BK Writing Lab

How to Paraphrase and Summarize (Indirect Citation)
Paul DiGeorgio, Ph.D.


When you write a paper or essay, it is often preferable to quote a source directly. For example, if you are writing an analytic paper for an English class, your analysis will be much stronger if you include direct quotes and carefully analyze the language from your source. An analytic paper that does not include direct citation is not going to be very analytic and probably won't receive a high grade.

Sometimes, however, you do not need a direct quote or citation. For example, it is often helpful to give some background from a novel or short story before providing the exact quote that you are going to analyze. Consider the following example, which includes some description of what is going on in a short story before the actual (direct) quote is given:

Describing the parson as he gives a sermon while shrouded in the veil, Hawthorne writes that: "The subject had reference to secret sin, and those sad mysteries which we hide from our nearest and dearest, and would fain conceal from our own consciousness, even forgetting that the Omniscient can detect them" (Hawthorne 473).

You still have to cite your source when you paraphrase or provide a summary. In the Hawthorne example above, the summary line is not cited because it is immediately followed by a direct quote that gives the page number. But if the summary material was about something that was several pages before the quote, then it would be necessary to give a page along with the summary. 

The biggest problem students have with paraphrasing is altering the source sufficiently. A good paraphrase needs to be a significant reworking of the source material. You cannot create a good paraphrase by just changing a couple of words using a thesaurus -- that is considered plagiarism. If you do retain wording from the original source, you should use quotation marks. You might choose to do this if a word or phrase in your source is especially significant or meaningful (see the example below).

Here is an example of an appropriate paraphrasing of the Hawthorne passage above:

While the parson wears the veil, he gives a sermon all about "secret sin." He indicates that we do not share these secrets with anyone, even those who are closest to us. He even goes so far as to claim that we often hide these secrets from ourselves, and fail to remember that even if we lie to ourselves about our sins, God knows the truth (Hawthorne 473.) 

Paraphrasing vs. Summarizing

The difference between a paraphrase and a summary is that a paraphrase is more detailed. It is like taking the meaning of a source text and putting it in your own words. A summary, by contrast, is more general. The idea behind a summary is to shorten something and reduce it to the main idea(s). You should paraphrase when you want more detail or to describe an idea but with different language than a source, whereas you should summarize when the small details are not as important as the overall main idea(s).

Strategies for Paraphrasing without Plagiarizing:

1. The best way to paraphrase is to do so without looking at your source. Often students try to paraphrase a text while they have it open in a window next to their word processor. This is just asking for trouble! Instead, try closing or minimizing your source and paraphrasing from memory. Once you have created a paraphrase, take another look at your source text and make sure that you accurately captured all of the important details.

2. If you need to look at your source while paraphrasing, exchange every single word with a synonym, and alter the structure of the sentence. Altering the structure of the sentence is extremely important; if you only change out the words without altering the structure of the sentence, you might be committing plagiarism.

3. Once you have created a paraphrase, create a paraphrase of your own paraphrase! Repeat as needed.

Strategies for Summarizing:

1. Before you begin your summary, annotate your source text. Underlining and highlighting are common methods.

2. Determine the thesis if you are summarizing an entire work of non-fiction, or the main idea if you are summarizing a single paragraph. If you are summarizing fiction, focus on the main point. After that, identify the points that support the thesis, main idea, or main points. 

3. Take the thesis, main idea, or main point, along with the support, and shorten the material, changing it into your own words. You should make sure that you show how everything "fits" together.

Closing Note on International Usage:

Internationally "indirect citation" sometimes carries a different meaning. For example, in Australia, an indirect citation refers to the quotation of a primary source in a secondary source. This type of "indirect citation" is also sometimes called a secondary source and it usually connotes that the author has not read the original (primary) source.


If you have any questions, send us an email at bkwritinglab@bishopkennyhs.org!


Image Credit: Paraphrase Translate by Eucalyp from the Noun Project


  • Citation
  • In-Text Citation
  • Papers
  • Paraphrase
  • Plagiarism
  • Summary