There are different ways in which you can integrate external sources into your writings. You can either lift entire sections verbatim, i.e. word-for-word, or you can extract the essence and render it in your own words. The former is also known as direct quoting, the latter as paraphrasing, or indirect quoting. Both require that you are open about the origins of what is quoted/paraphrased
There is no hierarchy of importance or intellectual quality between a direct quotation and a paraphrase, although paraphrasing may be seen as the more difficult,and sometimes also the more risky, choice as it involves a lot of reengineering of the original wording without compromising the original meaning. Essentially, however, they both do the same valuable job but use different means. The specific context and editorial or compositional decisions should guide your choice.
A very important aspect of both direct quoting and paraphrasing is loyalty to the original source. It takes no more than a small tweak of the original wording, whether through deletion or addition, to change its entire meaning, and, in the same vein, if introduced into new contexts the whole gist of the original may deform or disappear altogether.
So tread carefully and with respect when using other people´s thoughts and ideas, do not misrepresent but reproduce contents as accurately as you possibly can, and do not force them into contexts that would run counter to the intentions, convictions, and motives of the original source.
A direct quotation reproduces word-for-word the contents of an external source and is typically used to corroborate, triangulate, or critically query a claim or argument by invoking external evidence from credible sources or people. A quotation retains the original wording and is easy to recognize as it is almost always wrapped in quotation marks to clearly signal to readers that it originates somewhere else and with someone else. Some reference styles distinguish between brief and long quotations. The APA style for instance insists that so-called block quotations, i.e quotations that consist of 40 words or more, are flagged not by quotation marks but through formatting. In this case, you present the quoted paragraph as a freestanding block of text and indent the beginning by one stroke of the Tab key.
On top of quotation marks or identation, all direct quotations need to be followed in brackets by a fixed troika of information about the original source, a citation. The exact information required depends on the specific reference style applied but in most cases it includes author last name, publication year, as well as location within the source, typically page number) as in (Doe, 2020, p. 23) (you will find more details about reference styles elsewhere in this guide).
Sometimes you may need or want to quote only selected parts of a larger context.
In these cases, you need to be transparent about the fact that you broke up the original quote and left information out. Even small and seemingly insignificant changes should be flagged. First, in order for your reader not to lose confidence in you as they may find it difficult to trust that you did not massage the quote in other ways than just leaving out bits and pieces if you do not declare this in an open and forthcoming way. Second, because breaking a sentence into pieces may alter the meaning of that sentence altogether, it may even distort and deface its original intentions. It does not take much more than the deletion of a single word to compromise the meaning of a sentence, just think of getting rid of NOT in this example
The sun moves at great speed. However, it does not orbit the Earth as does the Moon.
Instead of being silent and secretive about the changes you have made, use [square brackets] to introduce absences.
In this example, the result would be
“[…] it does not orbit the Earth […]”
Where the square brackets very clearly indicate an absence of original meaning.
Square brackets are not just mandatory in cases where you leave out information. If you alter individual words or add information, they are also required. In this example, a spelling mistake in the original has been corrected and the correction flagged
“The [S]un moves at great speed.”
In the case of mistakes, spelling, factual etc., in the original document, paths other than the one described above is available to you:
Sometimes you need to provide a bit of context if a quote is to make sense to a reader who may not possess the same degree of pre-understanding as you do. In the example provided here, the crux of the quote is in the second sentence However, it does not orbit the Earth as the Moon does.
It is not at all clear from this one sentence what it is that does not orbit the Earth. To help your reader understand, you may need to spell it out, again using square brackets.
In this example, the pronoun it, which does not give away much in terms of identifying the subject of that sentence, has been replaced with the actual phenomenon to which it refers, once again in in square brackets, and misunderstandings on the part of the reader are no longer possible
"[The Sun] does not orbit the Earth […]”
Finally, if you wish to accentuate specific sections of a quotation not accentuated in the original to draw your readers’ attention to a particular point, you are free to do so. Just make sure to signal to your readers that you interfered with the original orthography
"However, it does not orbit the Earth as does the Moon" (Doe, 2020, p. 23, my emphasis)
In the same vein, if you yourself have translated (parts of) a quotation from another language, this fact should be shared with your readers as translations are essentially interpretations and as such may change the entire meaning of the quotation, especially if the translation is poor
"Den roterer dog ikke som månen omkring jorden" (Doe, 2020, p. 23, my translation)
To summarize, when directly quoting somebody else´s words, always include a citation in accordance with the style of your choice. If you need or want to abridge, correct, translate or in other ways interfere with the original, make sure to clearly signal this to retain the trust of your readership.
Paraphrasing, or indirect quotation, is the art of rendering in your own words somebody else´s thoughts and ideas through distillation, summarization or simple description. As a paraphrase does not involve the wholesale and word-for-word reproduction of another person´s work, it does not require quotation marks. However, you still need to credit explicitly the origins of the thoughts and ideas presented through a citation.
Unlike direct quotations, paraphrase citations do not require information about location within the original source (although it may be seen as an extra and welcomed service to your readers if you leave it in nevertheless).
In his paper, John Doe (2020) is very eager to state the obvious, which is that the Earth spins around the Sun and not the other way round.
When paraphrasing, you need to be even more mindful about loyally representing the contents and intentions of the external source than is the case when working with direct quotations where of course the wording itself remains the same as in the original. Not only do you need to understand and apply the ideas promulgated in an accurate, loyal and meaningful way, you also need to be able to pull off the distillation intellectually without losing, misinterpreting or misapplying important points. And finally you need to find the right words and string them together in a intelligent and not least intelligible way to actually execute the paraphrase.
Paraphrasing carries with it certain advantages compared to the direct quotation. First, if executed correctly, it allows you to showcase a deep-seated grasp of the subject matter at hand as well as the necessary analytical skills via the process of “translation” described above. Second, a paraphrase weaves more seamlessly into the fabric and flow of your own writing, as it does not require the abruptness of a direct quotation with the extra punctuations that accompany it, which may in turn affect the natural flow of prose and with it the reading experience itself.
Joshua Kragh Bruhn - firstname.lastname@example.org