When to Quote, Paraphrase, and Cite

It is important first to recognize when citations may be required. The U.S. always attributes ideas to the writer or thinker, and any research results are also attributed. You will need to cite information found at a specific source to claim it. However, well-known and widely accepted (e.g., the undisputed dates of war or 32 ounces equivalent in pounds) do not need to be cited.

There are times when a quote will have the greatest impact, and others when paraphrasing can be more effective. These are the alternatives to paraphrasing in a paper on cultural transformation.

  • “The weak cannot forgive.” “Forgiveness is an attribute of the strong,” (Gandhi 1931).
  • As Gandhi stated in 1931, forgiveness is not weakness. It’s the opposite.

While the second sentence may be a good summary of the idea in this instance, the syntax of the direct quotation and the speaker’s reputation make the quote far more powerful than the paraphrased one. When the author is well-known, and you need to give authority to the information or when the words are especially eloquent, historically significant, or when you have a lot to say. This one meets all criteria.

Here’s one taken from an essay on alternative medicine.

  • The United Nations, established after World War II and a shining light in the ongoing fight against human trafficking, is one bright spot.

In this instance, and paraphrasing is not required. The sentence’s first half is your opinion, and the second is undisputed general knowledge. It is not necessary to paraphrase or cite widely accepted facts, such as the UN’s data. You would need to cite any sources if you wanted to explain the UN’s actions in combating human trafficking.

Here’s an example:

  • According to the Official Catholic Directory 2013, 69,436,660 Catholics in America (2% of the U.S. populace).

The directory is not required to be quoted. It has less power than the summary. It is important to cite the exact number, as it is not common knowledge. The phrase is coloured by the word “actually”. This is the author’s attempt to dispute the perception that religion is declining. This is why you can contextualize your words by using your own words. Paraphrasing allows you to be more flexible with sentence structure and allows readers to hear your unique voice.

Paraphrasing can be tricky because you have to make sure all words used are your own. Paraphrasing certain phrases in a work that you want to quote directly will require you to place quotes around them, such as this:

In Democracy Matters, West, for instance, advocates reviewing the U.S. Constitution’s foundation to recognize and counter “free-market fundamentalism”, which he believes has, among other things, undermined the document’s intent (West, 2004).

The phrase “free market fundamentalism”, which is used here, is original in West’s writings and should be recognized using quotation marks.

To Paraphrase or to Quote?

It would help if you considered paraphrasing, quoting, or simply stating these examples.

  1. Life: “90% of it is mental.”
  2. Around 68 percent of Americans over 25 don’t have a bachelor’s degree.
  3. Last year, fewer homes were destroyed by fires in San Diego County.
  4. For centuries bitter herb combinations have been used to stimulate the digestive tract.
  5. “[The loss of honeybees] represents the greatest threat to our food supply.”

This is an example of something you should quote. It’s important to know who said it (Yogi Bererra) because it’s a unique thought and because that’s one of the reasons it’s so funny. It’s impossible to paraphrase it, as the speaker’s exact words are crucial to the humour.

Paraphrasing or quoting number 2 is possible, but paraphrasing may be better because you can leave out the brackets to put the statistic in context. (2015 Politifact.com).

Number 3 is a little gray area in terms of citation. It might be assumed that this is a well-known fact found everywhere, so it wouldn’t be necessary to cite it. It may also depend on the context and whether the idea is controversial. Without a citation, your credibility will be questioned by the reader. You should paraphrase the source and cite it if it is disputable. Direct quoting is unlikely to give you more credibility, so it’s unnecessary.

You don’t usually need to cite number 4, but you will likely follow it up with more detailed information. A quote from a doctor or herbalist offering similar information could give the skeptical reader the feeling that they are on more solid ground.

Number 5 is the one you will want to quote directly. Kevin Hackett (USDA) is an important person in the debate over honeybee colony collapse. It doesn’t matter if you cite the source. This is because it’s an original thought and not a common fact.

You see, then, that while the citation issue is relatively straightforward–when in doubt, cite–the question of quotation versus paraphrase is subtler. It is a decision based on both artistic sensibility and arguments.

This is where the revision process can be of assistance. It will be obvious if your paper is sloppy and rambles from one quote after another, confusing the reader with words from other authors. It will also be apparent if it appears less authoritative or supported by direct quotations. Citations are an important element of your argument, showing how it was developed and why you feel the way you do. You can rely on the support of those who are standing beside you, but they shouldn’t take over. It’s your paper, after all.

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