Quoting sources in an essay is a bit like cutting your toenails: useful to do now and then, but you can definitely go too far. However, rather than leading to sore toes, excessive quoting can mean you lose marks on your work (which is arguably far worse). This is why paraphrasing is a crucial skill.
Paraphrase or Quote?
Paraphrasing and quoting are two ways of referring to someone else’s ideas in your writing. When we quote someone, we use their exact words and place them within quotation marks.
When we paraphrase something, on the other hand, we try to express the same idea in our own words. This offers a few advantages over quoting:
- It lets you demonstrate your understanding of the source.
- You can explain a complex idea in simple terms.
- You can focus on the parts of the source most relevant to your work.
As such, paraphrasing is usually a better choice than quoting a source at length. The only times you ever truly need to quote a source are when:
- Your argument depends on the wording of something (e.g. if your interpretation of a text depends on the exact words used).
- The original text expresses something in an especially useful way.
This is not to say that you can’t quote sources in other situations, but most of the document should be your own words. Whether you quote or paraphrase, though, you still need to give a citation.
5 Paraphrasing Tips
Hopefully, you’re now keen to start paraphrasing sources. But how should you do this? Check out the five tips below for some handy advice!
- Read the original source a few times to make sure you fully understand it.
- Choose whether to paraphrase the source in full (i.e. presenting all the information from the original passage in your own words) or summarise it (i.e. selecting the details most relevant to your own work).
- Think about how you would explain the passage to a friend who does not understand your subject area (you could even try this in real life).
- Write your paraphrased version of the passage, then compare it to the original to make sure you haven’t missed anything.
- If you use any exact phrases from the original text, put these in quotation marks and add the relevant page numbers to the citation.
Keep all of this in mind and you should be paraphrasing like a pro in no time!