Knowing the differences between direct quotes, paraphrasing, and summarizing is crucial no matter your occupation, from freelance writer to content marketer. Why? Because it can prevent you from accidentally plagiarizing in the work you do for yourself or clients and from breeching best practices.
Incorporating a mixture of these elements in your content can also help you tell a better story so your audience keeps reading.
Direct quotes vs. paraphrasing vs. summarizing — understanding the difference
We’re breaking down what each of these terms means and how you can use them in your writing to make your work more interesting.
Direct quotes include the exact words that someone said, with quotation marks and name attribution. They’re especially common when writing about people.
Example: “Elon Musk said in a tweet that Starlink’s satellite broadband service coverage will be available on ‘most of Earth by end of year,’ although he noted that ‘cellular will always have the advantage in dense urban areas.'”
When to use direct quotes
According to the APA style guide, you’ll need to use direct quotes when:
- Copying an exact definition
- The author’s words are memorable and succinct
- Responding or reacting to someone’s exact words
How to use direct quotes
In general, direct quotes are written verbatim. But you can make these small changes without alerting your readers:
- Changing the first letter of the quote to an upper or lowercase so that the quotation matches the context sentence’s syntax. Can also modify the punctuation at the end of the quote.
- Swapping single quotation marks to double quotation marks and vice versa
- Omitting footnote or endnote number references
Paraphrasing is when you restate someone else’s words, but not word for word.
Example (original quote): “It’s risky trusting employees as much as we do. Giving them as much freedom as we do. But it’s essential in creative companies where you have much greater risk from lack of innovation.” — Reed Hastings, Netflix CEO and co-founder.
Example (paraphrase): “Netflix’s CEO and co-founder, Reed Hastings, feels that micromanaging workers can stifle innovation in creative businesses.”
When to paraphrase
It can be helpful to paraphrase if you want to keep your writing more conversational. It’s also useful when breaking up direct quotes or explaining the original source in simpler terms. That way, the information better fits the tone and style of your writing.
How to paraphrase
Paraphrasing involves putting a section of the source information entirely into your own words while staying true to its original meaning. You can link to the source in the place that makes the most sense, such as “report” for an industry report.
You can keep from plagiarizing when paraphrasing by using synonyms for words mentioned in the source. It’s important to restate phrases differently (even if they’re just a few words) to avoid the same sentence structure. If you don’t, you could still be plagiarizing, despite crediting the source.
If you use exact words from the original material while paraphrasing, you must put the word or words in quotes. The exception is generic terms that are difficult to find synonyms for.
When you summarize, you use your own words to describe the critical points of what someone else said or that you heard or read in a source.
Example (original quote): “In a diverse population of older patients who were hospitalized for acute decompensated heart failure, an early, transitional, tailored, progressive rehabilitation intervention that included multiple physical-function domains resulted in greater improvement in physical function than usual care.” — Study in the New England Journal of Medicine
Example (summary): “A recent study shows physical rehabilitation programs to be helpful for older populations with hospitalizations from heart failure.”
When to summarize
Summaries are excellent at giving readers the key insights they need from a longer text when proving your point. They also add context while keeping at a manageable length whatever type of article you’re writing.
How to summarize
You don’t need to include any quotes or attribution when summarizing, just a brief overview that often links back to the original material for more details. It may also introduce essential points from the original text, allowing readers to understand the source without clicking through it.