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SPHS Research Help: Incorporating Sources

Quote, Paraphrase, or Summarize

In research papers, you should quote from a source when you:

  • want the reputation of the author to lend authority and credibility to your point.
  • find memorable or historically significant language.
  • don't want the author's meaning to be lost or changed if you paraphrased or summarized.
  • find the author's language so clear and concise you wouldn't be able to effectively make the same point in your own words.

You should summarize or paraphrase when you:

  • can express in fewer words the main points of a source.
  • want the ideas presented in the source, but not the specific language used to express it.

Steps to Paraphrasing

A paraphrase is the rewording of something written or spoken by someone else. To paraphrase, follow these steps:

  1. Read the original text until you grasp its meaning; then set it aside.
  2. Using your memory, write down the main points or concepts. 
  3. Change the structure of the text by varying the opening, changing the order of sentences, lengthening or shortening sentences, etc.
  4. Replace keywords within the sentences with synonyms or phrases with similar meanings.
  5. Note the source and page number of the paraphrase in a launch statement or in parentheses.

What is Common Knowledge?

Common knowledge, or "what everybody knows", is the only thing that does not need to be cited.

How does one know, however, "what everybody knows"?

In one field, a fact that is considered "common knowledge" to someone within that field, will not be considered common knowledge to someone outside of the field.

Generally, for a fact to be considered common knowledge, it has to meet two criteria:

  1. It must have been published in at least three independent sources; and
  2. It must be known by a wide variety of people.

Ideally, it should meet a third criteria--that is, the fact may be found in general reference sources--general encyclopedias or almanacs.


With controversial issues, common knowledge is factual and must involve agreement among most people. "It is NOT common knowledge that drilling will affect caribou migration or feeding habits."  While evidence may exist to support this statement, there is not enough agreement to make it "common knowledge." 

Steps to Quoting

A quote is the reproduction of the words of the original author. To quote, follow the steps below:

  1. Select the quote you'd like to use in your paper.
  2. Record it exactly as it appears in the original source.
    • Use ellipses (...) to mark spots where you have left out words from the original text.
  3. Place quotation marks around the complete text.
  4. Note the source and page number of the quotation in a launch statement or in parentheses.


According to Lennie, "[...] I got you to look after me, and you got me to look after you, and that's why" (Steinbeck 14).

Steps to Summarizing

A summary is a brief statement of the main points of a source. To summarize, follow the steps below:

  1. Select a passage of text, article, chapter or entire book that supports your research.
  2. Read the selection until you feel you have a good understanding of its main points.
  3. Write a sentence or two in your own words that captures the main points.
  4. Revise your summary so it reads clearly.
  5. Note the source (and page number, if applicable) of the summary in a launch statement or in parentheses.