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Writers' Center

Eastern Washington University

Using Sources and Citation Styles (MLA and APA)

Tips for documenting your sources

Summaries, Paraphrases, and Quotations

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.

Summarizing Sources

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. 

Summary Sample

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.


  • Conciseness counts. The challenge is to condense the text while still including the big ideas.
  • Take a look at chapter titles or section headings and subheadings to get a feel for the author’s key claims.
  • Try to articulate the author’s thesis statement in your own words.
  • Try to focus on the original text’s main ideas that are most relevant to your own paper. Take into account what your readers may already know about the text.

For further help, see the University of North Carolina handout Summary: Using it Wisely.

Paraphrasing Sources

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.

Paraphrase Sample

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).


  • To stay out of the plagiarism trap, avoid phrasing or sentence structure that mimics the original text.
  • Unlike a summary, your goal here is not to shorten the original text or cut out detail. Your job is to provide the same meaning but in laymen’s terms.
  • Don’t forget to cite your source.

Here are some great examples of successful vs. unsuccessful (plagiarized) paraphrases:

Quoting Sources

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). 

Quotation Sample

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn.”


  • Don’t forget quotation marks, which visually remind your reader the words belong to another author.
  • As always, give credit where credit is due: cite your source!

For further help, see the Writer's Handbook from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Integrating Sources into Your Writing

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.