When Should I Quote? When Should I Paraphrase?

When Should I Quote?

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.

When Should I Paraphrase?

Paraphrasing, on the other hand, involves rearticulating someone else’s ideas. As a student, you routinely paraphrase your instructors’ lectures and the contents of textbooks.

Exams, in one sense, are one large paraphrase in that they require you to review and restate material from assigned readings and lectures. Of course, when you paraphrase, you want to be careful that you do not alter the author’s original message, eliminate any significant background information, misrepresent the author’s intentions, or copy the original wording too closely. To help you distinguish effective paraphrases from faulty paraphrases, consider how the following paragraph from Russell Mokhiber’s “Crime in the Suites” is handled:

Original passage: The full extent of the corporate crime wave is hidden. Although the federal government tracks street crime month by month, city by city through the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports, it does not track corporate crime. So the government can tell the public whether burglary is up or down in Los Angeles for any given month, but it cannot say the same about insider trading or illegal polluting.

Faulty paraphrase: In “Crime in the Suites” Mokhiber has noted that the full extent of the corporate crime wave is hidden. The federal government does not track corporate crime, yet it does track street crime month by month, city by city through the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports. So the government can tell the public whether burglary is up or down in San Francisco for any given month, but it cannot say the same about insider trading or illegal polluting.

The “faulty paraphrase” is a good example of academic dishonesty—that is, plagiarism. While a few words have been changed and the structure of the second sentence has been changed, this passage as a whole has not been revised in the paraphraser’s own words.

Effective paraphrase: In “Crime in the Suites” Mokhiber has noted that we lack information about the prevalence of corporate crime. While the FBI monitors crime statistics for the federal government on a monthly basis, it fails to do so for corporate crime. Consequently, we may know that violent crime is up by 10 percent in Manhattan, but we can’t be sure that less insider trading is occurring this year on Wall Street.