Franklin Style Manual Online

1.4.4. Quoting, paraphrasing, and summarizing responsibly

In simple terms, your main responsibility as a writer using research is to make clear to readers which ideas and words are your own and which come from the sources themselves. In this section, you will be presented some examples to help illustrate the dividing line between appropriate and inappropriate borrowing. Immediately below is an original passage from a 2006 article written for Regulation magazine, a periodical covering the impacts of government regulation on broader economic issues. The original passage below is used to demonstrate the distinctions between plagiarism and responsible use of source material.

Anytime there is a consensus about the future, it is probably wise to bet against it. In the past couple of years, predictions about home prices have gone from a sober questioning of future price growth to shrill apocalyptic predictions of an impending market collapse that will trigger a deep recession.

We cannot claim to have a crystal ball that works any better than the commentariat, but we believe a clear look at the available data suggests that the situation is far from dire. While average home prices in the United States have increased smartly in the past decade, that by itself is not sufficient to conclude anything about what future prices will do.

. . .

References

Stewart, S., & Brannon, I. (2006, Spring). A collapsing housing bubble? Regulation, 29(1), 15-16. Retrieved from http://www.cato.org/store/regulation-magazine


Quoting responsibly

When intentionally borrowing the exact wording from sources, you must do one of two things to avoid plagiarism: (a) enclose all borrowed words within quotation marks or (b) format the borrowed words (if more than 40) as a block quotation (see more below). A reference to the source is not enough. The special formatting tells readers clearly, these are not my words, but those of my source. Here are two variations of responsible quotations for the passage:

APPROPRIATE SHORT QUOTATION


As late as 2006, Stewart and Brannon characterized forecasts of a burst in the housing bubble as “shrill apocalyptic predictions” (p. 15). This assessment . . .


APPROPRIATE LONG QUOTATION (OVER 40 WORDS)


Stewart and Brannon (2006) displayed a strong reliance on comparative data analyses, which provided their bases for critiquing the views expressed in the popular press:

We cannot claim to have a crystal ball that works any better than the commentariat, but we believe a clear look at the available data suggests that the situation is far from dire. While average home prices in the United States have increased smartly in the past decade, that by itself is not sufficient to conclude anything about what future prices will do. (p. 15)
Their confidence in their forecast came from . . .

By using quotation marks or block formatting, the writer easily avoids plagiarism. However, writers have another key responsibility when presenting direct quotations: the wording must match exactly what appears in the original source. If you need to modify the exact wording to improve the focus of the quotation or clarify some idea in the quotation, you must do the following:

  • Insert ellipses (…) where you omit words from the original. This practice can be useful to cut down the size of long quotations, from which you may only need the beginning and the end or key pieces in the middle.
  • Put square brackets ([. . .]) around words you insert for clarification or readability. This technique may be useful to explain the meaning of phrases in the quoted material that may have been explained in the unquoted portions of the original source.

When you use either of these techniques, you must be sure not to change the intended meaning (as best you see it) of the original wording.

APPROPRIATE USE OF BRACKETS AND ELLIPSES IN A SHORT QUOTATION


Stewart and Brannon (2006) presented a measured, but confident view of their forecast: “We cannot claim to have a crystal ball . . ., but . . . the available data suggests that the situation [as of April 2006] is far from dire” (p. 15). Their data led them to . . .


Paraphrasing responsibly

By putting the ideas and explanations from your sources into your own words, you can often forge a strong connection between your own observations on the subject and those presented by other thinkers. Such strong connections, when they allow you to build upon research to present an original thesis or perspective, exemplify well the fundamental aims of research writing. Paraphrasing, however, has its pitfalls. When not done with proper attention to the boundaries between your own ideas and words and those of others, you can easily fall into one of the following errors, each of which constitutes plagiarism of the original source: (a) using too much original wording from the source; (b) borrowing the structure of an extended passage; or (c) omitting clear boundaries between paraphrased and original material.

(a) Borrowing too much of the original wording.

Recall that paraphrasing involves putting another’s ideas into your own words; this rephrasing does not simply mean changing a word or two in the original. Your source’s choice of wording represents the intellectual labor of its authors, and so should be clearly acknowledged when borrowed. When not put into your own phrasing nor acknowledged as borrowed (with quotation marks), the words taken from the source have been plagiarized. Here is a passage inappropriately paraphrasing the original passage above:

INAPPROPRIATE PARAPHRASE DUE TO BORROWED WORDING


Taking a contrarian position, Stewart and Brannon (2006) argued in the spring issue of Regulation magazine that a smart increase in U.S. home prices over the preceding 10 years was not by itself sufficient to conclude that the housing industry was a bubble about to burst (p. 15). They further claimed that other statistics showed the economic outlook was far from dire. Based on this fuller picture, Stewart and Brannon characterized the change in opinion among the commentariat, from measured caution on continued price rises to apocalyptic prognoses of recession, as faulty reasoning.

The words in bold above illustrate the locations where the writer has not sufficiently translated the source’s original wording into new phrases. Besides including full verbatim phrases from the original (“not by itself sufficient to conclude” and “far from dire”), both of which reflect the authors’ unique way of presenting their observations, the paraphrase above borrows uncommon diction, such as “smart” (from “smartly”), “apocalyptic,” and “commentariat”—all of which reflect stylistic originality that the authors worked hard to develop. There are certainly words from the original that can be repeated without plagiarizing, such as “home prices” and “recession,” either of which might have been used already in a research paper on this subject. Combined with the other copied verbiage, however, these borrowings only provide more evidence for a failure to rephrase fully.

(b) Reusing the sentence and paragraph structure of the original.

This next passage represents the second kind of inappropriate paraphrasing. The writer has avoided using the authors’ original phrasing throughout, but has effectively mimicked the whole series of sentences, simply finding substitute phrases, rather than creating a truly original representation of the source’s material.

INAPPROPRIATE PARAPHRASE DUE TO BORROWED STRUCTURE


Writing for Regulation magazine, Stewart and Brannon (2006) noted that, whenever there is general agreement about upcoming events, it is smart to take a contrarian position (p. 15). Over the preceding months, measured caution from analysts on continued in rises house prices had changed to forecasts of a catastrophic housing collapse producing an extended economic slowdown. The authors claimed no ability to foresee the future better than popular financial analysts, but they also did not think an unobstructed view of published statistics supported a strongly negative prognosis on housing. While the sales figures (in terms of dollars) had trended up sharply over the preceding 10 years, this information was found inconclusive for the purpose of forecasting the subsequent direction of those trends.

Sentence structures, like choices in diction, reflect the original work of authors. In fact, many writers find the structuring of sentences and paragraphs more difficult than the wording of discrete phrases. Consequently, academic readers expect that researchers either clearly quote the wording directly or do a full and proper paraphrase, one that reflects the researcher’s unique recapitulation of what the source says, rather than just a fresh coat of paint over the source’s original structure.

(c) Failing to provide clear attribution for all borrowed ideas.

The final form of inappropriate paraphrasing pertains to longer passages—in particular, passages that contain multiple sentences paraphrased from the source. When readers cannot tell whether a sentence represents the original analysis of the writer or that of a source, the writer is effectively plagiarizing. This problem is most apparent when writers fail to tell readers that they have actually begun paraphrasing a source, as the following examples shows, but it occurs in general where a paraphrased sentence has not been clearly cited or introduced by a phrase of attribution, as illustrated here:

INAPPROPRIATE PARAPHRASE DUE TO UNCLEAR ATTRIBUTION, EXAMPLE 1


Sharp rises in sales figures for U.S. housing over the 10 years leading up to 2006 were not then determinant indicators of an impending burst in the housing bubble. Taking a contrarian position in the spring of 2006, Stewart and Brannon claimed that other numbers showed the economic outlook then was “far from dire” (p. 15). Based on this analysis, there was no good reason to expect a sharp drop in housing prices, much less a slowdown in the broader economy due to such a drop.


INAPPROPRIATE PARAPHRASE DUE TO UNCLEAR ATTRIBUTION, EXAMPLE 2


Sharp rises in sales figures for U.S. housing over the 10 years leading up to 2006 were not then determinant indicators of an impending burst in the housing bubble. Based on analysis of other financial statistics and skepticism of popular consensus, there was no good reason to expect a sharp drop in housing prices, much less a slowdown in the broader economy due to such a drop (Stewart & Brannon, 2006, p. 15).

In the first example, the writer has clearly cited the middle sentence, but the ideas before and after come from the source as well. In the second example, the writer has put a citation at the end of the final sentence, not indicating sufficiently that the opening sentence also comes directly from the source. Note that citations are given in both paragraphs, but also note that they fail to show readers clearly that the whole passage is a paraphrase of the source’s ideas, not the researcher’s original analysis. Readers assume, based on the manner of citation, that the writer is presenting at least some original analysis, which is not the case, so the writer commits plagiarism.

Correct paraphrasing:

Here finally are two appropriate paraphrases of the original source material presented above. The key difference between these two examples is that one borrows a few specific phrases from the original—albeit using quotation marks to identify properly the borrowings— while the other rewords the passage entirely. Notice in these examples how clearly the writer shows readers that the whole passage is based on source material.

APPROPRIATE PARAPHRASE INTEGRATED WITH BRIEF QUOTATIONS


Taking a contrarian position at the beginning of 2006, Stewart and Brannon concluded that a sharp upward trend in home sale prices over the previous 10 years did not necessarily indicate a housing bubble, much less one about to burst. Their own analyses of other statistics led them to posit an economic outlook that was “far from dire” (p. 15). Based on that data, Stewart and Brannon judged the change in attitude among the contemporary “commentariat”—from measured caution on continued price rises to “apocalyptic” prognoses of “recession” (p. 15)—as faulty, alarmist analysis.


APPROPRIATE PARAPHRASE, WORDING CHANGED ENTIRELY


Taking a contrarian position, Stewart and Brannon (2006) argued that a sharp upward trend in home sale prices over the preceding 10 years did not necessarily indicate a housing bubble, much less one about to burst (p. 15). The authors claimed that other numbers showed the economic outlook was not then a point of concern. Based on that data, Stewart and Brannon judged the change in attitude among popular financial commentators—from measured caution on continued price rises to excited warnings of impending recession—as faulty, alarmist analysis.

These are by no means the only ways to paraphrase the original ideas of the authors. In fact, there are numerous other ways to do so. In general, the effectiveness of a paraphrase depends upon how appropriately and accurately the ideas of the source are presented for the purposes of supporting the writer’s overall thesis and key points or observations. A writer might, for instance, highlight the authors of the original passage more when paraphrasing an opinion than when paraphrasing an explanation of a mechanical process or simply repeating statistics. In any case, the paraphrasing examples in this section are not primarily intended to give guidance on the effectiveness of particular paraphrasing techniques, but rather to identify the common pitfalls writers exhibit when they do not take the time and effort to reword source material sufficiently. These pitfalls, when not avoided, can lead to plagiarism or misrepresentation of another’s work.


Summarizing responsibly

Summarizing can be much less challenging than paraphrasing, but has its own pitfalls. First, though, be aware that a summary can exhibit the first paraphrasing problem discussed above. When summarizing, make sure to use your own wording to restate the source’s main point or describe the source’s perspective. When you do borrow exact wording, put it into quotation marks, just as you would for an extended paraphrase of a fuller passage. Using the sample above, for instance, you could not simply copy‐and‐paste the authors’ own summary of the point of their article, presenting it to readers without quotation marks or rewording:

INAPPROPRIATE SUMMARY DUE TO BORROWED WORDING


Stewart and Brannon (2006) concluded that the housing situation was far from dire at the beginning of 2006. Their outlook did not predict an apocalyptic downturn. . . .

Besides the inappropriate form of borrowing just illustrated, there are other potential problems with summaries, especially (a) misrepresenting an opinion as a fact and (b) concluding from a single source that one perspective is generally taken as fact. This example illustrates both errors:

INAPPROPRIATE SUMMARY DUE TO MISREPRESENTATION


At the beginning of 2006, no major fall in housing was expected (Stewart & Brannon, 2006), so no one could reasonably have anticipated a burst in the housing bubble. . . .

This summary obscures the fact that the authors are actually responding to a multiplicity of predictions that the housing industry was a bubble about to burst and that the economy was going into recession. An appropriate summary of the article might rather go like this:

APPROPRIATE SUMMARY


Looking at a variety of statistics aside from home prices, Stewart and Brannon (2006) determined that a sharp downturn in housing was not then imminent. Given their . . .

Last Updated: 06/8/2012 12:51