Identifying quoting, paraphrasing and summarizing

One common question that most new scholars ask is “How do I know when to quote, paraphrase, or summarize?”

There is no easy answer, it just takes practice. You will work with a number of instructors who will have different ideas on what you should do.  To start, here are a few general guidelines.


Use the exact words of an author, copied directly from the source, word for word. You must use quotation marks and an in-text citation.

Use quotes when you want to

  • add the power of the author’s words to support your argument or claims
  • disagree with something specific an author said
  • highlight a specific passage
  • compare or contrast points of view


Paraphrasing is stating an idea, point or passage in your own words. You must significantly change the wording, phrasing, and sentence structure of the source (not just a few words here and there; don’t just use a thesaurus and change out terms!).

Every paraphrase must also have in-text citations at the end of the paraphrased section and the original source identified on reference or works cited page.

Paraphrase when you want to

  • clarify a short passage from a text
  •  avoid overusing quotations
  • explain a point when exact wording isn’t critical
  • articulate the main ideas of a passage or part
  • report numerical data or statistics


Summaries are a broad overview of the original material as a whole (not just a part, like a paraphrase). You may summarize an entire article, and then also paraphrase a small portion of the author’s findings. Like quotes and paraphrases, a summary must be cited with in-text citations and on your reference or works cited page.

Summarize when you want to:

  • give an overview of a topic
  • describe information (from several sources) about a topic

Learning these skills takes practice. It is okay if you are feeling overwhelmed.

Time to practice identifying the scholarly conversation →


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License

Academic Integrity at the University of Minnesota Copyright © by University of Minnesota Libraries is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.