Using Sources in Your Paper


Now that we’ve covered different types of sources, let’s talk about using them. In addition to making sure the information you find fits and makes sense alongside your own writing, it is also important to properly reference and cite your sources to avoid plagiarism and to give credit for original ideas.

There are three main ways to use a source in your essay: you can quote it, summarize it, or paraphrase it.


Direct quotations are words and phrases taken directly from another source and then used word-for-word in your paper. You may find that the original source uses language that is clearer, more concise, or more specific than your own, in which case you should use a direct quotation, putting quotation marks around those unique words or phrases you don’t change. If you incorporate a direct quotation from another author’s text, you must put that quotation or phrase in quotation marks to indicate that it is not your language.

When writing direct quotations, you can introduce the quoted text by using the source author’s name in the same sentence as the quotation and indicate the source from which you found it. You should then include the page number or other relevant information in parentheses at the end of the phrase (the exact format will depend on the formatting style of your essay).


Summarizing involves condensing the main idea of a source into a much shorter overview. A summary outlines a source’s most important points and general position. When summarizing a source, it is still necessary to use a citation to give credit to the original author. You must reference the author or source in the appropriate citation method at the end of the summary, whether the summary is a single sentence or a full paragraph.


When paraphrasing, you may translate any part of a source (such as a phrase, sentence, paragraph, or chapter) into your own words. This can help convey the information of a source in a way that fits with the tone of your paper. It is common to use a mixture of paraphrased text and quoted words or phrases as long as the direct quotations are inside quotation marks.

  Providing Context for Your Sources

Whether you use a direct quotation, a summary, or a paraphrase, it is important to distinguish the original source from your ideas and to explain how the cited source fits into your argument. While the use of quotation marks or parenthetical citations tells your reader that these are not your own words or ideas, you should follow the quote with a description, in your own terms, of what the quote says and why it is relevant to the purpose of your paper. You should not let quoted or paraphrased text stand alone in your paper, but rather, should integrate the sources into your argument by providing context and explanations about how each source supports your argument.



Adapted from Lumen Learning’s “Using Sources in Your Paper” from English Composition II used according to CC BY 4.0.


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