When is Quoting Preferable to Paraphrasing?

When is it appropriate to rely on a direct quote? You might want to directly quote a source

  1. If the quoted material goes to the heart of your discussion or argument.
  2. If it is so well-written that it cannot be condensed further.
  3. If it contains a dramatic eyewitness account of an event.
  4. If it is written by a prestigious author or philosopher.
  5. If it contains relevant statistics.
  6. If you cannot paraphrase or summarize the quote more effectively in your own words.

For example, if you were writing an essay about corporate crime, you might want to directly quote the following passage from Russell Mokhiber’s “Crime in the Suites,” which appeared in corporatepredators.org:

The financial cost [of corporate crime] to society is staggering. The National Association of Attorney Generals reports that fraud costs the nation’s businesses and individuals upwards of $100 billion each year. The Senate Judiciary Committee has estimated that faulty goods, monopolistic practices and other such violations annually cost consumers $174 to $231 billion. Added to this is the $10 to $20 billion a year the Justice Department says taxpayers lose when corporations violate federal regulations. As a rule of thumb, the Bureau of National Affairs estimates that the dollar cost of corporate crime in the United States is more than 10 times greater than the combined total from larcenies, robberies, burglaries and auto thefts committed by individuals.

This paragraph, for many of the reasons mentioned above, is eminently “quotable.” In other words, you might believe that you could not improve on the wording of this passage, in part because of its reference to specific costs, statistics, etc.