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Writing academically: Using sources in your writing

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“A fundamental part of academic study is reading the work of other people and using their ideas to develop your own.”

Jeanne Godfrey, How to use your reading in your essays

Whilst advice on referencing is often about the mechanics of a particular style, it is more important to learn how to integrate those references into your writing. This is achieved by a mixture of quoting, paraphrasing and summarising the work of the authors you read or the official documents you use. This page has sections looking at what each of these mean; and when and how you should use each technique.

What is a quotation?

A quotation is an unchanged piece of text from a source that you use in your own writing. They are extremely useful in particular situations (see below) but should be used sparingly as they can break up the flow of your writing and do not show the same level of understanding that putting something into your own words (paraphrasing) can. 

When should you use a quotation?

Although quotations should be used sparingly, they can be the best option in a number of situations. These include when:

  • You are providing a definition of something:
  • The authors have expressed themselves in an unusual or notable way:
  • The words have historic or other significance (and you would not want to change them):
  • You are quoting single words or short phrases where a paraphrase would be unhelpful:
  • A quotation, rather than a paraphrase, makes your point more justifiable because it backs it up specifically:
  • There is no other way of re-wording it:

Writing and formatting quotations

Short quotations

If a quotation is no more than 20 words (please note if you use APA referencing this is 40 words), you should place it inside quotation marks within the main body of your paragraph. You can either refer to the author within your sentence or you can add a citation* after the quote depending on your needs. 

Long quotations

Quotations of more than 20 words should be placed in their own paragraph, indented by 1cm from each margin. You do not use quotation marks. The paragraph should always use single line spacing, even if you have used double/1.5 elsewhere:

* These examples are using the Harvard (Hull) referencing style. 

Editing quotations

There are times when you need to make small edits to quotations to make them work out of context, remove unnecessary information, add emphasis or acknowledge errors. The conventions for these are given here.

Adding information

Sometimes, the quotation you want to include uses a pronoun (this, these, it etc) to refer to something that has been written in full earlier and you need include the full version in order for the quotation to make sense out of the original context. It is acceptable to edit the quotation to include the full term but you must make it clear that this has been added by you. Also, when you don't include all of a sentence, you sometimes need to add words later to make the sentence flow. To do this, put the added material in square brackets:

Omitting information

If the original quotation includes a section/word that is either not relevant to your point or not needed out of context and does not change the meaning of the quotation in any way, you can remove it and indicate the omission using an ellipsis ( ... ). Advice about the spacing of the punctuation varies. For the sake of simplicity, we suggest a space, then 3 full stops and then another space (blah ... blah).

This is also often used when quoting interviewee words in research papers.

Emphasising information

If you are using a quotation where specific words are important and you want to draw the reader's attention to them, you can add emphasis by italicising the text. However, if you do this, it is important to make sure your reader knows that this is your emphasis and not from the original text. Similarly, if an author has emphasised something, you should keep the formatting the same as the original but make it clear that the emphasis was the author's and not your own:

Acknowledging errors etc

Sometimes, you want to use a quotation but it contains what may appear to be an error to your reader. This may be an actual error (spelling or a typo for example) but other times is could be that the word usage or formatting is archaic or non-standard in some way. If you think there is a chance that your reader may think the 'error' was yours, you can acknowledge it with the Latin term [sic] which means 'thus was it written' and shows you have reproduced it faithfully.

This is also often used when quoting interviewee words in research papers.

Giving page numbers

Whenever you use a quotation you should always give the page number of the source so that the reader can find it in context.

UoH Harvard referencing

Where possible, give the page number as shown in the examples above, after the year following a colon. If it is a long quotation that spans two pages in the original, show as (2019:45-6).

If there is a large gap between where the date is given and where the quotation appears, do not include the page number after the date, instead follow the quotation itself with (page n) as is shown in the example here: 

Seglem and Witte (2009) suggested that this was an even more important benefit than the widening of literacy in general, especially for students who have been previously “burned by print” (page 224).

APA referencing

Put your page number after the date with the prefix p. for a single page or pp. if the quotation spans more than one page: (2019, p.14) or (2019, pp.14-15). 

If there is a large gap between where the date is given and where the quotation appears, do not include the page number after the date, instead follow the quotation itself with (p. n) as is shown in the example here: 

Seglem and Witte (2009) suggested that this was an even more important benefit than the widening of literacy in general, especially for students who have been previously “burned by print” (p. 224).

UoH Footnote referencing

The page numbers should be given at the end of the footnotes at the bottom of the page as shown in the various examples here:


1 R. Seglem, & S. Witte, 'You gotta see it to believe it: Teaching visual literacy in the English classroom', Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 53, 3 (2009), 216-226, 224.

2 ibid., 225.

3 S. Bailin & H. Siegel, 'Critical thinking', in N. Blake et al. (eds.), The Blackwell guide to the philosophy of education (Oxford: Blackwell, 2003), 181-193, 183.

4 Seglem & Witte, 'You gotta see it to believe it', 226.

OSCOLA referencing

Please refer to your specific guidelines as this varies slightly for different source types.

What is paraphrasing?

Paraphrasing is expressing the written thoughts of published authors in your own words. Instead of using a direct quotation (the author's exact words - see previous section), you rewrite what they have said in your own style. At university, there are generally two contexts in which you will do this:

  • during notetaking whilst reading a source of information (book, journal article etc)
  • during the writing of an assignment - when you will still cite the author(s) of the original text.

It is an essential process to learn – indeed one which your tutors expect you to perform so that you can provide evidence of appropriate reading and of your understanding of that knowledge. The risk, of course, is that of plagiarism – if your version of a published text bears too close a resemblance to the original wording. Simply altering one or two words in the original is not enough; your version should be distinct from the original. 

IDEA from a book shown noted in a notebook and re-used in an essay on a laptop

It is extremely important to make sure you are not accidentally changing the meaning of what the author has written in any way. Sometimes this means reading a little further in the text to ensure you’ve understood the essence of the message correctly.

So how can a piece of text be changed into a completely new form of words but one which at the same time conveys the same message or idea as the original? This page will hopefully help you.

Why you should paraphrase

There are two main reasons why you should paraphrase:

  1. It shows you have understood the meaning of the text fully.
  2. It makes your writing flow more smoothly as it keeps the text in your own writing style.

How to paraphrase

The strategy to employ is to aim for understanding. This means that, ideally, you should not have your source of information (book, journal, web page etc.) open in front of you when you are writing. If you write as you read you are more likely to plagiarise accidentally so you should either have your source of information open OR your writing - not both at the same time. (The exception is if you are quoting directly, when you must ensure you read carefully so that the quotation is accurate).


This strategy forces you to assimilate properly what you are reading before then exchanging the source of information for your notes or essay. Read a section, a few pages, a chapter, close the book or journal or website and then (and only then) open your notebook or essay. If you have thoroughly understood what you have read, you will have less difficulty expressing it in your own words without referring to the original text. If you cannot, then you have probably not really understood it and will need to read it again. (Remember, the main reason you write essays is to show your understanding). This technique is good for revision too.

Pragmatic approach to paraphrasing

Whilst the above strategy is the ideal one to use, if you are new to paraphrasing, or if English is not your first language, then you may need to take a more pragmatic approach where you are able to see the original text as you create your own version.

Here are four main tactics to use when paraphrasing effectively:

  1. Changing the order of information
  2. Using synonyms or substitute words (e.g. aim for goal, unique for different)
  3. Using related words such as adjectives or nouns based on the same base word (e.g. criticality instead of critical).
  4. Removing what isn't needed for your point.



Examples of paraphrased text

Note on citing in these examples

Example 1 shows in-text citations in Harvard and Example 2 shows them as footnote markers. Please note that for some disciplines using Harvard you may be required to give page numbers in your in-text citations for paraphrased text - please check with your lecturers. Footnote references always give page numbers for paraphrased text when they are relevant and available. See the examples at the bottom of the Quoting tab for how to include page numbers.


 Example 1. Original text

"We come into the world with 100 billion neurons in place and ten times as many support cells. Each child’s experiences are unique – from within the womb and throughout the years of maturation. Our brains grow at an astonishing rate – doubling in size during the first two years and increasing by 400 per cent by sixteen years of age". (Sardar, et al., 2007:103).

 Example 1. Poorly paraphrased text

People are born with 100 billion neurons already in their brain and 1,000 billion support cells. Each child's life-events are distinctive – from inside the uterus and through their formative years. Brains increase in size at a remarkable speed – doubling in magnitude by the time children are two and growing by 400 per cent by the time they are sixteen. (Sardar et al., 2007).

This is plagiarism.

 Example 1. Well paraphrased text

A human baby already has 100 billion neurons at birth, along with ten times as many other brain cells. By the second year of life, its brain will have increased in size by a factor of two and by a factor of four by age sixteen, acquiring along the way a series of experiences which will be unique to that individual (Sardar et al., 2007).

Note the different structure, not just different words.

 Example 2. Original text

"A single case can be selected for in-depth study, or several cases can be selected so that they can be compared. The intent or objective of conducting a case study plays an important role regarding the choice of research design, and there are three design variations: intrinsic case study, instrumental case study, and collective or multiple case study."1

 Example 2. Poorly paraphrased text

An individual case can be chosen for for in-depth consideration, or a number of cases can be selected for comparison. The objective or intent of doing a case study plays a crucial role regarding the design of the research. There are three design choices: intrinsic case study, instrumental case study, and collective case study.1

This is plagiarism.

 Example 2. Well paraphrased text

Case study research can involve single or multiple cases. Multiple cases are used when comparison is required though this can limit the depth of analysis that focusing on a single case can provide.Case study design can be intrinsic, instrumental or collective/multiple - the choice of which is dictated by the underlying objectives of the research.2

In this case the citation is given after both sentences as it is less obvious that they are both from the same source.



1 L. D. Bloomberg, 'Case study method', in B. B. Frey (ed), The SAGE encyclopedia of educational research, measurement, and evaluation [eBook]. (Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications Inc., 2018), 237-240, 239.


What is summarising?

Summarising is similar to paraphrasing, but instead of ending up with a piece of text of similar length, your text will be significantly shorter than the original. The idea is to pick out just the points that are relevant to your own writing. Often you are summarising whole chapters of books or whole journal articles so it enables you to show the range of your reading. You will need to reference them in a similar way to paraphrasing - but if you have summarised a whole source you will not need to give a page number even if your style usually uses them for paraphrased text. If you have summarised a shorter section, from 1 or 2 pages, you should use page numbers if it is required for paraphrases.

Why summarise?

Summarising shows you are reading critically and able to pick out which points from a source are relevant to the argument you are making. Like paraphrasing, it shows that you have understood the information and are able to express it in your own writing style. If you can express the information from a complex source simply and concisely then you are demonstrating a high level of comprehension which will be appreciated by your tutors.

Image showing all or large section of a source being summarised in a notebook or in written work on a laptop


‚ÄčSummarising a journal article or book chapter

When summarising an entire source such as a journal article, you can still take a particular angle on the source and be selective about what parts of the source best back up that angle. Of course you cannot misrepresent the article, so you must read it in full first to ensure that what your are saying is not contradicting the author's intent.

If you are summarising a journal article, you can start with the abstract - after all that is usually the author's own summary of their work. For chapters in edited books, the editors often give a summary of the chapters in their introduction. You should not use this instead of reading the whole source, but it is a good first place to look as you can get an idea what the author/editor thinks is important. 

Abstracts can themselves be summarised still further to form something that you can use in your own work. For example, look at the following abstract from our own Lee Fallin's paper Beyond books: the concept of the academic library:




The paper aims to explore the issues surrounding the user conceptualisation of academic libraries. The paper will solidify the role of academic libraries as learning spaces and problematise how libraries are conceptualised by users.


The paper is a literature-based conceptual paper and draws on a wide range of literature to challenge the concept of academic libraries and presents how they are becoming reframed as different spaces.


The paper argues that the concept of a library is at risk. While libraries have undergone substantial changes, the concept of a library has lingered. This paper demonstrated that libraries need to proactively engage users in this debate.


The spatial approach taken by this paper demonstrates the complicity behind the user conceptualisation of libraries. Developing an understanding of this process is an important foundation for libraries to develop their user engagement.

This is an example of a structured abstract which is required by some journals - many others are free text with no headings. Summarising this to a single paragraph (for example to use in a literature review or annotated bibliography), may produce something like this:

Longer summary

Fallin (2016) argues that while the term ‘library’ is often framed as something universally understood, it is actually more complicated. Instead, libraries should be seen as concepts, open to a range of different interpretations and understandings. He suggests this could be problematic as there is often a mismatch between what libraries actually do and how they are understood. The traditional view of the library as a book-based institution still perpetuates but does not account for the new services libraries provide.

If you were using this source to back up an argument within an essay, you probably would not need even this much detail. The following could be enough:

Shorter summary 1

Fallin (2016) argues that although the traditional view of the library as a book-based institution still perpetuates, this does not account for the new services libraries provide.

Depending on the angle you are taking, you could choose to summarise the article differently. The main point of this summary is not found within the abstract but is heavily alluded to within the paper itself - showing how you cannot just rely on the abstract alone:

Shorter summary 2

Fallin (2016) argues that individuals conceive the academic library differently which makes it difficult for library management to create spaces that work for all users.

Analysing your summary

When summarising, you should not include your own comments or analysis within the summary. However, you must do this before or after the summary to show that you are not just informing the reader of what the article said, but are integrating it into your own argument. Phrases like "what this means is..."; "this suggests that..."; "in the context of [essay topic], this may indicate that..." need to be used to show how the article is relevant to the claims you are making in your paragraph.