In a master's degree thesis, is it best to paraphrase or directly quote?Which should we use, more quotes or paraphrasing?

Expert Answers
Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

You already have many answers giving a good general overview, but in light of the request you sent me, perhaps I can add a little more clarity. There is a basic difference in terminology used in British-based education systems and American-based systems. It may not be of great significance, but then again, it may be worth at least mentioning. In British-based systems, a postgraduate thesis generally refers to the two or three papers written for each class in a "taught" postgraduate program. The final M.A. qualifying paper is then called a "dissertation." In American-based systems, the "thesis" is the final qualifying paper and is equivalent to the M.A. "dissertation" of British-based systems.

This may have bearing on the answer to your question because of the British-based thesis length. In general a thesis in this definition is restricted to somewhere around 2,000 to 3,000 words, though of course the length limit varies. However since two or three thesis papers may generally be due per each of six taught courses, the word limit is significant as time is a governing factor.

In a paper of academic significance that has a narrow word limit and a predetermined framework that may include background, theoretical and/or situational sections, evaluation of previously existing work, as well as your original analysis and explanations, how much you quote and what you quote will be judiciously determined in order to fit within the word limit and structural requirements.

Just as your analysis and explanation are the most important part of your thesis and quite often the smallest parts of your thesis, your quotations are the most important evidence (though not discounting the importance of other forms of evidence as well) that you will use to prove your Thesis Statement but, because of structural and word requirements, the quantity of quotations may be limited as well.

Therefore, knowing that quotations are most important, knowing that structural and word requirements impose some limitations, knowing that other evidence that you have collected to prove your idea is also important, the answer to your question is that while paraphrasing is vital to demonstrating your understanding of a broad range of knowledge and to reviewing critical opinion and opposing arguments, you must have high quality and carefully selected quotations to substantiate the things you assert and claim. This may sound like a double-sided answer, but that is precisely what you need, a double-sided approach: You must include that which is most important (analysis and quotes) within the framework of that which is required.

[I've included a link to a A Midsummer Night's Dream theme analysis that might help you sort out your best route regarding the use of quotations. Also here is a link to University of Sussex academic writing Study Skills Index that might be useful.]

jmj616 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I agree with my friend pohnpei397 that paraphrasing is usually preferable to quoting.

Quoting should be saved for certain instances in which the author has expressed something in a way that is novel, poetic, or particularly forceful.

I don't know what your thesis is about.  If it has anything to do with literature, then you would quote (as opposed to paraphrase) when you want to display an author's style of writing.

Even in other fields, such as history or science, there are places where you can tell that an author is doing more than just recording facts; in certain places in well-written scholarly works, it is obvious that the author is leaning back and offering an original thought or observation about the topic.  These are the kinds of things that should be quoted rather than paraphrased.

Keep in mind: whether you paraphrase or quote, you must always be careful to clearly identify your source!

akplotkin eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The advice you have received is comprehensive and well-written. My addition is a similarity between paraphasing and using quotations. Both require CITATIONS. When using a direct quote, you need to include the (Author, Date of the publication, and exact page number). When paraphasing, your citation, requires just the (Author, Date of publication) page number is required. Paraphasing has the advantage in my opinion because it becomes stronger with the increased number of authors. If you find three authors who write similar interpretations of a piece of literature, then you can include all three authors in one citation. This provides evidence that what you write has been supported by others, and not just you.

There are guidelines put out by The American Psychological Association (APA Publication Manual) which specify how to use citations when paraphasing and quoting.  Check to see if your college/university abides by the APA Manual.

clamo88 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Previous advice given is on target.  I would add that you need to also focus on original thought.  Your Master's Thesis is a culmination of much learning and the advisor likely wants to know what you can add to the body of knowledge and opinion already in the public arena.

Rather than paraphrasing a lot of what others have said about the literature piece, what can you add that is original or a new twist to what someone else has contributed?  Can you place the piece in today's social context and demonstrate the "timelessness" of it, if it's a work written years ago?  Or does the piece speak directly to you in your life situation in some way?

If you can add to what has already been said, then paraphrasing and quoting has value.  But it you are only paraphrasing and quoting from others, then you may find that your thesis does not do well regardless of how well-written it is.

missjenn eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I would stick with what the two editors above stated. Paraphrasing shows how you synthesize, understand, and intend to use the material. It also shows your adviser and review committee that you can take an idea from someone or some source and re-word it so that you are presenting this same idea in another way. In regards to the lit or poetry you may be using, by all means quote that. If your thesis is based on one specific book or work of literature, quote away to prove your thesis, but remember to explain in detail the purpose, use, and your intent with the quote. In thesis writing seminars I remember being told all the time to explain and justify the use of the quote and if you couldn't justify it in your thesis, then it was fluff.

good luck on your thesis!

Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Speaking from a general position, I would say that quoting directly is best for any type of formal paper.  In a forum that places such a high premium on specific reference and the research process, it seems to me that being able to clearly specific from where evidence and additional research is obtained is of critical importance.  I think that there are separate rules to govern when to cite and when to paraphrase, but I have always believed that, if the choice had to be given, it is probably better to overcite references than over paraphrase them.  Under many circumstances, the review process of literature as well as the peer edit/ advisor editing process of writing a master's thesis also addresses the appropriate moments to paraphrase or to cite directly.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This is a very general question.  Without a better understanding of the specifics of your thesis, I am not completely confident that we can answer correctly.

In general, you will need to use direct quotes and paraphrases in a master's thesis.  I would say that you will generally need to paraphrase more than you quote.  What I would do is to paraphrase most of what I was trying to say.  Then I would use direct quotes to emphasize the most important points that I was getting from a particular source.  You want to be careful about quoting too much, lest it look like you do not understand what is being said and cannot put it in your own words.

But if I were you, I would talk to my thesis adviser since he or she is the one who really matters...

accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Yes - originality is the all-important goal here. Obviously to state your original thoughts and ideas you have to refer to those ideas of others that you wish to build upon or criticise, and you will do so through using both quotes and paraphrasing, but remember - one of the biggest problems with quoting is that so many students quote unnecessarily large chunks of text without justification where they could have far more fruitfully paraphrased. If you are going to use quotes you HAVE TO justify the use of quotes by making sure you analyse them and spend some time looking at them. If not, just paraphrase.

lfawley eNotes educator| Certified Educator

You should use quotes when they are appropriate - when what you have discovered in your research is stated so well by the author to whom you are referring that you could not possibly state it any better than that. And, when you quote, you should keep it short. If you are simply summarizing and alluding to the research of other critics or scholars, paraphrase. Whatever you do, always cast your research in context of your own ideas, Show the relevance of the research to your thesis and do not relyt solely on the theory of other scholars.

linda-allen eNotes educator| Certified Educator

What you should use is your own thoughts. Whichever way you decide to go, use quotations and paraphrases sparingly. Your thesis needs to be your own work and not a rehash of what someone else has written.

dreams99 | Student

What is the best font size for a thesis in literature is it 12 or 14 new times roman?. There are sites which say 12 and others say 14!!!.

Or Does it depend on supervisor's advice?

When doing a paraphrase, do I have to document and how if it is from an article or an essay?




Feel free to correct my English please.

dreams99 | Student

I am meant when the master's thesis is concerned with literature in general whether poems or novels