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Write Clearly: Using Evidence Effectively

Paraphrasing and Summarizing

Paraphrasing is communicating the ideas of a source in your own words. Summarizing is communicating the essential or distilled argument of a source in your own words, without changing the meaning or intent of the original source. Paraphrasing and summarizing allows you to interrogate, criticize, analyze, or build on someone else's argument.

When paraphrasing or summarizing, you must make it absolutely clear that the ideas being presented are not your own, even if the words you are using to communicate them are yours. For example, if you are writing a philosophy paper that asks you to argue for an effective form of governance, you might choose to summarize Rousseau's ideas of participatory democracy and Hobbes' ideas on absolute monarchy; you could use phrases like 'Hobbes argues…' or 'Rousseau insists…' to highlight that what follows is not your original idea. You would then insert a citation at the end of the paraphrased or summarized evidence. You could then use this summary to compare the ideas, forming your own analysis.

Quotations

Quotations are rarely used in scientific writing. Even in other disciplines, they should be used selectively; you want to make sure that the focus of your essay is on your own understanding of the topic and your own voice. However, quoting is useful when the source's exact words are special or distinctive, or when you want to preserve the full impact of the original source.

Depending on the assignment, you may also want to use quotations when the source itself is written by an authority on the topic. For example, if you are writing a paper on the history of multiculturalism in Canada, you may want to quote Pierre Trudeau, as the first Prime Minister to create an official policy on multiculturalism in Canada.

There are two types of quotations: short and long. Generally, shorter quotations are more effective. Shorter quotations enable you to maintain your own critical voice while using evidence to support your own analysis. When we make decisions about what to include in a shorter quotation, a central question must be asked: Does the choice of words matter? If the specific words used do add to your argument, then quote. However, if there is nothing remarkable about the words used, paraphrase or summarize the argument.

For example:

Personal narratives are important not only for one's own identity, but for the identity of a community even if that community is not physically housed anywhere (claim). Young argues these narratives are "a ritual process" that "ultimately [allows the homeless] to reclaim their lost sense of community" (338) (evidence).

Long quotations are, generally, only used in longer pieces of writing (at least 8-10 pages). They are useful when you would like to examine or refute another critic's work in detail. However, if possible, you should still tailor the quotation to your paper by using ellipses […] or dividing it into separate parts. It is also good practice to lead into the quote with a full sentence or two explaining to your reader why this quote is important and follow the quote with an explanation or analysis of it.

For example, in a paper on the importance of personal narratives to identity, you might integrate a long quote as follows:

Personal narratives are important not only for one's own identity, but for the identity of a community even if that community is not physically housed anywhere (claim). Young argues this is especially important when a community has been discriminated against or is perceived as invisible in society (introduction of quote):

Stories bring people together. Speaking before congressional committees is a way of combating invisibility, a method of situating oneself, a means of overcoming liminality. Testifying may be a ritual process which offers the homeless the opportunity to reassert their humanity and ultimately to reclaim their lost sense of community (338) (evidence).

So to review what has been said so far, when you are wondering whether to quote, ask yourself: Why did I choose this particular quote? Why does this evidence matter to my argument? Why does the particular language of the quote matter?

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