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Plagiarism Basics

What are the differences between quotations, paraphrasing and summarizing?

Quoting, Paraphrasing, and Summarizing

Writers can use the ideas and work of others to support their points, cite the sources, and properly rephrase or quote the ideas used.  To do any of these, a writer needs a good understanding of the ideas used and be able to describe them in their own words as much as they can.  Here are 3 common ways:

  • Quotations are identical to the original work and use a small or 'just right' amount.  The words from the source are identical to what is used in an assignment and are attributed to the original author.
  • Paraphrasing involves putting a passage from source material into your own words. A paraphrase must also be attributed to the original source. Paraphrased material is usually shorter than the original passage, taking a somewhat broader segment of the source and condensing it slightly.
  • Summarizing involves putting the main idea(s) into your own words, including only the main point(s). Once again, it is necessary to attribute summarized ideas to the original source. Summaries are significantly shorter than the original and take a broad overview of the source material.

What if I have to use certain words and can't paraphrase or find a different word?

Proper Nouns.  Reusing specific names of persons, places, events, or things (e.g., Dwight Eisenhower, Beijing, World War II, or The Chrysler Building) generally do not need to be cited or paraphrased.  Content related to them within an assignment may need to be cited if it is not common knowledge.  

Unique Words or Concepts.  Sometimes a unique term or phrase may not have an adequate word with a similar meaning, or a similar word does not describe its true essence.  This may also be the case when describing certain concepts.  When this happens, reusing an exact term may be needed.  When it does, be sure to attribute or provide a citation to show the term's origin.

For example, 'synchronicity' is a concept labeled by Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung in which he describes physical and psychological occurrences that happen without obvious meanings, yet may seem loosely connected (Jung, 1973).  If a student wants to discuss the spiritual and unconscious aspects of the concept, they may want to use its exact word instead of using a term that does not adequately capture its essence.  The student will then need to accurately summarize or paraphrase Jung's idea as it fits with the points they want to make, and also to cite the source.

Source:  Jung, C. G. (1973).  Synchronicity: An acausal connecting principle.  From The Collected Works of C. G. Jung, Volume 8, Bolligen Series XX.  Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Image source: Quote bubble rectangle by 905513. Permission by CC0.

Introduction to Common Knowledge

Common knowledge is information that is accepted and known so widely you do not need to cite it.

  • Common sayings or cliches.
    What is Common Knowledge?It's raining cats and dogs. 
  • Facts that can be easily verified. These are often repeated in various sources:
    The earth revolves around the Sun. 
  • Facts that most people know.
    Dogs are often used as pets or companion animals.

Image Source: Questions demand doubt psychology by ElsaRiva, Permission by CC0.

Not all facts are common knowledge.  You will still need to cite the following:

  • Facts that are not widely known or are surprising.
    Michelangelo was shorter than average (Hughes & Elam, 2003).
  • Facts with numbers or statistics.
    In 2016, the estimated population of Boca Raton, Florida was 99,805 (U.S. Census, 2019).
  • Exact words from another work that could be considered common knowledge.
    In his 1988 State of the Union address, President Ronald Reagan said, "in the spirit of Jefferson, let us affirm that in this Chamber tonight there are no Republicans, no Democrats—just Americans. Yes, we will have our differences, but let us always remember what unites us far outweighs whatever divides us" (UVA Miller Center, 2017).
  • Knowledge or facts within a discipline.
    Types of cells could be considered common knowledge in a biological sciences course, but if this fact is used in an English Composition paper, it would need to be cited because you cannot assume your reader knows that.

If you have any questions about whether something is common knowledge, ask your professor or instructor for advice.

Hughes, H., & Elam, C.  (2003).  Michelangelo.  Grove Art Online.

U.S. Census Bureau (2019).  Quick facts: Boca Raton city, Florida

UVA Miller Center. (2017).  Presidential speeches:  Ronald Reagan presidency:  January 25, 1988 State of the Union address.

Last updated on Jul 8, 2024 2:33 PM