What’s the Difference Between Quoting, Paraphrasing, and Summarizing?

When writing a research paper, you’re going to pull information from various outside sources. Doing this provides examples to support and further your ideas. At times, you’ll find that you need to quote, paraphrase, or summarize information from your sources. Using all three of these methods helps add variety to your writing. However, what is the difference between quoting, paraphrasing, and summarizing? Here are some things that you should know about each one:


What: When quoting a source, use the author’s words verbatim, or word-for-word. This means you shouldn’t change any grammar, punctuation, spelling, etc. Put quotations around the words to tell your reader where the quote begins and where it ends.

You also need to acknowledge the author. For example, if using MLA format for your research paper, you should have in-text citations with the author’s name and page number listed at the end of each quote.

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When: Use quotations to provide concrete examples to support your claims. Using direct quotations is a great way to build your credibility on the subject. It’s also a good idea to quote your source when the author states things in a powerful way. If you think he or she said it best, then use the exact words to share the ideas.

Example: In the short story “A Jury of Her Peers”, Mrs. Hale compares Mrs. Wright to her caged bird, saying “She—come to think of it, she was kind of like a bird herself. Real sweet and pretty, but kind of timid and—fluttery. How—she—did—change” (Glaspell).


What: Paraphrasing differs from quoting because you restate the passage in your own words. Since you don’t use the author’s words, you don’t need to use quotation marks. However, you still need to acknowledge the author for his or her ideas.

When paraphrasing a text, you should communicate the full meaning of the text; don’t change the meaning. It can be a condensed version of the text, or it could end up being longer than the source it’s paraphrasing.

When: You use paraphrasing when you take notes, or explain a chart or diagram to someone. Paraphrasing helps highlight the important parts of a larger text. It also allows you to simplify the ideas for your readers.

Original: “It was no ordinary thing that called her away–it was probably further from ordinary than anything that had ever happened in Dickson County. But what her eye took in was that her kitchen was in no shape for leaving: her bread all ready for mixing, half the flour sifted and half unsifted” (Glaspell).

Paraphrase: As Mrs. Hales walks around Mrs. Wright’s home, she notices that the kitchen is in disarray as if she was in the middle of baking bread (Glaspell).

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What: When summarizing, you need to state the main ideas and/or broader themes from the writing in your own words. You may quote or paraphrase portions of the text when creating a summary. However, a summary is typically shorter and more condensed than the product of paraphrasing. Also, since the ideas or themes come from the author, you still need to acknowledge the author for his or her ideas.

When: A summary allows you to take a larger portion of the text, if not the entire document, and discuss the main ideas and themes in a few sentences. It’s helpful to summarize when you want to give your reader background information on a text without needing to give too much detail.

Example: In the short story “A Jury of Her Peers”, Susan Glaspell describes a murder investigation where a man was strangled, and a group of men believe his wife—Mrs. Wright—may be the culprit. As they search for clues, two women uncover clues around the kitchen that shed a light on Mrs. Wright’s lonely living conditions with her husband.
They discover a possible motive but choose to hide it from the men to protect Mrs. Wright. Glaspell used the story to explore gender roles in the early part of the twentieth century where many people believed that a woman’s place was in the kitchen only.

Although there are several differences between quoting, paraphrasing, and summarizing, there is one important similarity: all three of these require you to cite your sources. If you fail to cite your sources when quoting, paraphrasing, or summarizing, you are plagiarizing. Don’t commit this egregious offense. Make sure to credit the author no matter how you share his or her thoughts, ideas, and words.

P.S. Become a better writer. Find out more here.


  • Jamie Goodwin

    Jamie graduated from Brigham Young University- Idaho with a degree in English Education. She spent several years teaching and tutoring students at the elementary, high school, and college level. She currently works as a contract writer and curriculum developer for online education courses. In her free time, she enjoys running and spending time with her boys!

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