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Learning Portal - Writing : Summarizing and Paraphrasing

Summarizing & Paraphrasing Sources

Summarizing is when you write a brief description of the main ideas or concepts in an essay, article or story. Paraphrasing expresses an author's ideas from a source but is written using your own words. Whenever you use a source (ideas or words from someone else), you must cite your source.

Top Tips 

✓ Express the idea in your own words. It is not enough to change a sentence or passage by simply replacing some words with their synonyms.

✓ Acknowledge where your information and ideas comes from. Both paraphrased and quoted passages must be acknowledged using an appropriate citation system – usually MLA or APA – both within your piece and in a stand-alone page at the end of an essay.

✓ Make use of resources for citation help. Your college library staff and online resources can be real allies in helping you negotiate the intricacies of proper citation.

Study Tools

Avoiding Plagiarism

What is Plagiarism?

Plagiarism is the intentional or unintentional use of someone else’s words or thoughts without giving proper credit to the author. Plagiarism usually means improper or inadequate citation when:

  • Using facts or research presented in a paper without citing them.

  • Using an author’s ideas about a certain topic without citing him or her.

  • Intentionally copying from another source, such as, a textbook, another person’s essay, an Internet source.

When to Give Credit

Make sure that you are giving appropriate credit when you use:

  • Another person’s idea, opinion or theory.

  • Any facts, statistics, graphs or drawings.

  • Another person’s actual spoken or written words.

  • A paraphrase of another person’s spoken or written words.

How to Avoid Plagiarism

  • When something is common knowledge you don’t have to cite it. Anything that is commonly known by the audience reading your essay can be used without citation. For example:

    • Jean Chretien is the former prime minister of Canada. (common knowledge)

    • Jean Chretien appointed Bertha Wilson first woman justice of the Supreme Court of Canada in 1982. (not common knowledge – requires citation)

  • Often plagiarism begins in the note-taking stage. When taking notes, students sometimes think that if they put information in their own words, it doesn’t need to be cited. This is not the case.

  • Pay attention when copying down direct quotations. When a word is misspelled or a quote is worded incorrectly, it also qualifies as plagiarism.

  • Always distinguish between paraphrases and direct quotes.

  • Learn citation methods. Both MLA and APA styles have specific guidelines and formats for citing quoted or paraphrased

  • Find out from your professor which style format he or she wants you to use (e.g. MLA, APA, Chicago Manual, etc.)

  • Check spelling and grammar when copying quotes. The biggest insult to a writer is to be misquoted or quoted with a spelling error.

  • Log or record quotations as you are reading so that you know where you got them from and can easily locate citation information.

  • Remember that you will never get in trouble for citing, but you may get in big trouble for not citing. It is always better to cite the quotes that you have, rather than trying to pass them off as your own words and ideas. It is not only your academic career that is at stake, but also your own personal integrity.

Methods of Incorporating Sources

Using Quotations in Essays Without Making a Splash

Watch this video (The Learning Portal Ontario, 2016) to learn how to include quotations in your essays in a seamless and effective way. You can also download the Using Quotations in Essays Without Making a Splash Video Transcript.

Answers to Your Quotation Questions

What is a quotation?

A quotation, or quote, is someone else’s thoughts or ideas used word-for-word in an essay in order to provide evidence or support.

How do you give credit?

Quotations are only one of the ways that you can integrate sources into your essay. Here are the reasons you might choose to use a quotation instead of paraphrasing or summarizing:

  • The quotation is worthy of further analysis.

  • The author’s words are particularly strong or memorable (the passage cannot be adequately expressed in another way).

  • The quotation lends credibility to an argument by enlisting the support of an authority on the topic.

If the exact wording of an argument is not important, consider paraphrasing or summarizing the passage.

How do you introduce quotations?

When you include a quotation, it is helpful to integrate the quote into your sentence or paragraph by giving some context to the quotation. The following verbs and phrases are among those commonly used to introduce quotations:

  • writes

  • claims

  • says

  • According to X,

  • Explains

  • Suggests

  • Argues

  • In X’s view,

  • States

  • Concludes

  • Demonstrates

  • In the words of X,

How do you include quotations in an essay?

All quotations should be credited to the source in both the essay and in a Works Cited page. Some well-known style guides include the MLA, the APA, and the Chicago Manual. Quotations are formatted differently depending on their length. The following examples are in the MLA style.

Short quotations

Normally, quotations should be integrated into the paragraph while maintaining the flow of the essay. Short quotations are identified by the use of quotation marks. Punctuation within a quotation should remain unchanged except for the last period in the sentence, which should instead appear after the citation.


In reference to the time period of “A Tale of Two Cities,” Dickens writes, “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times” (11).

Long quotations

A quotation that is longer than three lines should be formatted as a block quotation. Long quotations should only be used when absolutely necessary as they may disrupt the flow of an essay and are sometimes viewed as an attempt by the writer to lengthen the essay. Note that quotation marks are not used for block quotations and that the citation sits outside of the ending period. Long quotations should be introduced with a colon after the lead in.


“A Tale of Two Cities” begins with a passage that effectively uses anaphora and oxymora to illustrate the parallels and contradictions present in the story:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, . . . we had everything before us, we had nothing before us . . . – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only. (Dickens 11)

Altering the source’s words

A quotation may have to be altered because it is too long, or its tense or grammatical structure is different from the rest of the essay. Missing text is indicated with an ellipsis (. . .). Other changes to the text should be within square brackets.


Dickens describes the great divide between the rich and the poor before the French Revolution as, “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times, . . . we had everything before us, we had nothing before us” (11). At the end of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” Prospero wishes to return to a real life in Milan, where “every third thought shall be [his] grave” (V.i.308).


Where do you include quotations in a paragraph?

A quotation should be followed by an analysis of its importance. It should provide support for, but never take the place of, the writer’s argument. As such, the writer should try to avoid ending a paragraph with a quotation.

Summarizing a Source

What is a summary?

A summary is a brief description of the main ideas or concepts in an essay, article or story. It is very useful in determining what information is necessary and what information acts as ‘filler’; that is, what are unnecessary details. It is often an account of someone else’s ideas, and so it is important to give credit to the author. When somebody reads your summary, they should be able to get a clear idea of what the essay, article or story is about without actually reading the original.

How do you write a summary?

When writing a summary, it is useful to know what to include.

  • Identify the most important ideas in the essay or article.

  • Examine how the author supports these ideas and what these ideas show or prove.

  • Try not to include details that are irrelevant.

Summarizing essays and articles is different from summarizing works of fiction. When you are summarizing an essay or an article keep in mind the following:

  • What is the author trying to prove? (What is the thesis statement?)

  • How does the author go about proving his/her thesis? (e.g. does he/she use examples, references or other means?)

  • What are the main ideas that support what the author is trying to prove?

A guide to summarizing

Here are some tips to help you write a summary:

  • Use the title, the first paragraph, the concluding paragraph and any special print features or diagrams to help you find the author’s thesis or central point.

  • Examine concluding paragraphs closely. As part of their function, they often contain mini-summaries.

  • When you read the middle or supporting paragraphs, ask yourself what purpose they serve. Their primary purpose is to introduce points of support— you need those!

  • Pay close attention to the topic sentences of the supporting paragraphs.

  • Pay attention to transitional words and phrases that act as signals. For example: Another reason is….

  • Leave out extended examples. In summarizing, these examples are unnecessary.

  • Make it very clear to the reader that you are presenting the author’s ideas, not your own. Use phrases like "According to the author…", or "The author concludes that…"

  • Paraphrase the author’s ideas. Don’t ‘copy and paste’.

  • Use direct quotations sparingly in your summary. Allow yourself only the very best quotation where the author makes the point in a striking, memorable way.

  • Save your critical reactions to the author’s ideas for that part of the assignment that asks you to comment or criticize.

Paraphrasing a Source

What is a paraphrase?

A paraphrase is the rewording of a passage into one’s own words. It generally deals with smaller sections of text, such as one paragraph, rather than an entire story or essay.

When do you paraphrase?

Paraphrasing is used for information in non-fiction documents.

It is usually used to restate a piece of information for use as a secondary source in an essay. Fiction, however, is more focused on descriptive language and can't be captured effectively by paraphrasing.

What is the difference between a paraphrase and a summary?

Paraphrasing is primarily about summarizing information in non-fiction documents.

A summary condenses and highlights only the key points in a passage, whereas a paraphrase restates the original in different words. A summary is a more useful tool for dealing with an essay or story. It helps to highlight only the main points. A paraphrase is more useful for indirectly quoting small passages from a source, by telling exactly what it says, but saying it in your own words.

How do you paraphrase?

  • Look away from the original, then write.

  • Take notes, then go back a few days later and try to paraphrase again. It is sometimes good to have some distance from the passage so you can put it in context and retain the main ideas.

  • Change the structure. Start at a different point in the paragraph or passage. This will force alternate sentence construction and varied word choice.

  • Combine multiple short sentences and try to edit and shorten lengthy sentences.

  • Change words and phrases from the original and avoid repetition.

Rules for paraphrasing

  1. Only use a limited number of words from the original, or else it will be necessary to use quotation marks.

  2. Keep the paraphrase approximately the same length as the original.

  3. It is necessary to cite paraphrased passages directly after the paraphrase, not only in the 'Works Cited' list or bibliography.

  4. Try to use paraphrasing as an alternative to using direct quotes, which should be reserved for remarkable words/phrases that can’t be expressed in any other words.

  5. Understand the article as a whole before you paraphrase. It is important to understand what the article is about and what the author’s stance on the topic is before you try to explain what he or she is saying.

  6. Do not merely replace words with synonyms. It is necessary to restate the whole meaning in a completely different way. Synonym – a word or phrase that means exactly or nearly the same as another in the same language.

Shared language

Shared language is the language shared among a group of people in a certain discipline or genre.

The following categories are types of shared language:

  • Conventional designations, e.g. physician’s assistant; chronic back pain

  • Preferred bias-free language, e.g. persons with disabilities

  • Technical terms and phrases of a discipline or genre, e.g. reduplication, cognitive domain, material culture, sexual harassment.

You do not need to cite shared language. It is more like terminology than a way of expressing something. It is better to use shared language than to attempt to express simple concepts in your own words.

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