Scholarly Writing

Using the Ideas of Others: Paraphrasing and Direct Quotations

Jennifer Lapum; Oona St-Amant; Michelle Hughes; Andy Tan; Arina Bogdan; Frances Dimaranan; Rachel Frantzke; and Nada Savicevic

What it is? Why use it? Considerations

Paraphrasing involves presenting ideas from source material in your own words.

Paraphrasing can demonstrate your understanding of a text – its details and connections between its main points. It can also help you double-check the depth of your understanding of a text.

For example, you might paraphrase an important idea from a source when you want to include it in an assignment, but also want to rephrase it in a way that matches your style without losing any key information.

A paraphrase must be entirely your own writing, not just words substituted into the same sentence structure, length, etc., used in the original text. Write paraphrases in sentence structures that are natural to you and true to your own writing voice. The only job of a paraphrase is to accurately represent the relevant idea.


A quotation (sometimes called a direct quotation) is when you use the exact wording from a source. In this case, you must be careful to exactly copy the source’s original language, word for word.


If the original text is phrased in a way that is particularly powerful/vivid and paraphrasing would likely weaken it, a direct quotation is a good option. This is also true when the language of the original source is so special or unique that it can’t be reasonably rephrased.

A direct quotation can demonstrate that an authoritative source supports your point. It can also present an opposing view to your own for discussion: it can be useful to present opposing views as direct quotations to avoid the risk of personal bias affecting the language of a paraphrase.

You should generally limit your use of quotations. Don’t rely too heavily on them: most of your paper should be in your own words and in your own voice. Too many quotations may indicate a lack of original ideas and thoughts.

You should also avoid using unnecessarily long quotations. If a quotation is longer than a sentence or two, consider whether the full quotation is needed or whether a partial quotation or a summary would do.

Never use a stand-alone quotation: always integrate the quoted material into your own sentence.


Student Tip

It is generally best to paraphrase another person’s ideas as opposed to using a direct quotation. Paraphrasing shows that you have understood the source material and have situated it in the context of your own ideas. Many writers don’t include any direct quotations. Direct quotations should only be used when the idea can’t be expressed in any other way.

Citing Another Person’s Ideas

You will cite another person’s ideas to give credit to their work and to clarify what is their work and what is yours. In academic writing, it is expected that you will cite the ideas that came from others consistently. Every citation in the body of your paper requires that you have a corresponding reference within your reference list.

Primary and Secondary Sources

In nursing, primary sources are typically used because they are a direct source as opposed to what might be referred to as second-hand information (secondary source). In scholarly writing, it is usually best to go to a direct source. Thus, if you are reading a secondary source that refers to another author reporting something really important, it is best to search out the primary source. However, some secondary sources are appropriate in scholarly writing. For example, when you are trying to get an overall sense of a topic, you might find it helpful to read a secondary source such as a literature review. Secondary sources can also help you understand current statistics or standards of practice.

Table 3.4: Primary and secondary sources

Sources Examples

Primary sources are direct, firsthand sources of information or data. In nursing, primary sources are typically research articles.


Research articles (direct, firsthand sources)

Literary texts

Historical documents such as diaries or letters

Autobiographies or other personal accounts


Secondary sources are one step removed from the primary source of information and discuss, interpret, analyze, consolidate, or otherwise rework information from primary sources. In nursing, common secondary sources include literature reviews

Magazine articles

Biographical books

Literature reviews (e.g., scoping reviews, systematic reviews)


Television documentaries



Activities: Check Your Understanding


Attribution statement

The content in Table 9.1 was adapted (editorial changes) and reformulated into a table from:

The Word on College Reading and Writing by Carol Burnell, Jaime Wood, Monique Babin, Susan Pesznecker, and Nicole Rosevear, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.Download for free at:

About the authors


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Using the Ideas of Others: Paraphrasing and Direct Quotations Copyright © 2021 by Jennifer Lapum; Oona St-Amant; Michelle Hughes; Andy Tan; Arina Bogdan; Frances Dimaranan; Rachel Frantzke; and Nada Savicevic is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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