How To Use Outside Sources

Writing a research paper usually takes much more time than writing an essay based on what you already know. The distinctive feature of a research assignment is that it requires you to develop a subject in depth by drawing upon outside sources and acknowledging these sources responsibly.

You have several options for including material from other writers. You may quote their exact words, paraphrase them, or summarize them. Whatever option you choose, make sure that you use resources responsibly. Words or ideas taken from other writers should not be distorted in any way, and credit should be given whenever appropriate.


Failure to cite a source, deliberately or accidentally, is plagiarism — presenting as your own work the words or ideas of another. After you have done a good deal of reading about a given subject, you will be able to distinguish between common knowledge in that field and the distinctive ideas or interpretations of specific writers. If you are in doubt about whether you need to cite a source, the best policy is to cite it.


A quotation should contribute an idea to your paper. Select quotations only if they are important and make them an integral part of your text. Direct quotations must be accurate in all details. Pay close attention to form, punctuation, and spacing.


A paraphrase is a restatement of a source in about the same number of words. Paraphrasing enables you to demonstrate that you have understood your reading; it also enables you to help your audience (your course assessor!) understand the results of your reading. The most common reason for paraphrasing is to restate difficult material more simply.

Your restatement of someone else’s words should honor two important principles: your version should be almost entirely in your own words, and your words should accurately convey the content of the original passage. If you simply change a few words in a passage, you have not adequately restated it. As a general rule, begin paraphrases with a phrase that indicates you are about to restate another writer’s words, e.g., “Moffatt argued that . . . “.

Paraphrase whenever doing so will make your sources clearer or your paper flow more smoothly; quote when you want to retain the beauty or clarity of someone else’s words.


A summary is a concise restatement (shorter than the original source). Summarizing enables writers to report the work of others without getting bogged down in unnecessary detail. When you summarize, you may find it useful to retain a key phrase from your source, but if you do so, put quotation marks around the words in question.

Paraphrase when you want to restate a passage so that it is easier to understand or fits more smoothly into your paper; summarize whenever you can save space by condensing a passage (or in some cases, an entire work).


Kate L. Turabian, A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations, current edition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press).