Incorporating References

Make the best use of your research efforts by incorporating reference information clearly into your text and citing that information consistently. Rather than writing a paper around selected quotations and paraphrases, you should be working to integrate research into your own prose in a clear and legible way. Remember, the purpose of evidence is to support your own points. Use information from credible references through quoting, paraphrasing, and summarizing with citations to strengthen your argument.

Putting the Information in Your Own Words

When including evidence from a source in your paper, you have multiple options for how to incorporate that information. Unless the reference is best stated and most effective for your purposes as a quotation, paraphrasing or summarizing is a good way to use research to make your argument. Both require restatement of the material in your own words, while conveying the same ideas or conclusions as the original that you are citing. Remember, you need to cite the source for all material that you have paraphrased or summarized. Even if the words are your own, you must give the author credit for the specific idea. See Paraphrase and Summary for more information.


  • In Macbeth, the Weird Sisters return constantly throughout the play as the underlying prophecy unfolds (Shakespeare). 

Here, the writer is referencing a recurring action in a play, which cannot be easily displayed in quotes. Therefore, summarizing is necessary in order to integrate this information into her work. Although the description of the play’s contents is her own, she must attribute this sentence to William Shakespeare because it is not her original ideas being referenced. 

Using Direct Quotations

Alternatively, you may use the exact words from the source as a direct quotation. Quotation marks are used to indicate material that is borrowed verbatim and should be followed by a citation. The punctuation and formatting around quotes can be tricky. See How to Use Quotation Marks (Purdue OWL) for examples. Sources should be cited for all borrowed material, whether direct quotations or ideas. Citation conventions vary by discipline; see our guides on APA Formatting, Chicago Formatting, and MLA Formatting for your specific citation formatting style.

Integrating Quotes in Paragraphs 

Every time you use a direct quote, you should be sure to explain why the quote is significant to the topic of the writing. Avoid stacking quotations on top of each other and make sure you give each quotation an appropriate amount of analysis and discussion. A common tactic to use for integrating quotes is the “quote sandwich” method. First, introduce the quotation with context and a signifier (Ex: “As the author states”). Then, comment on content, explain its significance, disagree with it if necessary, but do not drop a lengthy quotation in the middle of the prose with no comment. The introduction and explanation form the two “bread slices” of the quote sandwich, seamlessly working the source’s content into your original work. Note that while this is necessary for quotes, it is also recommended for paraphrased and summarized information. 


  • Students should not worry about the first draft of an essay being perfect. In her book, Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott writes, “Almost all writing begins with terrible first efforts. . . . A friend of mine says that the first draft is the down draft – you just get it down. The second draft is the up draft – you fix it up” (25). Therefore, just get words down on paper during the first draft. You can revise and edit it later. 

Quoting vs. Paraphrasing

When trying to decide how to integrate a short selection from a source in your essay, it can be difficult to know whether it’s best to use a quote or paraphrase. This may depend on the discipline or style you are using. For example, APA writing often uses paraphrasing while MLA incorporates more quotes, though still in limited amounts. Use the following chart to help determine which strategy is best:



When the source’s wording is the best example of the point you are trying to make 

When you are attempting to reference a concept or idea in a source rather than any specific wording 

When you are analyzing rhetoric in a source 

When you are discussing the background information behind a source 

When the author takes a strong stance that you want to distinguish from your own ideas 

When you are attempting to highlight main ideas in passages or works 

Citing Reference Sources

To avoid plagiarism, cite everything you borrow in the text unless that information is common knowledge. For many reference styles, citations are required both in the text of the essay right after you use information from a source and on a bibliographic page at the end of the essay.  

First, if you had to look up the information in any way, it needs to be cited. In addition, consider if this information is something most people would know off the top of their heads. If not, it also needs to be cited. If you are not sure whether a source needs to be cited as you are writing, a question you can ask yourself is: “If I were having a conversation with my friends about these ideas, would I be comfortable claiming them as my own?” If the ideas feel too similar, that is a sign that you should cite the source, even if you are not completely sure that you need to. Although you want most of your statement or argument to be your own, it is always better to cite too much evidence than too little. 

What is required within the in-text citation varies by style. For example, MLA usually has the author’s last name and the page number while APA includes the year as well. The formatting (where and how the citations are included in the sentence) changes by style as well. See our guides on APA Formatting, Chicago Formatting, and MLA Formatting for your specific citation formatting style. 

MLA In-text Example 

  • “A friend of mine says that the first draft is the down draft – you just get it down. The second draft is the up draft – you fix it up” (Lamott 25). 

APA In-text Example 

  • “A friend of mine says that the first draft is the down draft – you just get it down. The second draft is the up draft – you fix it up” (Lamott, 1994, p. 25). 

Sometimes bibliographic citations can stand on their own. In media such as book reviews or short academic reflections, most of the ideas will be attributed to the source’s author and are written in generalities. In these cases, the source is only cited in the bibliography in order to establish that none of the ideas in the work are the writer’s own.

Determining What Constitutes Common Knowledge

Sometimes, however, common knowledge is difficult to determine. Consider information common knowledge if:

  • reliable authors refer to it without citing its source,
  • most people knowledgeable in the field accept it as a fact,
  • few experts would dispute it,
  • it is reported in most introductory textbooks or basic reference books on the subject.

For example, it is common knowledge that Isaac Newton’s first law of motion is inertia. When discussing this principle, it is not required to cite the Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica every time you mention Newton’s ideas. However, if you are referencing another author’s paper where they analyze Newton’s law of inertia, you must cite this author’s work as a source even if her paper’s core content surrounds common knowledge. 

In addition, keep in mind that the ultimate test is whether your audience can access your research by using the material you have provided. If in doubt, cite your source. 

Updated July 2022