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Summarizing, Paraphrasing, and Quoting: Similar Yet Different

Learning updated on  May 23, 2024 5 min read

Summarizing is condensing information; paraphrasing is rewording information; and quoting is copying information inside quotation marks.

Most of the time, when you’re referring back to a previous conversation, text, or piece of media, you’re not recalling each part exactly as it happened—that would require a memory better than any of us probably have!

Instead, you’re going to be either paraphrasing what you heard or read, summarizing the information learned, or directly quoting pieces of what you remember.

Summarizing, paraphrasing, and quoting are all closely related actions, which can make them difficult to tell apart in certain circumstances.

What is summarizing?

When you summarize something, you are creating a condensed version or synopsis of a work.

The summary will list the main points or ideas of a written work, usually presented in bullet point form or in a paragraph.

The key feature of any summary is brevity, and as such, summarizing is all about explaining the big picture in as few words as possible.

Whatever you’re summarizing, you must also cite the source text if you are going to submit or publish your work. Without citing your sources, you will be committing plagiarism, accidental or otherwise.

Example: Summary of Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 1
Hamlet debates killing himself, weighing the pros and cons of being alive.

When should you summarize?

Summarizing is great for when you want to quickly convey the main points of a text or piece of media, like when you are:

  • Providing a synopsis of a work
  • Providing background information
  • Compiling notes
  • Checking reading comprehension

What is paraphrasing?

When you paraphrase something, you are relaying the original information in your own words. A paraphrase is a piece of text that functions as a restatement of another text. The meaning is always the same, but the specific language changes (this often helps with comprehension).

Typically, paraphrasing is done in order to use specific ideas from a cited source to back up an argument or hypothesis. It can also be used to show reading comprehension because, if you can’t easily restate a fact or idea in your own words, odds are you may not understand it fully yet.

The paraphrase is usually around the same length as, or slightly shorter than, the original fact or idea. This is because the goal of paraphrasing isn’t to shorten but to restate in a new way.

You must always cite your sources when paraphrasing, at the single-thought/idea/fact level. That means, as you write a topic sentence in a research paper, each time you paraphrase and use a fact from another source, you add an in-text citation so that readers can follow up on that specific piece of the puzzle on their own.

Example: Paraphrase of Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 1
To live, or to die? Is it more noble to suffer and deal with life’s pitfalls and disadvantages, or to end them and, subsequently, your life? To die is to sleep, and to end the heartache and shock that being alive brings upon us. To die is something to wish for.

When should you paraphrase?

Paraphrasing is done when you want to use specific information from a cited source but don’t necessarily want to quote it directly, such as:

  • Emphasizing an idea
  • The quote you want to use isn’t helpful (overly technical, using archaic language, etc)
  • Quotes aren’t allowed or you don’t want to overuse quotations

What is quoting?

To quote something is to state it exactly as it was originally presented, using the exact words from the original source and quotation marks when written out.

When you create direct quotations, you don’t have any freedom to alter the reference from its original state unless you explicitly make that clear in the quote. To accomplish this, writers use brackets to add in a word or two for clarity, change verb tense, or show a change in letter capitalization.

Ellipses (...) can be used to show that some of the quote was removed to cut out irrelevant information or that the quote continues beyond the direct quote shown.

Quoting is all about staying true to the source, so any gratuitous change is unacceptable. Even when using brackets to slightly alter a quote for inclusion in a project, you have to be careful that each change is documented with brackets or ellipses.

When quoting, you must cite the original source━there are no exceptions when it comes to this rule, whether you use in-text or parenthetical citations. Even if the quote is cited in another work, you must attribute the quote properly in your citation.

Example: Quote from Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 1
“To be, or not to be? That is the question— / Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer / The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, / Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, / And, by opposing, end them? To die, to sleep— / No more—and by a sleep to say we end / The heartache and the thousand natural shocks / That flesh is heir to—’tis a consummation / Devoutly to be wished!” -Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 1

When should you quote?

Quoting is done when you need information directly from the source in the exact way it was originally presented (plus quotation marks), like when you are:

  • Using the power of the author’s words
  • Sharing firsthand information
  • Conveying accurate information
  • Highlighting the beauty/eloquence/etc of a quote

What is similar about quoting, paraphrasing, and summarizing?

Quoting, paraphrasing, and summarizing are all related actions in the writing and research world.

  1. Interacting with text. Quoting, paraphrasing, and summarizing are all ways in which you can interact with and digest information. The way you go about each of these methods might be different, but they all have the same broad goal.
  2. Reading comprehension. Quoting, paraphrasing, and summarizing all help with reading comprehension. When you transform information into another configuration, you’re testing and strengthening your understanding of the text.
  3. The need to cite. No matter if you are quoting, paraphrasing, or summarizing, you need to cite all sources that are used in the given quote, paraphrase, or summary in order to avoid committing plagiarism.

How are quoting, paraphrasing, and summarizing different?

The difference between paraphrasing and summarizing comes down to intent.

Paraphrasing isn’t meant to remove any information, only to rephrase it, while a summary purposely removes most details in order to hone in on the overall message and the most important ideas or conclusions.

Paraphrasing and quoting are essentially opposites.

When you paraphrase a text, you are restating it in your own words for your own purposes. But when you quote a text, you are writing it out word for word—the exact way in which it was originally presented.

Paraphrasing is using your own words to describe something someone else has said or written, while quoting preserves the original verbatim.

What do quoting, paraphrasing, and summarizing all have in common?

Quoting, paraphrasing, and summarizing are all used to test reading comprehension. Additionally, the sources used to create a quote, paraphrase, and summary must all be cited appropriately.


Paige Pfeifer

Along with Emily Perry, PhD

Paige teaches QuillBot writers about grammar rules and writing conventions. She has a BA in English, which she received by reading and writing a lot of fiction. That is all she knows how to do.

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