Paraphrasing, quoting and summarizing in your dissertation

During your research you use many ideas and studies from other researchers. You do this because your dissertation or thesis further explores previous research. Using someone else’s research can be done in two ways, namely by quoting or paraphrasing that person’s work.

When you quote someone’s work you literally copy sentences; when you paraphrase, you state someone else’s idea in your own words.

However, it is important that you always cite the source you have used. If you do not do this, you commit plagiarism.


Quoting is when you literally copy a part of a text. It is wise to limit the use of quotes, as they do not improve the readability of your dissertation.

Plus, if you use many quotes, you will seem lazy. Next to that, when you use a quote it can give the impression that you did not understand the source or that you did not read the entire text. It is therefore wise to use a quote only when necessary.

For example, you can use one when you want to provide a definition of a certain concept. You can also consider using one when the author has written a sentence so beautifully or powerfully that a paraphrase would diminish the quality of the text. Finally, in some disciplines quotations play the role of evidence (e.g. in analysis of poetry).

Let the reader know they are reading a quote by placing it in quotation marks. If the quote is rather long (40+ words in APA Style), you will need to format it as indented text, making it a block quotation.

Example of a quote:

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a quote is: “A group of words taken from a text or speech and repeated by someone other than the original author or speaker” (Oxford English Dictionary, 2014).

Are you using the APA style for referring to your sources? The APA style has specific rules for the lay-out of a quote.

Always try to keep a quote as short as possible, preferably no longer than a few sentences. You can also shorten a quote; for example, you might replace a redundant or irrelevant part of a quote with ellipses (…).

However, make sure not to take a quote out of its context by, for instance, citing only one sentence that supports your research in a study that otherwise contradicts your research.


When you paraphrase something, you describe a (part of a) study in your own words. Doing so, you can fit an existing theory into your own research very easily.

However, even though the paraphrase is in your own words, the idea is still someone else’s. Therefore, you always have to cite your source when you paraphrase.

It is also important to always introduce the paraphrase. You can do this as follows: “Janssen (2008) states in his research that …”.

Example of paraphrasing

Original text

Avoiding plagiarism
“Research-based writing in American institutions, both educational and corporate, is filled with rules that writers, particularly beginners, aren’t aware of or don’t know how to follow. Many of these rules have to do with research and proper citation. Gaining familiarity with these rules, however, is critically important, as inadvertent mistakes can lead to charges of plagiarism, which is the uncredited use (both intentional and unintentional) of somebody else’s words or ideas.”

The Online Writing Lab at Purdue University (2014) states that many starting writers are not familiar with the rules of writing, which have much to do with using quotations correctly. They state that it is crucial to become acquainted with these rules, as mistakes can lead to committing unintentional plagiarism (which is the use of someone’s words or ideas without giving proper credit).

Paraphrase or summary?

The term “paraphrase” is generally used when someone describes someone else’s research in their own words. However, this is not entirely correct.

A paraphrase is a description of a certain quote from someone else, put in your own words. A paraphrase is therefore approximately of the same length as the source text’s quote.

When you completely or partially describe the outcome of a more substantial part of the research, it is called a summary.

There is a distinct difference between paraphrasing and summarizing. However, in general (as is also the case in many universities), both are called paraphrasing.

General tips

  • Only quote or paraphrase the authors of papers that are authoritative in their field of research. You can find a list of important journals here.
  • It is important that the quote or paraphrase has added value for your research. The quote or paraphrase should also fit in with the rest of the text. The text preceding or following the quote or paraphrase should clarify what you want to imply.
  • A quote or paraphrase is not complete without a proper in-text citation and entry in your reference list, formatted correctly in the appropriate referencing style.
  • Use the Scribbr Plagiarism Check to have peace of mind that your document is plagiarism free.

View the APA rules

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Bas Swaen

Bas is co-founder of Scribbr. Bas loves to teach and is an experienced thesis writer. He tries to help students with writing clear and easy to comprehend articles about difficult topics.

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Andrew Dzvore
November 26, 2014 at 9:19 AM

What a rare skill you have man. Thesis writing is uphill struggle. I have joined UNISA doing a Master of Arts in Communication by reseach. The temptation is you read someone's work ,paraphrase and appear as if the ideas are now yours. All we read and write originates from the source,how then do i write without plagiarising? Good morning


Bas Swaen
Bas Swaen (Scribbr-team)
November 26, 2014 at 7:55 PM

Hi Andrew, It is indeed hard to write a thesis. Let me give you some tips that I think works quite well.

Tip 1: Always cite the source of the literature you use immediately when you start writing.
Tip 2: Try to start with paraphrasing what you have read and follow with a paragraph that builds further on this and makes connections with your thesis topic. Based on the ideas you got from paraphrasing the literature you should be able to link some of those parts to your own thesis topic.
Tip 3: Do you agree or disagree with what is said in the literature and what does this mean for your own thesis topic? By answering these questions you can really contribute and write a great paragraph.

Good luck!


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March 5, 2017 at 12:40 PM

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