Quotations and Paraphrases


When you use a source, you must choose between either quoting the exact words of the source or composing a paraphrase.  If you want to use the exact words of the source, you must enclose them in quotation marks and they must accurately reproduce the original.  If you want to express an idea or information found in a source without quoting, you must paraphrase.  “Paraphrase” means rewrite entirely in your own words and style, using none of the words, sequence of thoughts, sentence or paragraph arrangement, or other features of the original.  A paraphrase must be entirely different from the original.

When you quote, you must enclose material taken from a source in quotation marks: “words taken from the source.” If the quotation is more than three lines, it should be block indented and single spaced, without quotation marks. Long quotations should however generally be avoided unless necessary in a particular case. All quotations must be exact, except that you may interpolate words enclosed in square brackets ("[ ]"), excise words by replacing them with ellipsis ("..."), and underline or italicize for emphasis by adding in square brackets “emphasis supplied” or delete the author’s underlining or italicization by adding in square brackets “emphasis deleted.”  You may, and should, also add in square brackets the italicized Latin word sic if the original contains an error in spelling or grammar or a stylistic solecism (although if you call attention to bad style, you’re ordinarily being deliberately rude). None of these variations may contradict the meaning of the original. Commonplace literary allusions do not require quotation marks and do not constitute plagiarism: under the slings and arrows of outrageous term paper assignments you may freely visit the sins of the professor upon the teaching assistants, without quoting either Shakespeare or the Bible.

When you paraphrase, you must entirely reword material taken from a source, without using quotation marks. You may use the source’s words as long as you do not use more than two in a row from any passage.  Sometimes you will hear a higher limit such as seven or thirteen words, but if you never use more than two words in a row you will always avoid violating any higher limit.  Common sense applies here. If you are writing about the war on terrorism, you may freely mention President Bush, Osama Bin Laden, al Qaeda, Baghdad, 9/11, Iraq, neo-conservatives, Noam Chomsky, Afghanistan, radical Islam, homeland security, and other names or terms without quotation marks even when the source uses the same names and terms. But you must avoid replicating the style, order of presentation, and other wording of the source.

There is good reason to require you to paraphrase: anybody can copy without understanding.  In order to copy from the original, even when quoting, you need not understand the meaning of the original.  We don’t ask you to write essays in order to find out what your readings say; although we sometimes learn from your spotting passages that we have not noticed, we ask you to write essays in order to give you, not us, the opportunity to learn.  If you just copy, neither you nor we acquire any evidence that you have learned.  Don’t be afraid that your paraphrase expresses a slightly different thought than the original.  Whenever you reword, you change the idea at least slightly.  That is fine.  The original doesn’t have any single exact meaning that you can reproduce precisely.  Writing is horseshoes; close counts.

Inadequate paraphrases are a form of plagiarism.  UCLA takes the position that a student has not committed deliberate plagiarism when the student produces an inadequate paraphrase but accompanies it with a citation.  There is a sound rationale to this UCLA policy, even if I would prefer a different and much stricter one.  Quite often inadequate paraphrases appear in papers submitted by good students.  In fact no one can copy from a book without reading the book, and the presence of an inadequate paraphrase is evidence that the student has tried.  We don’t want to punish you for trying.  But an inadequate paraphrase is not evidence that the student has learned – quite the contrary. 

In your papers, do not copy. Not copying is one way a UCLA student can convince everyone that he or she did not just fall off the truck on the way to that crosstown campus.  Show a little Bruin pride!