucessful vs. Unsuccessful Paraphrasing

University of Wisconsin-Madison