Cite or Paraphrase?

Regardless of whether you are using APA citation, the MLA style, or some other style, there are certain conventions you must abide by. For example, if a quotation, theory or idea is important but its precise words are not, you can paraphrase it. However, where precise words are important, you should cite them. As a general rule, arts students often cite while science students often paraphrase.  

To paraphrase is to use one’s own words to convey the theories, designs or ideas of another person. With this method, you should always signal the text of the original author and make a clear separation between your own and paraphrased material.  

To cite is to use the words of another person to convey that person’s theories, designs or ideas. With this method, you should always refer to the text of the original author and place the quoted text in double quotation marks.

In the APA or MLA citation style, quotes should be kept short because a text can be hard to read if they are too long. Quotations are usually used to support an argument, but it should be the writer’s own effort. Very often, it is better to paraphrase than to quote. This is because ideas can often be viewed more clearly and presented more concisely in words of one’s own choosing. 

Secondary Source Material

With any referencing system, e.g., the MLA or APA referencing system, sources of the secondary variety should be used sparsely e.g. if an original text is not available for any reason. Secondary sources should be displayed within your text and in your references list. In the former case, you should provide the name or title of the original text and cite the secondary source.   

Why Cite or Paraphrase?

It is common for scholars to use the APA, MLA or Harvard citation systems to cite or paraphrase the work of others. 

Why Do They Do This?

How Do Reference Lists and Bibliographies Differ? 

Reference lists – such as APA or Chicago referencing lists – are lists of documented sources – such as articles, books, papers, email messages, presentations, and so on – that are cited or paraphrased by a writer. A reference list should always be included at the end of a paper if any sources have been used in a particular text.  

Bibliographies are also lists of documented sources that have been used by a writer in the course of undertaking some research, whether or not they cited or paraphrased these. A correctly-written bibliography should contain all the references from a references list.  

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What is considered to be Plagiarism?

Regardless of whether you use the APA, Chicago or MLA referencing system, plagiarism is a situation where a writer uses another person’s work, findings or ideas without acknowledgement. Where a writer does not acknowledge an original author, they are implying that a particular idea or work is their own. Universities do not allow this and it can lead to expulsion.   

However, an exception does exist i.e. where something is considered to be common knowledge or commonly known. In these cases, there is no need to acknowledge an author. But it is best to add a reference if in doubt.   

Styles of Citation

There are several styles of citation, e.g., MLA and APA style citation. Each one has its own rules, peculiarities, and specific order for laying out information.

The two most important methods are the use of parenthesis and the use of numbers.  


The parenthesis style, in the APA citation format for instance, uses an abbreviated version of a full reference straight after a piece of paraphrased text or citation. This typically includes the name of the author, publication date, and the page number(s) the reference was taken from. A fully-explained reference is then included in the end-of-paper references list or bibliography. Reference lists are usually presented in alphabetic order under the surname of the author.


Although this does not apply to MLA or APA in text citation or to various other styles, the numbering style requires a number to be placed immediately after a piece of paraphrased text or citation. This number can be in superscript form, e.g., (1) or placed within square brackets, e.g., [1]. A fully-explained reference should follow in the end-of-paper reference list or bibliography. The numbers in a reference list appear in sequence i.e. in the order they appear within a text.  

Which Citation Style Should You Use?

Whether you ultimately use APA or MLA in text citation, or the numbering system, the style often depends on the subject area because different subjects require different styles of citation.