When we write academic papers, we generally refer to other people’s work. But of course, it is important to avoid plagiarism, which means that we have to make a choice about how to show that we have used those other people’s ideas or words. The main options are: to summarize or paraphrase the ideas and attribute them to their author, or to quote the author directly.
In this case, you have to put the author’s main ideas into your own words. It is usual to try to explain them concisely, including only the most important points. Here is an example of summarizing:
Fukuyama (1992) argues that the rise of Western liberal democracy signals the end point of the socio-cultural development of humankind. In his view, history should be understood as an evolutionary process, and the advent liberal democracy marks the final stage in this progression.
We should note that the summary attributes the ideas to the author in question, and refers to the year of the book in which these ideas appear. The details of this work will be given in the references. Most publishers and journals do not require you to provide the page number if you are not quoting directly from the text.
Paraphrasing means putting an extract from the source text into your own words. Paraphrases may be somewhat shorter than the original, and may omit inessential details or examples. However, the ideas in your paraphrased text must still be attributed to the original author.
For example, the nineteenth-century art critic and thinker John Ruskin said that: “The first duty of government is to see that people have food, fuel and clothes. The second, that they have the means of moral and intellectual education.”
You could paraphrase this by saying:
According to Ruskin (1876), the government’s first obligation is to supply people’s material needs, while the second is to give them access to academic and moral education.
Note that in the paraphrase, you should try not to use exactly the same words as in the original, and that you may well decide to omit any details or examples. Of course, you can also include quotations from the original text, but these should be marked as such.
The easiest way to refer to previous authors is to quote them directly. However, a text with a large number of quotations is not easy to read, so it is usual just to quote the most significant or striking words. When you use direct quotations, you should always give the page number in the reference.
As John Henry Newman said: “To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often” (1878, p. 20).
It is important to use the exact words that the original author used, and to maintain the same punctuation. If you make any changes, you should indicate this. So if you decide to omit any part of the quotation, you should show where the omission is by putting (…) or […] where you have left the words out (see the style sheet of the journal or publishing house for more guidance on this). Similarly, if you change the punctuation, it is usual to show which letter has been changed by using brackets. The following example illustrates both these points.
“[A]n idea not only modifies, but is modified […] by the state of things in which it is carried out,” according to Newman (1875, p. 20).
Another convention that is associated with direct quotations is the use of the Latin word sic, “thus”, in brackets [sic], after a word or phrase that has been transcribed directly from the original source, but which is incorrect, inappropriate, or in some way strange. This has the effect of showing that the present writer is not responsible for what is stated. In the following example, [sic] is used to show that the writer recognizes that the use of “man” in this context would now be regarded as inappropriate.
Fifty years ago, Schein expressed concern at the “considerable waste of human resources” (1964, p. 68) that occurs when graduates do not adapt to the realities of company life, and advocates “the giving of immediate responsibility to the college graduate but under a supervisor who is sensitive to the new man’s [sic] needs and capacities” (1964, p. 72).
For some ideas about how to summarize and paraphrase effectively, see: