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Appropriately paraphrasing the ideas of researchers and authors can add strength to your argument.
Distinguish between paraphrasing and summarizing
When using your own words to discuss someone else's work, you are paraphrasing; when you use the words of someone else, you are quoting.
Both methods help you to introduce another author's work as a means of strategically improving the persuasiveness of your paper, by providing an example or evidence relevant to a claim that you have made.
Arguments are more powerful when source material is woven through the paper with paraphrasing, saving quotations for moments of impact, authority, and eloquence.
If a quotation needs to be substantially changed, it may be better to simply paraphrase the author's ideas in your own words.
Fully understanding the context of the words you're paraphrasing, and citing the source completely, gives an authentic representation of the source and strengthens your argument.
As you're writing your paper, you'll want to bring in evidence to support your claims. You'll generally do this through paraphrasing and quoting what you've discovered in the research phase of your writing process. Here, we'll focus on paraphrasing, noting its appropriate use and differentiating it from other forms of citations.
Paraphrasing Is Different from Summarizing
When you summarize an article or book, you're providing an overview of the work, highlighting its major findings or themes. A summary is like looking at a distant source through a telescope: the general shape and ideas are clear, but the details are fuzzy. You may need to offer a summary if your topic is a book or a study potentially unknown to your reader, so that he or she has a basis for understanding the argument to come, but when offering evidence, you'll usually be choosing to paraphrase rather than summarize.
You want to lead your reader, in your paper, along the path that brought you to your intellectual conclusion: the thesis statement you set out in the introduction. That means you'll be presenting the reader with the research that convinced you of this statement, including statistics that impressed you, others' arguments for or against a particular position, facts you encountered that shifted your perspective, and even stories or examples that touched you emotionally. These all came from somewhere, and you'll want to share their origins with your readers. There are a couple reasons for this:
Readers like to be able to check things out for themselves. You may tell them that 39.4% of adults in the U.S. are obese, but they may find that hard to believe. When they check out the source (the Centers for Disease Control), however, they'll likely be convinced and more willing to accept the premise you're building on.
Citing sources makes you credible with both your audience and with those you're paraphrasing. It shows you're not pretending that the information you've gathered is solely from your own mind, but you're building on what others have said, observed, and experienced. That's what research is all about.
Paraphrasing will be the most common way to share with your readers what you've found. When you paraphrase, you're maintaining the same level of detail as the original source (unlike summarizing), but you're synthesizing what you've read to create a seamless argument.
Why Not Just Use Quotations?
Imagine how choppy a paper would be, jumping from one person's words to another, to another, and another with only transition sentences in between. It would be very difficult to follow, and your own voice would be drowned out by all the "experts." Expository writing isn't about giving us other people's opinions—it's about giving us your own. Those other voices are there to support you and your argument.
What you'll be doing, then, is writing what you think and weaving in evidence to support your thinking. For example, look at the following paragraph:
"An ethical approach, while both admirable and arguably an improvement in today's educational system, does not go far enough as a method of truly connecting human beings to one another and to their true nature. In her book Caring: A Feminine Approach to Ethics and Moral Education, Nel Noddings offers a more feminine approach to education—one based on receptivity—that prioritizes caring over justice."
You see here that the writer has a firm grasp of both the topic and the approach Nel Noddings describes. Even though he is citing evidence and even a specific source, the voice is still his, weaving Dr. Noddings's thoughts into his own. This kind of weaving is the primary reason to use paraphrasing.
Another reason is to save direct quotations for impact. If you quote only when the source will offer an air of authority to your argument, when the exact words are either historically important or particularly eloquent, or when the source is of primary importance to your topic, the quotes will carry much more weight. In all other instances, paraphrasing will move the narrative along much more smoothly, tying it to your own style along the way.
Even when you want to use a quote, it sometimes needs to be changed so substantially to fit your narrative that it may be better to simply cite the author's ideas in your own words.
Authenticity in Paraphrasing
As with any instance of appealing to another author's work within your own, whether you use paraphrasing or quotation, the primary criterion for use should always be its relevance to your thesis and claims. However, you'll need to be sure that you're not twisting or manipulating another author's words to match your own purposes.
Make notes during the research phase on the context of each piece of evidence you find, and double-check that context for relevance to your own claim. This will ensure that you have not misused another author's work for your own purposes.
If you find an article that quotes a book, an interview, or another article, do your best to track down the original source so you can be sure of its context. For example, people sometimes quote Robert Frost as saying, "Good fences make good neighbors." If you read the poem, however, you'll find that the sentence is ironic: it's a sad quip offered by the neighbor of the narrator in the poem, not a maxim for how to live well.
Forms of Citation
Another part of authenticity, of course, is citing your sources correctly and completely. The form of citation within the text will vary based on the style you're asked to use, but you will need, at a minimum, the title of the work and the name of the collection (if any) it is in, the publication date, the author's or authors' name(s), the editor's name, if any, and the page number(s) of the material you're paraphrasing. All of this helps your reader find the source material.