Quote vs. Paraphrase

Once you gather information from your sources, you'll have to integrate it into your paper. You have two choices – you can either paraphrase a source in your own words, or you can quote it directly. How do you choose which to do?

Direct quotes are tempting. When you cite someone else's words to support your position, you give your audience the sense that they are hearing an unfiltered validation of your views. If a quote is eloquent or impassioned, it will lend energy to your argument. However, an overabundance of direct quotes removes your presence from the paper. The writing becomes a chain of other people's words rather than a statement of your own thoughts.

"To be or not to be," asks Hamlet, stating "the question" that forms the basis of his famous soliloquy. He wonders whether "to die, to sleep" would be an acceptable escape from the "sea of troubles" that besets him, but ultimately decides that making "his quietus . . . with a bare bodkin," that is, killing himself with his dagger, would force him to confront "the dread of something after death" for which he is unprepared (3.1.64-95).

Although the phrases from Hamlet are fairly well integrated in this example, the constant quoting makes the passage long and difficult to read. Moreover, the quotes take up space that the writer could have devoted to explaining the significance of Hamlet's speech.

"To be or not to be," asks Hamlet in his famous soliloquy. He wonders whether it would be better to live and face the troubles that beset him, or to escape from these "slings and arrows" by suicide. He ultimately decides that, like all men, he is too afraid of the unknown troubles after death to flee from the known troubles of life so soon (3.1.64-95).

A direct quote should be special. In the example above, only the most iconic words from the soliloquy are quoted in the first sentence. The second sentence then explains these words while paraphrasing the next part of the speech, quoting another iconic phrase for added effect. The result is a tighter paragraph which says more in slightly less space than before.

On the other hand, a paraphrase without any direct quotations may lack context, support, or, as in the case below, pizzazz:

In his most famous soliloquy, Hamlet considers fleeing into death to escape his problems, but finds himself too afraid of the unknowns beyond mortal life to end his so soon (3.1.64-95). His fear of death and his reasons for it are common to all mankind and reflect our societal and individual fear of the unknown.

Here, one of Shakespeare's famous turns of phrase would have livened up this interpretation-heavy paragraph. (Note that the paraphrase is still cited, both to give Shakespeare credit for his ideas and to help the reader find the source material.)

If I were to propose a general rule for paraphrase, it would sound something like this:

Quote when you can't say it any better than they did, but paraphrase when you can.

Paraphrasing sources lets more of your own thinking come through. Remember: your readers have come to you for your words, not someone else's. Don't bury your ideas beneath a heap of quotations. Instead, use quotations to make your point— and to make your point interesting.

There is, however, an exception to this rule. If you are writing a literary analysis, or another kind of paper that requires attention to an author's exact words, quote any passage you are analyzing in detail. Otherwise, your audience won't have a context for your discussion.

Incorporating Sources

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