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Roots of Contemporary Issues RCI

Paraphrasing & Quoting


Paraphrasing is the act of putting information from another source in your own words. This is more than simply changing a couple of words in a sentence. One easy and effective way to paraphrase is to read the passage you are referencing, close the book or put away the article, and try to summarize the ideas yourself.

Considering the following block quote:

Literacy is a label which covers many different skills and kinds of use. There are those who can read but not write, or are able to recognise road signs but not to read shop names; and those who can manage their literate needs quite well, but would be defeated by the lexicon and syntax of most academic books. The line is not so easy to draw between ‘able to read’ and ‘able to understand’ — it is increasingly begin recognised that reading and writing are cognitively complex practices. In 1980, official British sources in Britain calculated that one million citizens were ‘functionally literate’. Contemporary figures for the US were between 50 and 60 million.[1]

One way to paraphrase the above passage is:

While we often think of literacy in simple terms, it is a very complex issue. Many people in both Britain and the United States are unable to read a textbook, for example, but can read road signs without difficulty.[2]

While the paraphrased passage does not use Tonkin’s exact words to express an opinion about literacy, it still draws its IDEAS from her book. With this in mind you must always insert a footnote or parenthetical citation after such a passage to fully credit the source of your information.


Sometimes the exact words of an author are so important or well-presented that you may want to quote them directly. There are three things to remember when you do this:

  • Always anchor your quote. The words of another author should not just float around in the middle of your paragraph, but must serve to support an argument you have already stated in your introduction. To that end you should always make sure that you properly introduce your quote (who wrote it, for example?) and explain the relevance of the material to your thesis.
  • Quote sparingly. Ninety-nine percent of your paper should be in your own words. Quotes help your argument, but cannot substitute for your own original work.

Always cite your source. First, words that belong to someone else must be copied exactly and enclosed in quotation marks. Second, you must tell your reader where the information comes from. Citation formats vary, so always be clear on what your instructor expects.

An example of how to follow these guidelines, using the same passage as before, would be:

Not all scholars agree that the question of literacy in the United States is a simple matter. As historian Elizabeth Tonkin argues, “[t]here are those who can read but not write, or are able to recognise road signs but not to read shop names.” Rather than think of literacy in clear cut terms of a person’s ability to read and write, we should recognize different degrees of ability, she suggests. After all, she asserts, “[t]he line is not so easy to draw between ‘able to read’ and ‘able to understand’.”

It is important to note that Tonkin’s words are quoted EXACTLY as they appear in her book. This means that her British spelling is preserved. As before, a parenthetical or footnote citation should follow this passage to acknowledge your source of information.

[1] Elizabeth Tonkin, Narrating our Pasts: The Social Construction of Oral History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 13.

[2] Tonkin, Narrating our Pasts, 13.