Fundamentals of Social Research
Adam J. McKee, Ph.D.
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There are three distinct ways to use another author’s work in a paper. Other works can be quoted, paraphrased, or summarized.
Quotations are verbatim reproductions of what another author wrote. These should be kept short, and rarely used. Only use a direct quote when the precision of the author’s language is critical, such as an operational definition of a term used in a study, or an important theoretical statement.
Paraphrasing means reading what another author has to say, and then putting the same idea into your own words. This is the best option most of the time. Using your own words helps ensure that your grammar, style, and diction are consistent. This improves the overall quality of the paper.
Summarizing means taking the main points of another writer’s work and putting them in your own terms. The rules for summaries are very similar to paraphrasing.
In all three instances, proper credit must be given to the authors of the work you are citing. Quotations are special, and require more work. When you use a direct quote, make sure that you set off the borrowed text in quotation marks, or format it as a block quote, depending on the length of the material. Many professors completely prohibit the use of direct quotes in student papers. This is because students are prone to turn in papers that are nothing but a series of quotes.
This may be “legal” (i.e., it adheres to the APA Style and copyright laws) if all of this content is properly cited, but it makes for a terrible paper. There will be no flow to the work; it will read like a jumbled mess, because that is what it is. Recall the purpose of a synthetic paper. Those purposes cannot be achieved without careful analysis, synthesis, and explanation by the author. From a student perspective, you will receive a terrible grade if your professor considers organization and analysis as part of the grading rubric.
Skilled writers weave quotations, paraphrasing, and summaries into cohesive papers that maintain their own voice throughout. In addition to scientific precision, quotes are often used simply because the author’s words were particularly striking. If you read a passage in a paper and think, “I couldn’t have said it better myself!”, then a quote may be in order. Social scientific writing does not have to be boring. It can use the active voice and inspire the reader.
This skill set is just as much art as it is science and must be developed over time. Good science is best presented by the use of good wordcraft. Avoid the temptation to use quoted material as filler. Used judiciously, quotes can improve the quality of your paper and make it more compelling. Used lazily, it can damage the quality of your paper and your credibility.
Formal writers should use direct quotations sparingly (in the author’s classes, not at all). Most often, it is best to restate an idea than to directly copy it from a primary source. Paraphrasing, then, should be used when the idea is of interest, and not the author’s’ exact words. Paraphrased material must be cited just as direct quotations must be.
Introduce Quoted Material
One of the most troublesome aspects of properly documenting source material is introducing someone else’s ideas without using the same verbs repeatedly. In addition to providing variety, different verbs can be used to add a degree of precision. The following list provides alternatives to states as a means of introducing a quote:
Many skilled writers choose to incorporate quoted material into their own sentences, borrowing only a key phrase from the cited work. This is an excellent strategy because it preserves the flow of your own paper, as well as demonstrating a command of the literature. Quote only sparingly, and use as little of another author’s wording as you can. Most of the time, direct quotes are not necessary, and add nothing to the paper. Lawyers have the notion of a rebuttable presumption. This means that something is presumed to be true, but the court will allow the lawyer to argue against it being true. In scholarly writing, work under the rebuttable presumption that quotations are a bad idea and harm the quality of your paper. If you can come up with a compelling reason to use the quoted material, then do so. But always remember to properly cite it, providing all of the necessary citation information, including page numbers.
When Quotes are a Good Idea
An obvious exception to the general rule of not using quotations is where the particular wording of a source is critically important. This situation arises frequently in law. Carefully consider the terms of art used by legislatures and courts in drafting legal documents. When considering a particular statute (such as defining a criminal offense), quoting the statute verbatim is the best course of action. This is not always the case. Judges often write voluminously, and a summary of the legal logic and reasoning is often more useful than a reading of the original.
As previously discussed, the idea of definitions is of critical importance in scientific writing. When the author of a study carefully defines a variable, it is likely that you will want to reproduce that definition verbatim in a review that includes that study. This is especially true when there is contention among authors as to what the proper definition is.
Context and Clarity
When quotes are used, the careful writer will provide context for the quote. Never allow a quote to stand on its own. This strategy may work well in some styles of literary writing, but it is never a good idea in social scientific writing. Make sure the logic of including the quoted material is obvious to the reader. This rule can easily be followed by introducing a quote every time you use one. Make the introduction obvious. One method of assuring this is to read the paragraph containing the quoted material aloud. When most people read scientific papers, they mentally omit the parenthetical material. When read aloud without the parenthetical material, is it apparent who is being quoted? If not, recast your sentences such that it becomes readily apparent. Skillful writers will also explain the significance of the quoted material to the reader.
Modification History File Created: 07/25/2018 Last Modified: 07/25/2018
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