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Using Sources in Your Papers

Explains note-taking, summarizing, paraphrasing, quoting, and citing sources.


Quoting involves using the author's exact words. Quotations can be powerful tools in your writing, but it is a good idea to use direct quotations sparingly. A quotation is most useful when the author's original language is particularly original or vivid.

You can choose to quote a single word, a phrase, or an entire sentence or more. However much material you decide to quote, you must make sure the quotation fits into your own writing so that it remains grammatically correct. Shorter quotes are put in quotation marks; quotes that run longer than four lines are generally indented with no quotation marks.

Each writing and citation style has slightly different rules about the best way to use and cite quotes. Look in the citation manual suggested by your professor to learn the quoting style you need for that class.

Here are a couple examples, using MLA style. All of these quotations come from the Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History, vol. 3, edited by Colin A. Palmer, published by Thomson Gale in 2006. In a full Works Cited List, each encyclopedia entry would be listed separately, so the citations note both the article author and the page number.

Quoting a short phrase:

Due to increased development and loss of isolation, Gullah communities in South Carolina and Georgia "have begun to disintegrate in recent decades" (Maxwell 962).

Quoting a sentence:

Zora Neale Hurston grew up in Eatonville, Florida, a town that was incorporated and run by African Americans. "There she first learned the dialect, songs, folktales, and superstitions that are at the center of her works" (Gubert 1083).

Longer quotation:

A little background on the growth of hair braiding and extensions as an industry may contribute to understanding the recent robberies of beauty salons:

Hair braiding was increasingly accepted as a skilled art form as braids grew in popularity, diversity of style, and form in the 1980s and 1990s. The use of human or synthetic hair extensions for braiding to augment the length or width of the individual braids increased in the 1980s. Hair weaves (extensions of synthetic or human hair either sewn or glued on the scalp) were used by some black women to achieve straight-textured, long hair. Others used extensions to add flexibility in the creation of elaborately braided Afrocentric hairstyles and boldly sported styles called "Senegalese twists" or "African goddess braids" (Spencer 972).


Paraphrasing is a technique that allows you to convey all the details from a particular source excerpt, but using your own words instead of the authors. It still requires a citation to let your readers know where you found that information, but it does not require quotation marks.

It's important, when you paraphrase, to make sure you have truly put the information in your own words and NOT copied either the author's words or sentence structure. The best way to do this is to take notes on the information that is important, then rewrite the information using your notes instead of the original source. You'll want to check the original for accuracy, but trying to change directly from the original to your own sentence often results in borrowing too much from the author.

Here's a paraphrase example (again, using MLA style):


Black male babies, for example, are twice as likely as White babies to die in the first year of life, and more than three times as likely to be born weighing less than three pounds.


Black males face difficult living circumstances right from the start, including an infant mortality rate two times higher than white babies, and a three times higher chance of being born with a low birth weight (Easter 30).


Easter, Eric, D. Michael Cheers, and Dudley M. Brooks, eds. Songs of My People: African Americans: A Self-Portrait. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1992. Print.


If you want to incorporate a large amount of information from a source, summarizing may be the way to go. Summarizing involves putting information from a source in your own words, without necessarily repeating every detail from the original. It's important to make sure all the information you do include is accurate, but it allows you to give more of an overview. As with both quoting and paraphrasing, you still need to cite the original source!