Using Outside Material

Ho'omana Nathan Horton and Yelin Zhao

Why We Use Outside Material

Before we discuss in detail three strategies to incorporate someone else’s work into your own writing summarizing, paraphrasing, and quoting, it is of great importance to first talk about why we need to use other writers work. There are several important reasons:

  • First of all, at the institutional level, as a student, there’s a great possibility that you will be asked to write a topic, perhaps a new topic that is unfamiliar to you. In this case, you need to first read the work of others and then demonstrate your understanding of others work accurately.
  • Second, at a broader level, as an academic writing is a community event, incorporating others’ work is a great way to Showcase your knowledge, add credibility to your writing, and show your membership as part of a discourse community.

Strategies for Using Outside Material

Now we have a general idea of the importance of using others’ ideas. Let us proceed to discussing what summarizing, paraphrasing, and quoting mean:

  • Summarizing means using your own words to present the main ideas shown in an original source (a book an article etc).
  • Paraphrasing involves using your own words to present a specific part/segment from source material.
  • Quoting means the segment of the source must be identical to source material, word for word. Notice that this is one of the major differences that distinguish quoting from summarizing and paraphrasing.


Important tips:

All of the above presented strategies require you to attribute ideas (i.e. summaries, paraphrases, and quotes) to the original source. Generally speaking, among the cases in which plagiarism is involved, the most frequent types are not citing the original Source when summarizing or paraphrasing because you might think that there is no need to do so considering you use your own words. However, as long as you have borrowed the ideas (excluding common knowledge), you need to give credit to the author who originally proposed the idea.

Now you know the definition of differences between summarizing, paraphrasing, and quoting. You might have wondered when to use each strategy. Additionally, you might have wondered whether you can use quotations most often, since it is the easiest job to do. Notice that of these three strategies, quoting is rarely used, for several reasons.

When you use direct quotation, you have given up the opportunity to use your own words to display your understanding of the original text for your own purposes. It also signifies the readers that you are highlighting a particular word, phrase, sentence, or passage and trying to distance yourself from the original text as the words are not your own. To use direct quotations effectively, you need to make sure that it is your intention that the quotation serves the above presented functions. Using quotations due to its simplicity rarely leads to success. When you practice summarizing, typically you should be objective by simply presenting the main ideas in the original text. In contrast, paraphrasing allows for your own comment on the original source.

Giving Credit for Outside Material

Anytime that you use any outside material, it is essential that you give credit for this information. Failure to give credit for either ideas or information which are taken from outside sources is plagiarism, and is a very, very serious offense, even if committed on accident.

In my experience as an Academic Integrity facilitator, I have encountered many honest students who did not mean to deceive instructors or intentionally claim that outside information was their own, they simply weren’t aware of how or when to give credit for outside material. As a rule, you must always cite any ideas or words that you get from outside sources,  no matter how small they may be. Well this line can sometimes be blurry (for example, do you need to cite a source to support the fact that America was founded in 1776, or is it general knowledge?). Keep in mind that it is always safer to cite the information when you aren’t sure.

We know that it is essential to give credit, but how do we do this in academic writing? There’s a very specific way to give credit in academic writing which we call citing your sources. In almost every form of academic writing this will consist of two parts, both of which are necessary. Before we describe these parts in detail, it may help to see a short example of a properly cite a direct quotation. This example uses APA format. Various formats and citation methods will be discussed in more detail below.

Screenshot showing three types of in-text citations: Author-Prominent, Information-Prominent, and Reference.

  • A reference citation. This provides full bibliographic information in a specific format (defined by your discipline or instructor). These will typically appear on a separate References or Works Cited page at the end of your writing. Reference citations serves two purposes:
    •  Gives full credit to the author of the work.
    •  Gives your reader the necessary information to find the original work for themselves.
  •  An in-text, or parenthetical citation. This is a brief version of the reference citation (typically containing just the author’s name and the year of the work) which appears right next to the portion of outside material you use, whether you summarize, paraphrase, or quote directly. Like the reference citation, this portion also serves two purposes:
    • Indicates to your reader that the ideas or words are from an outside source.
    • Gives you a reader a link to the full information in the reference citation so that they can find the information for themselves.
  •  In-text citations can appear in several different ways, which are typically called author-prominent and information-prominent. Take a look at the above examples, and think about the differences between the two. Why might an author choose one over the other? What are the advantages in each example above?
    • Author-prominent citations give the author’s name in the text. This type of citation is typically used for one or more of several reasons:
      •  The author is well-known (this is probably the case in the example above, since William Labov is a very famous linguist). If the author is famous in the field, mentioning their name first gives credibility.
      •  The text is addressing the author’s work as opposed to only the ideas or words used from outside.
      •  It fits more appropriately with the structure of the sentence. This is usually a stylistic choice, and as you can see above, both sentences are grammatically appropriate.
    • Information-prominent citations give the cited material first, followed by the reference information.  In contrast to author-prominent citations, these usually indicate a focus on the side of the information. This is typically done when the author is irrelevant to (or less relevant than) the information being cited.
      •  Given this information, do you think that it is an appropriate method for the example given above?

Different Methods of Citation

There are many different methods of formatting documents and given credit for outside information. These are typically called styles, and while many disciplines and scholarly journals have their own styles of citation, we will describe several styles which are frequently used and which you may be required to use during your academic career: APA, MLA, and Chicago.

Remember that there are different reasons for using outside materials. These reasons can vary by discipline, author, and context. Each of the styles we will describe here gives credit and slightly different ways for different reasons. There are extensive official guides online which describe the mechanics of citing information in each of these styles which will be given below, so we will only discuss the major differences in the citation styles and some of the possible reasons behind these differences.

Before we go any further, take a look at the in-text citation and reference citation for each of the three styles below and try to answer the following questions

  • What does each of the styles focus on in the citations that the other styles do not?
  •  What do the styles all have in common?
  •  What information is given in full, and what information is abbreviated in each of the styles?


Examples of citations



In-text citation

In linguistics, the study of slang has often been somewhat controversial and some have asserted that its study belongs in “an outer, extra-linguistic darkness” (Labov, 1972, p. 97).

Reference citation


Labov, W. (1972). Sociolinguistic patterns. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.



In-text citation

In linguistics, the study of slang has often been somewhat controversial and some have asserted that its study belongs in “an outer, extra-linguistic darkness” (Labov 97).

Reference citation

Works Cited

Labov, W. Sociolinguistic Patterns. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1972. Print.



In-text citation

In linguistics, the study of slang has often been somewhat controversial and some have asserted that its study belongs in “an outer, extra-linguistic darkness.”1

Reference citation

1.William Labov, Sociolinguistic Patterns. (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1972), 97.


APA (American Psychological Association)

APA style is primarily used in the social and behavioral sciences (e.g. psychology, sociology, Linguistics, etc.). You may have noticed that unlike MLA style, the in-text citation used in APA includes the year that the book was published. By showing the years of the work you are citing, you allow the reader to follow the chronological development of the research you cite, and can also show your reader how recent (or historically important) the research you are citing is. Notice that in the reference citation, the author’s first name is not given, only the initial. This is likely because most disciplines would choose this style are more concerned with the research and its findings than with the author of the study. In contrast, both MLA and Chicago style give the author’s full name. Notice also that the year is the second piece of information given, all the other two styles list it last.


MLA (Modern Language Association)

MLA style is predominantly used in the humanities (e.g. art, literature, music, etc.). You may have noticed that the in-text citation for MLA does not include the year of the work. Instead, it includes only the author’s last name and the page number. As mentioned above in the description of APA, notice that the reference citation for MLA gives the full name of the author. This is likely because works in the humanities (e.g. art, literature, music) are often more concerned with the author and his/her work than when the work was published.



Chicago style is primarily designed for history and art history, but a variation of Chicago called Turabian style was designed specifically for student research writing, and is used in many disciplines and courses, from business to mathematics. This style is very flexible, so we recommend consulting your instructor for specifics about how you should say to using Chicago/Turabian Style.

In contrast APA and MLA style, Chicago and Turabian use footnotes, meaning that information about the work is given in a footnote or endnote rather than in the text. This helps make your writing simpler and less interrupted by bibliographic information. Credit is still given to the author, and your reader can still find the information that she/he needs to find the source for themselves, but the style takes the focus off of the site of information and focuses on your own writing.


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Using Outside Material Copyright © 2020 by Ho'omana Nathan Horton and Yelin Zhao is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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