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Plagiarism is passing off someone else's words as your own. This can be intentional (such as turning in a paper that was written by a classmate), but most often it is unintentional (such as forgetting to cite a source or not putting quotation marks around a word-for-word phrase). Either way, plagiarism is theft, and it is very important to understand how to properly give credit to your sources.
Summaries, paraphrases, and quotations help writers support their own ideas by referring to an authority on the subject, by giving examples of different viewpoints, and/or by providing background material. Whether you summarize an article, paraphrase a section of book, or quote an author's words directly, the author of the original work must always be given credit.
The goal of a summary is to make a long story short. For example, you want to reference a book in your essay, but maybe your reader hasn’t read the book. Your summary provides an overview in your own words. The length of a summary varies—maybe you summarize a book into just a couple pages or condense an article into a sentence or two.
In his essay “On the Uses of a Liberal Education,” Mark Edmundson discusses the commercialization of American higher education. The students are the consumers, and the universities lure them in with cushy dorm rooms, state-of-the-art campus gyms and less challenging courses, according to Edmundson.
For further help, see the University of North Carolina handout Summary: Using it Wisely.
Paraphrasing can be especially helpful when you’re worried your reader might not understand a quote from another text—maybe it’s a difficult line from Shakespeare or filled with jargon from a technical field. Using your own words, your mission is to translate the passage into simple and easily understood language.
Original Text: “In the current university, the movement for urbane tolerance has devolved into an imperative against critical reaction, turning much of the intellectual life into a dreary Sargasso Sea” (Edmundson 288).
Paraphrase: Universities no longer encourage intellectual growth and instead frown upon analytical thinking, which results in an eerily stagnant environment (Edmundson 288).
Here are some great examples of successful vs. unsuccessful (plagiarized) paraphrases:
Directly quoting a source is an appropriate choice when an author says something so articulately, humorously, or poignantly that you couldn’t have said it better yourself. Use brief quotations sparingly (your reader usually prefers to hear your voice, and using your own words shows your instructor that you comprehend a text).
Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn.”
For further help, see the Writer's Handbook from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Writers use sources in order to support their own ideas. How much we quote, paraphrase, or summarize sources depends on the demands of the assignment as well as the discipline in which we are writing. An essay on a piece of literature, for example, would integrate quotes more frequently than a research paper in the social sciences.
For further information on integrating sources into your writing, check out the Harvard Guide to Using Sources