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How to Write a Research Paper

A step-by-step guide to writing a research paper.

Quote, Paraphrase, Summarize

There are three ways to properly use another author's words or ideas:


  1. Quote;
  2. Paraphrase;
  3. Summarize.




Use quotes when you wish to retain the exact wording of the author.    Quotes should be used sparingly, and shouldn't come from only one information source.   You should also strive to maintain the author's intent--using ellipticals to remove pieces of the quotation that you disagree with is unethical. 

Quotes are best used:

  • when you can't paraphrase or summarize without changing the author's intent;

  • to add credibility to your assertion;

  • when the author's words are historically memorable, unique, or remarkable.

Quotes must be word for word, enclosed in between " ", and must be credited to the original author. 


Paraphrasing involves taking the source material and putting it into your own words.   The paraphrased portion should be about the same length as the original, and should maintain the original source's meaning, as well as all of the details.  Be careful when paraphrasing--changing just a few words or changing the sentence structure slightly is not paraphrasing, it is plagiarizing. 

Good paraphrasers will read the source material, pull out the main points, and using their own words (without adding personal opinions or ideas)  convey these main points to the reader.   Paraphrased information must also include an attribution to the source of your information.  Paraphrasing is best used:

  • to add clarity to an author's words or ideas if technical language is used

  • to simplify

  • to change the organization emphasis (Leibensperger, Summer.  "Decide When to Quote, Paraphrase, Summarize."  University of Houston-Victoria.  


Summarizing condenses the original piece of information, in your own words.   When should you summarize?  Summarize the information you're using when details are less important, and when you want to present an overview of the information.  Good summarizers will read the text, pull out the most important pieces of information, and using their own words, will present these pieces of information to the reader.  Summarizing is best used:

Still unsure?   Decide When to Quote, Paraphrase, Summarize can help.


Original Text

The automotive industry has not shown good judgment in designing automotive features that distract drivers. A classic example is the use of a touch-sensitive screen to replace al the controls for radios, tape/CD players, and heating/cooling. Although an interesting technology, such devices require that the driver take his eyes off the road.
- Tom Magliozzi and Ray Magliozzi, Letter to a Massachusetts state senator, p.3

Unacceptable Borrowing

Radio show hosts Tom and Ray Magliozzi argue that the automotive industry has not demonstrated good judgment in devising car features that distract drivers. One feature is a touch-sensitive screen that replaced controls for radios, tape/CD players, and heating/cooling. Although the technology is interesting, such devices require that a driver look away from the road (3).

Acceptable Paraphrase

Radio show hosts Tom and Ray Magliozzi claim that motor vehicle manufacturers do not always design features with safety in mind. For example, when designers replaced radio, CD player, and temperature control knobs with touch-sensitive panels, they were forgetting one thing: To use the panels, drivers would need to take their eyes off the road (3).

Source: Hacker, Diana. Rules for Writers. 5th ed. Boston: Beford/St. Martin’s, 2004.

Common Knowledge?

Common knowledge, or "what everybody knows", is the only thing that does not need to be cited.

How does one know, however, "what everybody knows"?  

In one field, a fact that is considered "common knowledge" to someone within that field, will not be considered common knowledge to someone outside of the field.

Generally, for a fact to be considered common knowledge, it has to meet two criteria:

  1. It must have been published in at least three independent sources; and
  2. It must be known by a wide variety of people.

Ideally, it should meet a third criteria--that is, the fact may be found in general reference sources--general encyclopedias or almanacs.


With controversial issues, common knowledge is factual and must involve agreement among most people.  "It is NOT common knowledge that drilling will affect caribou migration or feeding habits."  While evidence may exist to support this statement, there is not enough agreement to make it "common knowledge." 

"Common Knowledge."  MIT.  Accessed 1 July 2020.