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Quoting vs. Paraphrasing vs. Summarizing

If you’ve ever written a research essay, you know the struggle is real. Should you use a direct quote? Should you put it in your own words? And how is summarizing different from paraphrasing—aren’t they kind of the same thing?

Knowing how you should include your source takes some finesse, and knowing when to quote directly, paraphrase, or summarize can make or break your argument. Let’s take a look at the nuances among these three ways  of using an outside source in an essay.

What is quoting?

The concept of quoting is pretty straightforward. If you use quotation marks, you must use precisely the same words as the original , even if the language is vulgar or the grammar is incorrect. In fact, when scholars quote writers with bad grammar, they may correct it by using typographical notes [like this] to show readers they have made a change.

“I never like[d] peas as a child.”

Conversely, if a passage with odd or incorrect language is quoted as is, the note [sic] may be used to show that no changes were made to the original language despite any errors.

“I never like [sic] peas as a child.”

The professional world looks very seriously on quotations. You cannot change a single comma or letter without documentation when you quote a source. Not only that, but the quote must be accompanied by an attribution, commonly called a citation. A misquote or failure to cite can be considered plagiarism.

When writing an academic paper, scholars must use in-text citations in parentheses followed by a complete entry on a references page. When you quote someone using MLA format , for example, it might look like this:

“The orphan is above all a character out of place, forced to make his or her own home in the world. The novel itself grew up as a genre representing the efforts of an ordinary individual to navigate his or her way through the trials of life. The orphan is therefore an essentially novelistic character, set loose from established conventions to face a world of endless possibilities (and dangers)” (Mullan).

This quote is from www.bl.uk/romantics-and-victorians/articles/orphans-in-fiction , which discusses the portrayal of orphans in Victorian English literature. The citation as it would look on the references page (called Works Cited in MLA) is available at the end of this guide.

What is paraphrasing?

Paraphrasing means taking a quote and putting it in your own words.

You translate what another writer has said into terms both you and your reader can more easily understand. Unlike summarizing, which focuses on the big picture, paraphrasing is involved with single lines or passages. Paraphrasing means you should focus only on segments of a text.

Paraphrasing is a way for you to start processing the information from your source . When you take a quote and put it into your own words, you are already working to better understand, and better explain, the information.

The more you can change the quote without changing the original meaning , the better. How can you make significant changes to a text without changing the meaning?

Here are a few paraphrasing techniques:

  • Use synonyms of words
  • Change the order of words
  • Change the order of clauses in the sentences
  • Move sentences around in a section
  • Active – passive
  • Positive – negative
  • Statement-question

Let’s look at an example. Here is a direct quote from the article on orphans in Victorian literature:

“It is no accident that the most famous character in recent fiction – Harry Potter – is an orphan. The child wizard’s adventures are premised on the death of his parents and the responsibilities that he must therefore assume. If we look to classic children’s fiction we find a host of orphans” (Mullan).

Here is a possible paraphrase:

It’s not a mistake that a well-known protagonist in current fiction is an orphan: Harry Potter. His quests are due to his parents dying and tasks that he is now obligated to complete. You will see that orphans are common protagonists if you look at other classic fiction (Mullan).

What differences do you spot? There are synonyms. A few words were moved around. A few clauses were moved around. But do you see that the basic structure is very similar?

This kind of paraphrase might be flagged by a plagiarism checker. Don’t paraphrase like that.

Here is a better example:

What is the most well-known fact about beloved character, Harry Potter? That he’s an orphan – “the boy who lived”. In fact, it is only because his parents died that he was thrust into his hero’s journey. Throughout classic children’s literature, you’ll find many orphans as protagonists (Mullan).

Do you see that this paraphrase has more differences? The basic information is there, but the structure is quite different.

When you paraphrase, you are making choices: of how to restructure information, of how to organize and prioritize it.  These choices reflect your voice in a way a direct quote cannot, since a direct quote is, by definition, someone else’s voice.

Which is better: Quoting or paraphrasing?

Although the purpose of both quoting and paraphrasing is to introduce the ideas of an external source, they are used for different reasons. It’s not that one is better than the other, but rather that quoting suits some purposes better, while paraphrasing is more suitable for others.

A direct quote is better when you feel the writer made the point perfectly and there is no reason to change a thing. If the writer has a strong voice and you want to preserve that, use a direct quote.

For example, no one should ever try to paraphrase John. F. Kenney’s famous line: “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”

However, think of direct quotes like a hot pepper: go ahead and sprinkle them around to add some spice to your paper, but… you might not want to overdo it.

Conversely, paraphrasing is useful when you want to bring in a longer section of a source into your piece, but you don’t have room for the full passage . A paraphrase doesn’t simplify the passage to an extreme level, like a summary would. Rather, it condenses the section of text into something more useful for your essay. It’s also appropriate to paraphrase when there are sentences within a passage that you want to leave out.

If you were to paraphrase the section of the article about Victorian orphans mentioned earlier, you might write something like this:

Considering the development of the novel, which portrayed everyday people making their way through life, using an orphan as a protagonist was effective. Orphans are characters that, by definition, need to find their way alone. The author can let the protagonist venture out into the world where the anything, good or bad, might happen (Mullan).

You’ll notice a couple of things here. One, there are no quotation marks, but there is still an in-text citation (the name in parentheses). A paraphrase lacks quotation marks because you aren’t directly quoting, but it still needs a citation because you are using a specific segment of the text. It is still someone else’s original idea and must be cited.

Secondly, if you look at the original quote, you’ll see that five lines of text are condensed into four and a half lines. Everything the author used has been changed.

A single paragraph of text has been explained in different words—which is the heart of paraphrasing.

What is summarizing?

Next, we come to summarizing. Summarizing is on a much larger scale than quoting or paraphrasing. While similar to paraphrasing in that you use your own words, a summary’s primary focus is on translating the main idea of an entire document or long section.

Summaries are useful because they allow you to mention entire chapters or articles—or longer works—in only a few sentences. However, summaries can be longer and more in-depth. They can actually include quotes and paraphrases. Keep in mind, though, that since a summary condenses information, look for the main points. Don’t include a lot of details in a summary.

In literary analysis essays, it is useful to include one body paragraph that summarizes the work you’re writing about. It might be helpful to quote or paraphrase specific lines that contribute to the main themes of such a work. Here is an example summarizing the article on orphans in Victorian literature:

In John Mullan’s article “Orphans in Fiction” on bl.uk.com, he reviews the use of orphans as protagonists in 19 th century Victorian literature. Mullan argues that orphans, without family attachments, are effective characters that can be “unleashed to discover the world.” This discovery process often leads orphans to expose dangerous aspects of society, while maintaining their innocence. As an example, Mullan examines how many female orphans wind up as governesses, demonstrating the usefulness of a main character that is obligated to find their own way.

This summary includes the main ideas of the article, one paraphrase, and one direct quote. A ten-paragraph article is summarized into one single paragraph.

As for giving source credit, since the author’s name and title of the source are stated at the beginning of the summary paragraph, you don’t need an in-text citation.

How do I know which one to use?

The fact is that writers use these three reference types (quoting, paraphrasing, summarizing) interchangeably. The key is to pay attention to your argument development. At some points, you will want concrete, firm evidence. Quotes are perfect for this.

At other times, you will want general support for an argument, but the text that includes such support is long-winded. A paraphrase is appropriate in this case.

Finally, sometimes you may need to mention an entire book or article because it is so full of evidence to support your points. In these cases, it is wise to take a few sentences or even a full paragraph to summarize the source.

No matter which type you use, you always need to cite your source on a References or Works Cited page at the end of the document. The MLA works cited entry for the text we’ve been using today looks like this:

Mullan, John. Orphans in Fiction” www.bl.uk/romantics-and-victorians/articles/orphans-in-fiction.  Accessed 20. Oct. 2020


See our related lesson with video:  How to Quote and Paraphrase Evidence

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Direct Quotes vs. Paraphrasing vs. Summarizing: Know the Difference

  • Written By Lorraine Roberte
  • Updated: June 28, 2023

Knowing the differences between direct quotes, paraphrasing, and summarizing is crucial no matter your occupation, from business owner to content marketer.

Why? Because it can prevent you from accidentally plagiarizing in the work you do for yourself and from breeching best practices.

Incorporating a mixture of these elements in your content can also help you tell a better story, so your audience keeps reading.

Direct quotes vs. paraphrasing vs. summarizing — understanding the difference

We’re breaking down the differences between direct quotes vs. paraphrasing and summarizing and how you can use them in your writing.

From press releases for your business to engaging blog posts for your target audience, you can make your writing more interesting by including trustworthy sources.

Direct Quotes

Direct quotes

Direct quotes include the exact words that someone said, with quotation marks and name attribution. They’re especially common when  writing about people .

Example: “Elon Musk said in a tweet that Starlink’s satellite broadband service coverage will be available on ‘most of Earth by end of year,’ although he noted that ‘cellular will always have the advantage in dense urban areas.'”

When to use direct quotes

According to the  APA style guide , you’ll need to use direct quotes when:

  • Copying an exact definition
  • The author’s words are memorable and succinct
  • Responding or reacting to someone’s exact words

How to use direct quotes

In general, direct quotes are written verbatim. But you can make these small changes without alerting your readers:

  • Changing the first letter of the quote to an upper or lowercase so that the quotation matches the context sentence’s syntax. Can also modify the punctuation at the end of the quote.
  • Swapping single quotation marks to double quotation marks and vice versa
  • Omitting footnote or endnote number references



Paraphrasing is when you restate someone else’s words, but not word for word. 

Example (original quote): “It’s risky trusting employees as much as we do. Giving them as much freedom as we do. But it’s essential in creative companies where you have much greater risk from lack of innovation.” — Reed Hastings, Netflix CEO and co-founder . 

Example (paraphrase): “Netflix’s CEO and co-founder, Reed Hastings, feels that micromanaging workers can stifle innovation in creative businesses.”

When to paraphrase

It can be helpful to paraphrase if you want to keep your writing more conversational. It’s also useful when breaking up direct quotes or explaining the original source in simpler terms. That way, the information better fits the tone and style of your writing.

How to paraphrase

Paraphrasing involves putting a section of the source information entirely into your own words while staying true to its original meaning. You can link to the source in the place that makes the most sense, such as “report” for an industry report. 

You can keep from  plagiarizing when paraphrasing  by using synonyms for words mentioned in the source. It’s important to restate phrases differently (even if they’re just a few words) to avoid the same sentence structure. If you don’t, you could still be plagiarizing, despite crediting the source. 

If you use exact words from the original material while paraphrasing, you must put the word or words in quotes. The exception is generic terms that are difficult to find synonyms for.



When you summarize, you use your own words to describe the critical points of what someone else said or that you heard or read in a source. 

Example (original quote): “In a diverse population of older patients who were hospitalized for acute decompensated heart failure, an early, transitional, tailored, progressive rehabilitation intervention that included multiple physical-function domains resulted in greater improvement in physical function than usual care.” —  Study in the New England Journal of Medicine

Example (summary): “A recent study shows physical rehabilitation programs to be helpful for older populations with hospitalizations from heart failure.”

When to summarize

Summaries are excellent at giving readers the key insights they need from a longer text when proving your point. They also add context while keeping at a manageable length whatever  type of article  you’re writing.

How to summarize

You don’t need to include any quotes or attribution when summarizing, just a brief overview that often links back to the original material for more details. It may also introduce essential points from the original text, allowing readers to understand the source without clicking through it.

Now that you know the difference between direct quotes, paraphrasing, and summarizing, you can confidently write content for your business.

Need help creating engaging blog posts for your business? Talk to a content specialist at ClearVoice today about your needs.

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APA Citation Guide (7th edition): Quotes vs Paraphrases

  • Book Examples
  • Article Examples
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  • Quotes vs Paraphrases
  • Reference Entry Components
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What's the Difference?

Quoting vs paraphrasing: what's the difference.

There are two ways to integrate sources into your assignment: quoting directly or paraphrasing.

Quoting  is copying a selection from someone else's work, phrasing it exactly as it was originally written. When quoting place quotation marks (" ") around the selected passage to show where the quote begins and where it ends. Make sure to include an in-text citation. 

Paraphrasing  is used to show that you understand what the author wrote. You must reword the passage, expressing the ideas in your own words, and not just change a few words here and there. Make sure to also include an in-text citation. 

Quoting Example

There are two basic formats that can be used:

Parenthetical Style:

Narrative Style:

Quoting Tips

  • Long Quotes
  • Changing Quotes

What Is a Long Quotation?

A quotation of more than 40 words. 

Rules for Long Quotations

There are 4 rules that apply to long quotations that are different from regular quotations:

  • The line before your long quotation, when you're introducing the quote, usually ends with a colon.
  • The long quotation is indented half an inch from the rest of the text, so it looks like a block of text.
  • There are no quotation marks around the quotation.
  • The period at the end of the quotation comes before your in-text citation as opposed to after, as it does with regular quotations.

Example of a Long Quotation

At the end of Lord of the Flies the boys are struck with the realization of their behaviour:

The tears began to flow and sobs shook him. He gave himself up to them now for the first time on the island; great, shuddering spasms of grief that seemed to wrench his whole body. His voice rose under the black smoke before the burning wreckage of the island; and infected by that emotion, the other little boys began to shake and sob too. (Golding, 1960, p.186)

Changing Quotations

Sometimes you may want to make some modifications to the quote to fit your writing. Here are some APA rules when changing quotes:

Incorrect spelling, grammar, and punctuation

Add the word [sic] after the error in the quotation to let your reader know the error was in the original source and is not your error.

Omitting parts of a quotation

If you would like to exclude some words from a quotation, replace the words you are not including with an ellipsis - ...

Adding words to a quote

If you are adding words that are not part of the original quote, enclose the additional words in square brackets - [XYZ]

Secondary Source Quotes

What is a secondary source.

In scholarly work, a primary source reports original content; a secondary source refers to content first reported in another source.

  • Cite secondary sources sparingly—for instance, when the original work is out of print, unavailable, or available only in a language that you do not understand.
  • If possible, as a matter of good scholarly practice, find the primary source, read it, and cite it directly rather than citing a secondary source.

Rules for Secondary Source Citations

  • In the reference list, provide an entry only for the secondary source that you used.
  • In the text, identify the primary source and write “as cited in” the secondary source that you used. 
  • If the year of publication of the primary source is known, also include it in the in-text citation.

Example of a Secondary Source Use

Quote & In-Text Citation

Reference List Entry


Paraphrasing example.

When you write information from a source in your own words, cite the source by adding an in-text citation at the end of the paraphrased portion as follows:

If you refer to the author's name in a sentence you do not have to include the name again as part of your in-text citation, instead include the year of publication following his/her name:

NOTE : Although not required, APA encourages including the page number when paraphrasing if it will help the reader locate the information in a long text and distinguish between the information that is coming from you and the source.

Paraphrasing Tips

  • Long Paraphrases

Original Source

Homeless individuals commonly come from families who are riddled with problems and marital disharmony, and are alienated from their parents. They have often been physically and even sexually abused, have relocated frequently, and many of them may be asked to leave home or are actually thrown out, or alternatively are placed in group homes or in foster care. They often have no one to care for them and no one knows them intimately.

Source from: 

Rokach, A. (2005). The causes of loneliness in homeless youth. The Journal of Psychology, 139, 469-480. 

Example: Incorrect Paraphrasing

Example: correct paraphrasing.

If your paraphrase is longer than one sentence, provide an in-text citation for the source at the beginning of the paraphrase. As long as it's clear that the paraphrase continues to the following sentences, you don't have to include in-text citations for the following sentences.

If your paraphrase continues to another paragraph and/or you include paraphrases from other sources within the paragraph, repeat the in-text citations for each.

Additional Resource

  • Paraphrasing (The Learning Portal)

Tip sheet on paraphrasing information

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  • Next: Reference Entry Components >>
  • Last Updated: Jan 9, 2023 3:52 PM
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  1. Quoting vs. Paraphrasing vs. Summarizing

    Paraphrasing means taking a quote and putting it in your own words. You translate what another writer has said into terms both you and your reader can more easily understand. Unlike summarizing, which focuses on the big picture, paraphrasing is involved with single lines or passages. Paraphrasing means you should focus only on segments of a text.

  2. Direct Quotes vs. Paraphrasing vs. Summarizing Explained

    Direct quotes vs. paraphrasing vs. summarizing — understanding the difference. We’re breaking down the differences between direct quotes vs. paraphrasing and summarizing and how you can use them in your writing.

  3. Quotes vs Paraphrases

    Quoting vs Paraphrasing: What's the Difference? There are two ways to integrate sources into your assignment: quoting directly or paraphrasing. Quoting is copying a selection from someone else's work, phrasing it exactly as it was originally written.