Whenever we’re assigned an essay or writing project that asks us to reference others’ ideas, it can be difficult to determine when to use our own words, the author’s words, or an overview of the text instead. These are all ways of integrating external source material into our own writing. It is important to feel comfortable paraphrasing, summarizing, and directly quoting within our writing in order to effectively and meaningfully reference our research and enhance our own credibility as writers.
Why Should I Paraphrase, Summarize, and Quote in My Writing?
The purpose for referencing external source material is to strengthen the evidence and reasoning within our own writing. If we’re writing an essay, reflection, discussion board post, or any written assignment that responds to other texts or a course topic, it is important that we know how to integrate credible and relevant information from other authors and sources on the same topic.
Doing so allows us to enter the scholarly conversation, which consists of the existing publications, discussions, and work surrounding a particular topic within a discipline. Think of it as pulling your chair up to the table where others are already seated and having a conversation; there is a topic laid out on the table, and several folks are already offering their perspectives and thoughts on the topic. You pull up your chair, listen to what others have to say first to help inform your own understanding of the topic (even though you may have an opinion already!), and then thoughtfully and carefully offer up your own point of view on the same topic for others to listen to. Just like with any conversation, we listen and respond to what others have to say before us in order to show respect, understanding, and objectivity. This is where paraphrasing, summarizing, and quoting directly comes in handy— we can reference what others have said before us and respond. Being able to reference other source material allows us to:
- Provide credible support for our ideas
- Give a variety of examples and different perspectives on our topic
- Emphasize significant and interesting ideas from our research
- Acknowledge the ongoing scholarly conversation surrounding our topic
While the goal is to become comfortable and familiar with all three ways of integrating external sources, remember that each mode is used for different purposes. For more on when and how to utilize each method, keep reading below for step-by-step guides, examples, and key ideas to keep in mind.