How to Quote, Paraphrase and Cite: A Guide to Citations

It’s the time of the semester when teachers everywhere will start receiving a batch of papers to grade. For years, as I mark each paper, I dream about composing a concise guide about common problems with undergraduate writing.

With some spare time today, I made that dream come true. I posted to my professional site a guide to quoting, paraphrasing, and citing sources.

In addition to linking to it here, I’m also reproducing it for some SEO gamesmanship.

When to Quote

You should quote sparingly in your paper as it could rob you of your voice.

At one extreme, a really poor paper will have blockquote after blockquote. I get it: quotes take up space and help reach your word count, and it makes it appear that you’ve engaged with the reading. But all those blockquotes demonstrate a poor grasp of your own argument. If you’re going to quote so much, I may as well read the source of quotes rather than your paper.

The best papers will quote only when the passage in the source is so unique, so valuable, and so succinct, that it cannot be said any other way. Abraham Lincoln could have opened his famous address with “In 1776, we signed the Declaration of Independence. This document listed a number of grievances against the British crown. Those grievances included….” But since he started with “Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal,” and those words were and remain so powerful, you should quote him.

The same is true for short phrases. You don’t have to quote an entire sentence or paragraph. Sometimes it might be enough to just quote a few choice words that you can wrap in your own prose.

While President of the United States, Bill Clinton resisted the elimination of affirmative action for college admissions, famously saying “mend it, don’t end it.”

If you want to include something that you extracted from a source, please just paraphrase it in your own voice. There are two benefits to this. First, you can condense or expand the passage you found in someone else’s work as you see fit. It might even help you reach that word count. Second, your paper remains in your voice.

Regardless if you quote directly or paraphrase, you must cite the source in your text. Here’s how.

Simple In-Text Citations

Citing a source could be easy as just adding a couple of parentheses, an author’s name, and a page number. When paraphrasing a work by Liz Collinson, my citation would come after the passage I wrote.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit donec a diam lectus. Sed sit amet ipsum mauris (Collinson 11).

Another option is to name the author in your prose, allowing you to omit it from the parenthetical citation.

According to Liz Collinson, lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit donec a diam lectus. Sed sit amet ipsum mauris (11).

If you want to quote, the process is largely unchanged. However, to keep the prose in your own voice, you should never start a sentence with a quote.

When describing lorem ipsum, Liz Collinson notes, “Donec et mollis dolor” (11).

Note that in each example above, the trailing period always comes after the citation. Always.

Simple Reference List

All those citations are meaningless because I have no idea who Liz Collinson is or what she wrote. I need help finding the source you referenced. That’s where a reference list comes in.

For a printed work, such as a book, you just need to include:

  • author’s name (last name, first)
  • the title of the book
  • the place of publication, publisher’s name, and year of publication

Collinson, Liz. Lorem Ipsum Sit Amet: A Completely Made-up Book for You To Cite. New York: Nonexistent Press, 2013. Print.

It gets more complicated for other types of works, such as book chapters, journal articles, websites, and unpublished manuscripts. For those types of work, consult one of the following style guides:

I don’t care which one you use, but use it consistently and correctly.


Please feel free to use footnotes or endnotes, if you prefer, instead of the parenthetical citations I described above. It doesn’t matter whether you use footnotes or endnotes, but please use one or the other but not both. Footnotes appear at the bottom of each page, and endnotes appear at the end of the document.

No matter whether you use footnotes or endnotes, the in-text reference should be denoted by a superscript, Arabic numeral.

Maecenas congue ligula ac quam viverra nec consectetur ante hendrerit. Donec et mollis dolor.1

For more information on using footnotes or endnotes, consult The Chicago Manual of Style. It is the standard for footnote and endnote citations.

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