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Academic Writing: Summarising, paraphrasing and quoting

Summarising, Paraphrasing and Quotations

Academic writing requires that you use literature sources in your work to demonstrate the extent of your reading (breadth and depth), your knowledge, understanding and critical thinking. Literature can be used to provide evidence to support arguments and can demonstrate your awareness of the research-base that underpins your subject specialism.

There are three ways to introduce the work of others into your assignments: summarising, paraphrasing and quotations.

Summarising-praraphrasing diagram

When, Why & How to Use

Definition: Using your own words to provide a statement (‘summary’) of the main themes, key points, or overarching ideas of a complete text, such as a book, chapter from a book, or academic article.

When to use:

  • Useful for providing an overview or background to a topic
  • Useful for describing your knowledge and understanding from a single source
  • Useful for expressing your combined knowledge and understanding from several sources (synthesis of sources)

Why to use:

  • Demonstrates your understanding of your reading
  • Demonstrates your ability to identify the main points from a larger body of text or to draw together the main points from several sources

How to use:

  • Should offer a balanced representation of the main points
  • Should be expressed in your own words (except for technical terminology or conventional terms that appear in the original)
  • Should not include detailed discussion or examples
  • Should not include information that is not in the original text
  • Should avoid using the same sentence structures as the original text
  • The following process may be used:
    • Read the original text (more than once if necessary) to make sure you fully understand it
    • Note the main points in your own words
    • Recheck the original text to ensure you have covered the key content and meaning
    • Rewrite using formal, grammatically correct academic writing
  • Requires in-text citation and referencing
  • No page numbers in in-text citation

Example (using Harvard referencing style, from CiteThemRight online, Cite Them Right - Summarising (Harvard) (

'Nevertheless, one important study (Harrison, 2007) looks closely at the historical and linguistic links between European races and cultures over the past five hundred years.'

Definition: Using your own words to express an author’s specific point from a short section of text (one or two sentences, or a paragraph), retaining the original meaning.

When to use:

  • Used where the meaning of the text is more important than the exact words
  • Useful for expressing the author’s specific point more concisely and in a way that clarifies its relationship to your work
  • Useful for stating factual information such as data and statistics from a source

Why to use:

  • Demonstrates that you have understood the content and can express it independently, rather than relying on the author’s words
  • Allows you to use your own style of writing and your own ‘voice’ in your work
  • Allows you to integrate the ideas to fit more readily with your own work and to improve the flow of the writing

How to use:

  • Must not change the original meaning
  • Must go further than just changing a few words or changing the word order as this could amount to plagiarism (you would not be fully expressing the idea in your own words)
  • Use different sentence structures from the original source
  • Use different vocabulary from the original source to convey the meaning
  • The following process may be used:
    • Read the original text several times, and identify the key content which is important and relevant to your work to distinguish this from content which is less important
    • Identify any specialist terminology or key words which are essential
    • Think about your reason for paraphrasing and how it relates to your own work
    • Roughly note down your understanding of the relevant content in your own words (don’t copy) without looking at the original text
    • Reread the original text and refine your notes to ensure that you are not misrepresenting the author, to determine whether you have captured the important aspects of the piece and to make sure your paraphrasing is not too similar to the original
    • Rewrite this in formal, grammatically correct academic writing
  • Requires in-text citation and referencing
  • Requires page number/s in the in-text citation to precisely locate the original content on which the paraphrasing is based within the source

Example (using Harvard referencing style, from CiteThemRight online, Cite Them Right - Paraphrasing (Harvard) (

'Harrison (2007, p. 48) clearly distinguishes between the historical growth of the larger European nation states and the roots of their languages and linguistic development, particularly during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. At this time, imperial goals and outward expansion were paramount for many of the countries, and the effects of spending on these activities often led to internal conflict.'

Definition: Using the author’s exact words to retain the author’s specific form of expression, clearly identifying the quotation as distinct from your own words (for example using quotation marks or indentation).

When to use:

  • Used where the author’s own exact words are important, rather than just the meaning
  • Useful where the author’s original choice of words conveys subjective experience, uses persuasive language, or carries emotional force
  • Useful where the precise wording is significant, for example in legal texts
  • Useful for definitions
  • Useful if the author’s own words carry the weight of power and authority that supports your argument
  • Useful if you want to critique an author’s point, to ensure you do not misrepresent their meaning
  • Useful if you want to disagree with the author as their own words may express their opposition to your argument enabling you to engage with and resist their point of view
  • Useful if the author has expressed themselves so concisely, distinctively, and eloquently that paraphrasing would diminish the quality of the statement

Why to use:

  • Demonstrates your ability to identify relevant and significant content from a larger body of work
  • Demonstrates that you have read and understood the wider context of the quotation and can integrate it into your own work appropriately

How to use:

  • Should be used selectively (over-use of quotations does not demonstrate your own understanding)
  • Should not be used just to avoid expressing the meaning in your own words or because you are not confident you have understood the content
  • Make sure that the quotation is reproduced accurately, including spelling and punctuation
  • Comment on the quotation and its relationship to your point, for example explain its interest and relevance, show how it applies to a particular situation, or discuss its limitations
  • Short quotations of no more than three lines should be contained within quotation marks (you can use double or single quotations marks, but be consistent and note that Turnitin only recognises double quotation marks)
  • Longer quotations (used sparingly) should be included as a separate paragraph indented from the main text, without quotation marks
  • Don’t use quotation marks for technical terminology which is accepted within your specialism, and which is part of the common language of your academic discipline
  • Requires in-text citation and referencing
  • Requires page number/s in the in-text citation to precisely locate the quote within the source

Examples (from CiteThemRight online, Cite Them Right - Setting out quotations (Harvard) (

Short quotation (using Harvard referencing style):

'If you need to illustrate the idea of nineteenth-century America as a land of opportunity, you could hardly improve on the life of Albert Michelson’ (Bryson, 2004, p. 156).

Long quotation (using Harvard referencing style):

King describes the intertwining of the fate and memory in many evocative passages, such as:

So the three of them rode towards their end of the Great Road, while summer lay all about them, breathless as a gasp. Roland looked up and saw something that made him forget all about the Wizard’s Rainbow. It was his mother, leaning out of her apartment’s bedroom window: the oval of her face surrounded by the timeless gray stone of the castle’s west wing! (King, 1997, pp. 553-554)

Altering quotations:

You can omit part of a quotation by using three dots (ellipses). Only do this to omit unnecessary words which do not alter the meaning.

Example (from CiteThemRight online, Cite Them Right - Making changes to quotations (

'Drug prevention ... efforts backed this up' (Gardner, 2007, p. 49).

You can insert your own or different words into a quotation by placing them in square brackets. Only do this to add clarity to the quotation where it does not alter the meaning.

Example (from CiteThemRight online, Cite Them Right - Making changes to quotations (

'In this field [crime prevention], community support officers ...' (Higgins, 2008, p. 17).

Further Reading