Paraphrasing, Summarizing, and Quoting: What’s the Difference?

Paraphrasing, Summarizing and Quoting

Paraphrasing is when you take someone else’s ideas or words and rephrase them as your own.

Summarizing is to give the reader an overview of the key points of a text.

Quoting is when you write exactly what someone else has said, word for word.

Anyone who has written a paper, especially an academic paper, has struggled to answer the question: what is the difference between paraphrasing, summarizing, and quoting, and which one should I do? Do I need to use all three? Do I need to provide a citation? Every writer needs to know how to distinguish these three tasks to write well and avoid committing plagiarism, whether accidental or intentional. Let’s take a look at the differences between paraphrasing, summarizing, and quoting so that your writing will be polished and professional every time.

What Is Quoting?

Quoting is when you write exactly what someone else has said, word for word. Even if the original text contains punctuation, grammatical, or spelling errors, if you are quoting, you must include these errors! A quote is indicated using double quotation marks, and the author and source should be cited in either the text directly or in a footnote depending upon the citation format you are following. There are two ways to handle a quote with incorrect spelling or grammar. The first is by correcting it using square brackets like so.

Guinea pig[s] make wonderful pets for small children.

The second is to write the Latin word sic in square brackets after the error to indicate that the error is in the original text. Sic is usually italicized. For example:

Guinea pig [sic] make wonderful pets for small children.

Quotes are great to use in academic writing when you want to discuss a particular author’s idea or phrasing. However, quotes should be used sparingly, and should be on the shorter side (less than a paragraph) in order to maximize the space for your own analysis and ideas. Think of quotes like salt– they add essential flavor to a dish, but should not be the main ingredient.

What Is Paraphrasing?

Unlike a quote, paraphrasing is when you take someone else’s ideas or words and rephrase them as your own. Paraphrasing is a vital skill for any writer, as much of academic writing is synthesizing information from different sources in your own words and adding your thoughts.

Many people who try to paraphrase accidentally end up committing plagiarism. Why? There are two reasons. The first reason is that people often just change a couple of words in the original writing and call it a paraphrase. The second reason is that people fail to add the proper citation after paraphrasing. In fact, paraphrases should include the source just like a quote.

So how can you paraphrase properly? In addition to changing the specific words used, a good paraphrase changes the structure and even order of the original phrasing. Let’s take a brief example.

Original text: The pandemic as well as the war in Ukraine have stifled supply of commodities and goods and upended efficient distribution through global supply chains, forcing up prices of everyday goods such as fuel and food. But, while higher prices will cause pain for households, growth in many parts of the world, while slow, is still ticking over and job markets have not collapsed (CNBC, May 30, 2022).

Paraphrase 1: The war in Ukraine and the pandemic have blocked the supply of commodities and goods and overturned efficient distribution through global supply chains, increasing prices of everyday goods such as fuel and food. While higher prices will cause pain for households, growth in many parts of the world is still happening and job markets have not collapsed.

This paraphrase changes a few words around, but it is easy to see the resemblance to the original text. It is also missing a citation. This paraphrase is likely to be flagged by a plagiarism checker.

Paraphrase 2: The supply of goods and commodities has faltered due to the war in Ukraine and the pandemic as global supply chains struggle to maintain efficient distribution. This has resulted in higher prices of everyday goods like fuel and food. Despite these difficulties, the majority of economies continue to see growth, albeit slow growth, and job markets remain solid. Households can expect short term pain from higher prices, but it seems unlikely that collapse is on the horizon (CNBC, May 30, 2022).

This paraphrase breaks up longer sentences into shorter ones, adding some of the author’s own commentary towards the end and artfully rephrasing the original ideas.  A proper in-text citation is included. The second paraphrase is acceptable.

What Is Summarizing?

Summarizing is similar to paraphrasing, but there are a few key differences. First, the purpose of summarizing is to give the reader an overview of the key points of a text. A paraphrase re-words information from the original text, but it does not remove any of the original ideas. Because of this difference, summarizing deletes sections, sometimes large sections, of the original text to leave only the most critical concepts and ideas. Paraphrasing is usually around the same length as the original writing, while summarizing is much shorter than the original.

Second, summarizing can include a quote or a paraphrase from the original text. However, a paraphrase will never contain additional paraphrasing. It may contain a quote, but only in rare circumstances. If you use a quote in your summary, don’t forget to still cite the source. This can be as simple as mentioning the author’s name and then citing it in the references section. We could summarize the above text as follows:

CNBC notes that while events including the pandemic and war in Ukraine are upending the global supply chain leading to short-term fiscal pain for households, the global economy remains in a steady, if slow, state of growth overall.

Don’t Commit Accidental Plagiarism!

Knowing the difference between quoting, paraphrasing, and summarizing is the key to avoiding accidental plagiarism. Forgetting to properly indicate a quote with quotation marks, paraphrasing incorrectly by just changing a few words, or summarizing without giving proper credit are all ways that authors can commit accidental plagiarism. Fortunately, in addition to learning about the important differences between these three writing techniques, students, academics, and writers of all kinds can take advantage of AI writing tools as well. Tools like Trinka can help academic writers especially ensure that their writing is clear, accurate, and uses technical terminology properly. It also reviews your references to make sure they are accurate. Enago’s plagiarism checker is another great tool to ensure that you haven’t failed to clearly paraphrase or forgotten to indicate a quote. As you progress in your writing career, these tools can make your life easier and prevent you from making any critical errors. Give them a try today.

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