Text: When to Quote, Paraphrase, or Summarize a Source

When you present evidence from a source, you have three options:

  • Looking over the shoulder of a woman writing on a white paper tablecloth with a red marker. "accessibility to service" can be seen near her pen; other less-legible phrases also appear. Quote the source by using its exact language with quotation marks or in a block quotation.
  • Paraphrase the source by restating a short passage in your own words.
  • Summarize the source by restating its ideas in fewer words than the original.

Which option you choose depends on how much of a source you are using, how you are using it, and what kind of paper you are writing, since different fields use sources in different ways. You have to decide each case individually, but here are some general guidelines:

  • If it’s long, summarize. If a passage is more than a paragraph or two, summarize it. Never quote or paraphrase long passages.
  • Don’t quote too much. If you use many passages from sources, do not quote them all. Too many quotations will make readers wonder whether you have contributed any of your own ideas.
  • In the sciences and experimental social sciences, paraphrase and summarize. In these fields, it’s usually the results that matter, not the words used to report them.
  • In the humanities and qualitative social sciences, quote only when the exact words matter. If a passage from a source is your primary evidence, quote it (or, if it is too long, quote parts of it). If you address the exact words of a secondary source, quote them.
NOTE: You must always cite the source of every quotation, paraphrase, and summary, both in your text and in your bibliography or works cited. If you fail to do so, even by accident, you open yourself to a charge of plagiarism.


In general, do not quote a source unless its exact words matter to your argument. You should think about quoting a source

  • when the quoted words are your primary evidence (for instance, in an English paper you might quote from a novel; in a history paper you might quote from an official record; or in a sociology paper you might quote an informant)
  • when the passage raises an important objection that you rebut, and you want to show that you are not misrepresenting it or taking it out of context
  • when the words of a passage are original, odd, or otherwise too useful to lose in a paraphrase
  • when a secondary source supports your claim and is written by an important authority who will give your argument credibility


In a paraphrase, you restate a passage in your own words. You should think about paraphrasing a source

  • when a source’s ideas or information, but not its language, are important to your argument (for example, if the result of a study of earthworms supports your claim, but its exact language doesn’t matter)
  • when you can state the ideas of a source more clearly or concisely than the original
  • when a source uses technical terms that are unfamiliar to your readers
  • when you use many passages from sources (so that you can avoid having too many quotations)


In a summary, you report the main ideas in a passage in fewer words than the original. You should think about summarizing a source

  • when a passage from a source is too long to quote or paraphrase
  • when only the main ideas of a source are relevant to your argument (for example, if you want to address only the claim and reasons in an argument, not its evidence or warrants)
  • when the details in a source might distract or confuse readers (for example, if a source raises issues that might interest your readers but are not relevant to your argument)