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Jessie Ball duPont Library

Research Writing

A beginner's guide to creating a research strategy for all of your papers.


What is summary?

"Summarizing a source usually means condensing ideas or information. You are not expected to include every repetition and detail. Rather, you extract only those points that seem important -- the main ideas, which in the original text may have been interwoven with less important material. A summary of several pages can sometimes be as brief as one sentence." -- Brenda Spatt, Writing from Sources


Original passage -- 

"In a discussion [with] a class of teachers, I once said that I liked some of the kids in my class much more than others and that, without saying which ones I liked best, I had told them so. After all, this is something that children know, whatever we tell them; it is futile to lie about it. Naturally, these teachers were horrified. 'What a terrible thing to say!' one said. 'I love all the children in my class exactly the same.' Nonsense; a teacher who says this is lying, to herself or to others, and probably doesn't like any of the children very much. Not that there is anything wrong with that; plenty of adults don't like children, and there is no reason why they should. But the trouble is that they feel they should, which makes them feel guilty, which makes them feel resentful, which in turn makes them try to work off their guilt with indulgence and their resentment with subtle cruelties -- cruelties of a kind that can be seen in many classrooms. Above all, it makes them put on the phony, syrupy, sickening voice and manner, and the fake smiles and forced, bright laughter that children see so much of in school, and rightly resent and hate." -- John Holt, from How Children Fail 

Sample summary -- 

In John Holt's view, although it is only natural for teachers to prefer some students to others, many teachers cannot accept their failure to like all equally well and express their inadequacy and dissatisfaction in ways that are harmful to the children.

Tips to Remember:

  1. The summary must be comprehensive. Include all essential ideas from the original passage in your summary.
  2. The summary must be concise. Your summary should be considerably shorter than the original.
  3. The summary must be coherent. It should make sense as a paragraph in its own right. The reader should not have rely on the original source to understand your summary.
  4. The summary must be independent. You are not being asked to imitate or identify yourself with the author whose work you are summarizing. Use your own words, but avoid introducing any comments or criticisms of your own. 

Adapted from Writing from Sources, 8th edition, by Brenda Spatt


What is paraphrase?

"Paraphrase is the point-by-point recapitulation of another person's ideas, expressed in your own words. When you paraphrase, you retain everything about the original writing but the words." -- Brenda Spatt, Writing from Sources


Original passage --

"So, a leader doesn't have to possess all the virtuous qualities I've mentioned, but it's absolutely imperative that he seem to possess them. I'll go so far as to say this: if he had those qualities and observed them all the time, he'd be putting himself at risk. It's seeming to be virtuous that helps; as, for example, seeming to be compassionate, loyal, humane, honest and religious. And you can even be those things, so long as you're always mentally prepared to change as soon as your interests are threatened. What you have to understand is that a ruler, especially a ruler new to power, can't always behave in ways that would make people think a man good, because to stay in power he's frequently obliged to act against loyalty, against charity, against humanity and against religion. What matters is that he has the sort of character that can change tack as luck and circumstances demand, and, as I've already said, stick to the good if he can but know how to be bad when the occasion demands. 

So a ruler must be extremely careful not to say anything that doesn't appear to be inspired by the five virtues listed above; he must seem and sound wholly compassionate, wholly loyal, wholly humane, wholly honest and wholly religious...Everyone sees what you seem to be, few have experience of who you really are, and those few won't have the courage to stand up to majority opinion underwritten by the authority of state. When they're weighing up what someone has achieved -- and this is particularly true with rulers, who can't be held to account -- people look at the end result. So if a leader does what it takes to win power and keep it, his methods will always be reckoned honorable and widely praised. The crowd is won over by appearances and final results. And the world is all crowd: the dissenting few find no space so long as the majority have any grounds at all for their opinions." -- Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince

Sample paraphrase --

It is more important for a ruler to give the impression of goodness than to be good. In fact, real goodness can be a liability, but the pretense is always very effective. It is all very well to be virtuous, but it is vital to be able to shift in the other direction whenever circumstances require it. After all, rulers, especially recently elevated ones, have a duty to perform which may absolutely require them to act against the dictates of faith and compassion and kindness. One must act as circumstances require and, while it's good to be virtuous if you can, it's better to be bad if you must. In public, however, the ruler should appear to be entirely virtuous, and if his pretense is successful with the majority of people, then those who do see through the act will be outnumbered and impotent, especially since the ruler has the authority of government on his side. In the case of rulers, even more than for most men, the end justifies the means. If the ruler is able to assume power and administer it successfully, his actions will always be judged proper and satisfactory; for the common people will accept the pretense of virtue and the reality of success, and the astute will find no one is listening to their warnings.

Tips to Remember: 

  1. Look up in a dictionary the meanings of all the words of which you are uncertain. Pay special attention to the difficult words, considering the context of the whole passage.
  2. Write a literal paraphrase of each passage by substituting appropriate synonyms within the original sentence structure.
  3. Revise your literal paraphrase, keeping roughly to the same length and number of sentences as the original but using your own sentence style and phrasing throughout. You may prefer to put the original passage aside at this point and work entirely from your literal version.
  4. Read your free paraphrase aloud to make sure that it makes sense.

Adapted from Writing from Sources, 8th edition, by Brenda Spatt

Summarizing and Paraphrasing with Star Wars!

-- This infographic originally appeared in the New Literacies Alliance presentation Citations: The Foundation of Scholarly Conversation.


What is quotation?

The simplest method of presentation is quotation in which the exact words of another person are used with quotation marks and appropriate citation. 

Example: Dann Wigner said, "I can't think of any impressive quotes right now."

Direct vs. Indirect Quotation

Direct -- Robert Ingersoll condemned those who deny others their civil liberties: "I am the inferior of any man whose rights I trample underfoot."

Indirect -- Robert Ingersoll proclaimed that he was the inferior of any man whose rights he trampled underfoot.

Note: Both types of quotation require citation.

Note: Many professors do not allow indirect quotation. Check with your professor in each class to learn her/his policy.

When to quote?

  1. Never quote something just because it sounds impressive. The style of the quotation -- the level of difficulty, the choice of vocabulary, and the degree of abstraction -- should be compatible with your own style. Don't force your reader to make a mental jump from your own characteristic voice and wording to a far more abstract, flowery, or colloquial style.
  2. Never quote something that you find difficult to understand. When the time comes to decide whether to quote, rapidly read the quotation and observe your own reactions. If you become distracted or confused, your reader will be, too.
  3. Quote primary sources -- if they are clear and understandable. A person who witnessed the Chicago Fire has a better claim to have his original account presented verbatim than does a historian, writing decades later. 

Adapted from Writing from Sources, 8th edition, by Brenda Spatt