I'm finalizing a single-paragraph summary of a multi-page research paper for school and I was concerned when I noticed that most of my summary was in my own words. I mean that most of what I wrote was not citing the original paper's author but rather their paper's idea summarized and re-formed by me. Of course, I included lots of citations and references with proper citations and references but that only accounted for maybe 10%-20% of the summary.

Should a summary of a research paper include mostly citations and paraphrasing from the original author or rather be summarized in the words of the one writing the summary with citations here and there?

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3 Answers 3


When I was a graduate student teaching undergraduates how to write research papers, the real problem was over-quoting. Students would quote or paraphrase large amounts of other people's work and not do much original writing. It was more stringing the quotes into something more or less coherent.

A (good) research paper is analysis. You've read other people's work and use it to inform your discussion. Depending on the field and the wishes of your teacher, you include a small or large number of quotes and ideas (properly cited), but you're still explaining it in your own words.

A summary of a research paper is a condensation of this idea. As the one grading papers, I would always prefer a well-informed discussion in the author's own words, peppered with other people's quotes and ideas as needed. While none of the papers I wrote or graded had summaries that were separate, they all had introductions and conclusions. These are the parts most in the author's words. The body of the paper is the place to set out the arguments, which require citations.

Show your teacher that you understand the the research you did by pulling it together into an original paper.


My rule of thumb has always been, don't quote anything unless you are going to comment on the quotation. If all you are doing is citing an information source to support an assertion, make the assertion in your own words and cite the source in a footnote.

But a summary is not about proving or supporting anything. It is a statement of what the argument of the paper is. It is the job of the rest of the paper to support the conclusions. It is the job of the summary to briefly sketch the main argument and conclusion so that a reader can quickly tell if the paper is relevant to their own work. I can't see why you would quote or footnote anything in a summary.

In writing anything, you always have to keep in mind what the reader's purpose is in reading it. The reader's purpose in reading a research paper is twofold: to discover its conclusions, and to test its data and method to determine whether to accept its conclusions. For this second part, they need access to the research material via quotations or footnotes.

The reader's purpose in reading a summary of a research paper is simply and solely to determine if the paper is relevant to their work and therefore worth their time. They are not, at this stage questioning it conclusions, data, or method, only it relevance. So they don't need access to the supporting evidence, and so they don't need quotations or footnotes.

All that said, different institutions have different standards, not all of which make actual sense, but all of which you have to follow if you write for that institution. So look up what the standards and practices are for the institution you are writing for and follow them.


Poetry and Precision

When I taught ENGL 100 and Technical Communication, I advised students to quote only for Poetry or Precision -- if there's no other way to say the sentence without losing details (precision) or they're saying something in an especially apt way (poetry) - then quote. Also, quote as little as possible - aim for an integrated quote -- only quoting the specific phrase or sentence needed.

I rather like the UNC Writing Center's handouts on working with sources: https://writingcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/ Some strong ones are Quoting (includes verbs of attribution) and the How We Cite/Why We Cite videos.

The graphic here on Bloom's Taxonomy can give also an idea of why a lot of summary/paraphrase is a good idea: It shows that 're not just finding and regurgitating information, but you're truly comprehending it and ready to analyze/evaluate/synthesize it into a product of your own mind.

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