Optimizing Sources

An effective summary:

  • Is a concise (shorter) restatement of the most important information in the original text.
  • Focuses on the central ideas of a passage (topic sentences, the thesis, etc.).
  • Should be selective—you can omit unnecessary ideas, details, etc.
  • Must be entirely in your own words, using your own sentence structure, without distorting the original meaning of the passage.
  • Must include an in-text citation (parenthetical citation) that gives credit to the original source.

An effective paraphrase:

  • Is again entirely in your own words and original sentence structure, without distorting the original meaning of the passage.
  • Again, must include an in-text citation (parenthetical citation) that gives credit to the original source.
  • The difference is: An effective paraphrase will be roughly the same length as the original source (and could be even longer).
  • You need to clarify or translate a complex or difficult passage.
  • You need to maintain specificity, and don’t plan on omitting any details from the original.

Is using a direct quote always your best option?  Keep the following in mind:

  • Voice: Keep your voice as a writer whenever possible. Too many quotes will drown your voice out and confuse the reader.
  • Placement: Quotes are meant to support and clarify your argument:
    • No “quote bombs.” They should always have proper context, attribution, analysis, etc.
    • Never as topic sentences (valuable essay real estate).
    • Never back-to-back.
    • Always explained, discussed, analyzed (so not the last sentences in paragraphs either).
  • Consistency: Quotes should grammatically “fit” in your paragraphs (read smoothly).
  • Attribution: Quotes should always be cited (avoid plagiarism).
  • Be selective. Ask yourself: Is the quote I’ve chosen meaningful? Memorable? Powerful? Controversial? The quotes you use should strengthen and advance your argument—not just fulfill an assignment requirement, or make your paper longer.
Remember: You can summarize or paraphrase a source as well.  Quoting a source is only one of several options you have.

So, how do you choose good quotes?  Try using:

  • Just sections or parts (words or phrases) of sentences that you want to quote—not the entire sentence.
  • Words or phrases that are meaningful and memorable.
  • Words and phrases that use powerful language that can’t be restated any better.
  • Especially brilliant comments or controversial statements.
  • Interesting statistics or personal testimony.

Three different options when quoting a source:

Basic quote set-up using a comma:

The following is a very common construction; it works, but it’s only one way of setting up/attributing a quote:

Janet said, "I'm waking up 20 times throughout the night, rolling out of bed, and waddling to the bathroom" (CNN.com).

Why choose this option:

  • It’s recognizable (common) and relatively easy to do (without making errors).
  • The attribution comes before the quote—readers know who said it before they read it.
  • But, why not choose it? It’s quite elementary/basic.  Like most things, add some variety.

Slightly more advanced/specialized, using a colon:

The following is less common, and more formal, than using a comma—and, is required when setting up a freestanding block quote:

Janet was overheard saying the following to the paparazzi: "I'm waking up 20 times throughout the night, rolling out of bed, and waddling to the bathroom" (CNN.com).

Why choose this option:

  • Again, it’s required for block quotes (5+ lines in MLA).
  • Again, the attribution comes before the quote—readers know who said it before they read it.
  • It adds variety to your writing, and a certain level of formality.
  • But, why not choose it? It’s not always appropriate for the writing situation.

Full integration of quote within an original sentence:

Most accomplished (and professional) writers understand that it’s often best to attempt to integrate the quote you need to cite into your own sentence—to attempt to blend the two together so they seamlessly become one:

Although it amused me that Janet described herself in the last phase of her pregnancy as "waddling to the bathroom" (CNN.com), I certainly understand her anxiety, given that she’s usually so graceful and well-mannered.

Why choose this option:

  • The quote becomes part of your own sentence; the two become "blended" in a sense.
  • There is no need for the basic “he said” or “she noted” attribution.
  • Comma usage is decreased; fewer unnecessary interruptions and better sentence "flow."
  • It forces you (the author) to:
    • Think critically about the quote you wish to use, and which part would be best to use.
    • Incorporate important analysis/commentary with the chosen quote.