Why is it important to conclude a paragraph with the writer’s voice rather than a quote or paraphrase?

Although quotations or paraphrased material from reliable sources are often used to add credibility and to support a writer’s ideas, the focus of the paper should remain on the writer’s voice and his or her own agency as a writer.

Credible evidence should be provided to support the points a writer makes, but source material should not overshadow the writer’s voice. Each paragraph’s conversation should be directed by and concluded with the writer’s own voice, not by another author’s words.

How can a paragraph be effectively concluded with the writer’s voice?

Conclude with at least one sentence after the quote or paraphrase that wraps up the paragraph’s main point and connects the voices of the writer and the quoted or paraphrased source:

  • Look for key words in the quote or paraphrase that can be reiterated effectively in the concluding sentence(s).
  • Look for connections and reasonable conclusions that can be made as a result of weaving the writer’s and quoted or paraphrased material’s ideas together.
  • Look for ways to link the quote or paraphrase to the purpose of the paragraph and/or the thesis of the paper.
  • Look for nuances in the quote or paraphrase that could be used to help create a transition to the next paragraph.

Let’s look at an example:

Main point of the paragraph: Plastics and plastic waste are found nearly everywhere in America, but only a small percentage are recycled.

Quotation: “Only 8% of the total plastic waste generated in 2010 was recovered for recycling” (“Plastics”). [1]

Example of a student writer’s paragraph:

          Consumer goods made of recyclable plastic are utilized in a variety of ways by most Americans on a daily basis. Plastics are frequently encountered in marketplaces, restaurants, workplaces, schools, and in homes; these plastics may take the form of shopping bags, plastic packaging, food containers, or beverage bottles, among countless others. Since many of these recyclable plastics are disposable, consumers must decide whether to simply throw them away or place them in a collection container that will be taken to a recycling facility. Of these disposable plastics, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that “[o]nly 8% of the total plastic waste generated in 2010 was recovered for recycling” (“Plastics”).

Note: Here, the reader is left with a quote generated by the EPA. Though this statistic from a reliable source supports the writer’s point, the quotation creates an abrupt end to the paragraph and leaves the source’s voice speaking.

Suggested ending sentences:

This statistic suggests that American consumers did not recycle the majority of the plastic waste generated in 2010. To target this non-recycling population, recycling campaigns aimed at raising the percentage of plastic waste that is recycled in the future could be initiated.

Note: Here, the suggested sentences use key words from the quote (plastic waste and recycled). One sentence draws a simple conclusion based on the information in the quotation, and the other offers a suggested action in response to the statistic.


[1] “Plastics.” EPA. U. S. Environmental Protection Agency, 16 Apr. 2012. Web. 26 Apr. 2012.

Why is it important to use only the most vital part of a quote to support your point?

Although the use of direct quotations from reliable sources contributes to the credibility of the writer, the use of lengthy quotes can dilute the writer’s voice as well as remove attention from the writer’s point.

Judicious writers should concern themselves not only with the quality of quoted material, but also with the quantity. Careful selection of the most vital words and phrases from a quotation can contribute to the writer’s ability to support their ideas clearly and concisely.

How can a quote be shortened?

  • Carefully select only quotations whose words are significant, concise, and unusually expressive.
  • Choose only the key words and phrases from the quote that are relevant to a specific point; use ellipsis points where a word, phrase, or sentence is omitted.
  • Try to limit the length of a quotation to no more than two lines.
  • Keep the 10% guideline in mind—quoted material should make up no more than 10% of the paper’s content.
  • Follow your instructor’s directives for quote length—some may impose a limitation on the number of words for each quote.

Let’s look at an example:

Quote that is inappropriately long:

       Parents should be concerned about their child's hand-washing habits—not only under supervision at home, but when the child is being cared for by others. Experts from the Mayo Clinic staff offer their support for this aspect of parental responsibility: (Note: An introductory signal sentence precedes the quotation.)

Hand-washing is especially important for children in child care settings. Young children cared for in groups outside the home are at greater risk of respiratory and gastrointestinal diseases, which can easily spread to family members and other contacts. Be sure your child care provider promotes frequent hand-washing or use of alcohol-based hand sanitizers. Ask whether the children are required to wash their hands several times a day — not just before meals. (“Hand-washing: Do’s and Don’ts” 2) [1]

Note: This 71-word quotation is not only too long for an average-length essay, but it contains additional details that are not essential to support the writer’s point.

Shortened version of the same quotation:

       Parents should be concerned about their child’s hand-washing habits—not only under supervision at home, but when the child is being cared for by others. Experts from the Mayo Clinic staff advise that “[h]and-washing is especially important for children in child care settings. . . . Be sure your child care provider promotes frequent hand-washing” (“Hand-washing: Do’s and Don’ts” 2).

Note: Here the quotation has been shortened to less than two lines (21 words) and is integrated into the paragraph with a signal phrase. The sentences selected from the longer quotation contain key words and phrases that relate directly to the writer’s point.

For more information on shortening quotations, see also:


[1] “Hand-washing: Do’s and Don’ts.” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 15 Oct. 2011. Web. 25 April 2012.

What does it mean to paraphrase?

When paraphrasing, a writer uses his or her own words to restate someone else’s ideas. Paraphrasing does not mean simply changing a few of the original words, rearranging the structure of the sentence, or replacing some words with synonyms. A paraphrase should explain a borrowed idea in the writer’s own voice but must also remain true to the message of the original text.

Why is it important to paraphrase using only your own words?

  • To avoid plagiarism: If you are presenting an idea other than your own and you haven’t cited the source, this act could be considered plagiarism. Remember, however, that even when you paraphrase using your own words, you must still cite the original source since the idea has been borrowed.
  • To simplify or clarify complex ideas found in the original passage: Sometimes an author has explained an idea or concept in a way that is difficult to follow, or an idea may be particularly perplexing. By using your own words, you not only illustrate to readers that you understand this concept, but also help readers understand the idea more clearly. This clarification is especially important if the idea you’re paraphrasing is vital to developing and supporting your own argument.
  • To report the essential information of the idea: A lengthy direct quote may provide details that are not clearly relevant to your purpose or argument. By using your own words to paraphrase the idea, you can eliminate information that might distract your reader from the main message.

Let’s look at an example of a paraphrase:

Direct quote: “[The new laws] would also help ensure that companies like BP that are responsible for oil spills are the ones that pay for the harm caused by these oil spills, not the taxpayers. This is in addition to the low-interest loans that we've made available to small businesses that are suffering financial losses from the spill” (Obama). [1]

Paraphrase: According to the President, the proposed legislation would hold oil companies accountable for damages caused by oil spills and provide affordable loans to businesses whose profits have been affected by such incidents (Obama).

[1] Obama, Barack. “Remarks on the Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico.” The White House. Washington, D.C. 14 May 2010. Address. Web. 30 Apr. 2012.

For further information on presenting source material:

 

What does it mean to paraphrase?

When paraphrasing, a writer uses his or her own words to restate someone else’s ideas. The borrowed idea should be presented in the writer’s own voice but must remain true to the message of the original text. A paraphrase should clearly and accurately communicate the most important points of a text without integrating outside ideas.

What is a summary?

A summary uses the writer’s own words to concisely explain the main point(s) or major argument(s) of a source or passage. Key words and main ideas from the original text should be used to create a brief, accurate review of the source’s original ideas. A summary does not include minor details, and therefore, should be significantly shorter than the original text. Summarized material should be integrated into the writer’s work using a signal phrase, which informs the reader of the source’s author(s), title, and/or origin.

Why is it important to summarize concisely?

An essay generally includes an informed blend of the writer’s ideas and new knowledge gained from reliable sources. A brief summary of relevant material from such sources can be used to effectively support the writer’s ideas. Lengthy summaries of source material should be avoided; too much focus on the ideas of others can detract from the writer’s voice and weaken the content of the essay.

What steps can be taken to help keep a summary brief and accurate?

Summarizing an article or chapter:

    1. As the piece is being read, look for the main point of each paragraph and take note of key words and short phrases.
    2. After reading the entire piece, break the content up into sections and briefly summarize each major section in a short sentence or phrase.
    3. Combine the ideas from the section summaries into a brief, accurate summary of the entire piece.

 

Summarizing a short text or paragraph:

    1. Read the text or paragraph closely and carefully to ensure comprehension of the original author’s meaning; make appropriate notes as the text is being read.
    2. Without looking back at the original text, summarize the text or passage in your own words.
    3. Compare your summary with the original passage; your summary should accurately and concisely represent the original author’s ideas.

Let’s look at an example:

The following excerpt is from Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail”:

In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices are alive, negotiation, self-purification, and direct action. We have gone through all of these steps in Birmingham. There can be no gainsaying of the fact that racial injustice engulfs this community. Birmingham is probably the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States. Its ugly record of police brutality is known in every section of this country. Its unjust treatment of Negroes in the courts is a notorious reality. There have been more unsolved bombings of Negro homes and churches in Birmingham than in any other city in this nation. These are the hard, brutal, and unbelievable facts. On the basis of them, Negro leaders sought to negotiate with the city fathers. But the political leaders consistently refused to engage in good-faith negotiation. (King)  [1]

The original paragraph contains 140 words, but the following summary captures the main ideas of this part of King’s letter in just 26 words:

King explains that despite nonviolent attempts to achieve peace and racial equality in Birmingham, the city remains a hotbed of unparalleled racial segregation and related violence.

For more information on summarizing, see also:


[1] King, Martin Luther, Jr. “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” The Norton Anthology of African American Literature. Ed. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Nellie Y. McKay. New York: Norton, 1997. 1854 – 66. Print

 

What is transitional language?

Transitional language includes words, phrases, and sentences that writers use to help their readers make connections; new information is linked to previously stated material through the effective use of transitions.

While the writer may understand how the ideas between sentences or paragraphs are related, the reader may not perceive the same sense of clarity. When used effectively, transitions help the reader to understand the relationship between the writer’s ideas.

Where are transitions used?

  • Between sentences: Transitional words or phrases are used to create connections between sentences, as well as within sentences; both uses enhance the writer’s flow of thought at the sentence level.
  • Between paragraphs: Transitional sentences are used to create a bridge between paragraphs. These sentences should provide a summary of the main idea of one paragraph and give the reader a clue as to what is coming in the next paragraph.
  • Between sections: Transitional paragraphs are used in longer works to summarize the discussion of one section and introduce the reader to the concept(s) presented in the next section.

What words and phrases may be used to illustrate the relationship between ideas?

  • To compare: also, likewise, similarly
  • To contrast: however, nevertheless, conversely
  • To show cause and effect: as a result, consequently, therefore
  • To show a logical relationship: since, therefore, for this reason
  • To present a sequence of events: next, and then, first/second/third
  • To illustrate or provide an example: for example, for instance, for one thing
  • To add information: furthermore, additionally, moreover

How can appropriate transitional language be chosen?

  1. Determine which relationship connects the paper’s ideas:
    1. Does the relationship between the ideas appear to be similar or different?
    2. Does one action appear to have caused another?
    3. Does one idea lead to another idea?
    4. Does one statement contain information that explains or illustrates another?
    5. Does one statement add information to another?
  2. Once the relationship between ideas has been identified, choose appropriate transitional language to illustrate this relationship. (Consult a writing handbook for detailed lists of common transitional words and phrases.)
  3. Vary the choice of appropriate transitional language to avoid tedious repetition.
  4. Align transitional language with the tone and diction level of the remaining content.

Let’s look at an example:

Original sentences: Some people are concerned about the potentially negative effects of ingesting Genetically Modified Foods (GMF). Others believe that GMFs could help to relieve the hunger crisis.

Note: The first sentence communicates a negative aspect of GMFs, while the second sentence communicates a positive aspect, indicating a contrast between the ideas.

Revised sentences: Some people are concerned about the potentially negative effects of ingesting Genetically Modified Foods (GMFs). However, others believe that GMFs could help to relieve the hunger crisis.

Note: A transitional word has been added to illustrate the contrasting relationship between the two ideas.

For more information on transitions and segues, see also:

 

 

 

Segues are used hand-in-hand with transitions to create uninterrupted movement between ideas. Without the use of segues, ideas can appear disconnected and the writing may appear to lack continuity.

In what ways are segues used to signal a shift in ideas?

  • To reiterate an earlier point before introducing another: Segues may be used to remind the reader of an important point or detail from an earlier discussion and link that idea to a new point.
  • To focus on how the author moved from one point to the next: Writers should not rely on their readers to make correct inferences about how two points relate. Instead, skilled writers make clear connections between ideas by using appropriate words or phrases to segue from one point to the next.
  • To help move the reader forward: Segues signal to the reader that they have left one destination and are moving on to another. In other words, they indicate that the author has finished discussing one point and is now presenting a related point or a new point.

Let’s look at an example:

  • Topic: Women’s and men’s perceptions of synthetically sculpted female bodies in magazines and advertisements
  • Main point of one body paragraph: One of the body paragraphs discusses how air brushing and photo editing of celebrities’ and models’ bodies in magazines and advertisements affects women’s body image.
  • Main point of the next body paragraph: The next paragraph discusses how such synthetic representations affect men’s perception of the female body.
  • Suggested segue sentence to link the paragraphs: While the media’s synthetic portrayal of the female body has an observable effect on women’s body image, such representations impact men’s perceptions less clearly.

For further information on transitions and segues: