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Paraphrase or quotation?

You will need to introduce the work of others to your reader, and you can do this in different ways. You can:

  • directly quote the words of other researchers, making sure you integrate the quote properly, or
  • paraphrase other researchers' ideas by expressing the ideas in your own words

Direct quotation is thus found more commonly in humanities and social science writing, and not so frequently in the science and technology disciplines. For the most part, you should aim to paraphrase. Rarely is the original text written with your particular focus as its main concern. Your examiner will be looking to see how well you can utilise the sources for your own ends.

Direct quotations are commonly used to highlight:

  • author's definitions of important terms
  • assumptions underlying the author's choice of words
  • particularly illustrative examples of an author's specific view, difficult to paraphrase
  • particularly well-expressed opinions, revealing insights which a paraphrase could not capture

When you use direct quotation, it needs to fit grammatically with the rest of your sentence. (Please note that in the examples that follow, italics have been used to highlight the words in the quotations. However, in APA 5 th and Harvard systems, direct quotations from authors are written in regular font.)

Aid agencies have been known to take the view that such communities consist of "helpless victims with no capacity or expertise for responding to their own needs" (Leung et al., 1994).

You can see that the quotation is the grammatical continuation of that part of the sentence used to introduce it.

Hancock (1987) more recently summarized the concept as follows:

During disasters, "charitable" advertising may succumb to the temptation of making appeals for public money which can function to humiliate the supposed beneficiaries and misrepresent them as passive victims.

With ' as follows', no grammatical constraints apply to the quote, whereas an expression such as ' Hancock (1987) can be criticized for [...]' must be followed by a verb ending in '-ing' (e.g. ' comparing') or a noun phrase (e.g. ' his neglect of ...)'.

In some cases you will need to modify the quote using square brackets [like this] to include a verb ending or to change a pronoun to make it follow grammatically. Omitted information is indicated by '[...]'.

The system was designed to show "how expert systems [could be used to] help in the decision making for investments in real estate" (Ostler and Branard, 1996, p. 77).

A variety of constructions is available. The important thing to consider is how you put this all together to give a picture of your own research in relation to others'. You will be showing your attitude toward that research, whether you consider it outdated or still viable, close to your own perspective, etc.

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