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Li Ka Shing Library

How do I Avoid Committing Plagiarism in My Legal Writing: Quoting vs. Paraphrasing


Quoting: "Copying word for word what someone else has written and enclosing the passage in quotation marks, providing a reference to the original source".

Paraphrasing: "Summarising the essence of what someone else has written entirely in your own words, then providing a reference to the original source".

Question: when is quoting or paraphrasing appropriate?

Quoting should only be done when it is important for you to use the exact words from the source, for example, a statement made by a judge in a case or the wording of a piece of legislation. One should not quote merely to avoid the hard work of fully understanding the essence of what someone else has written and rephrasing and summarising them into your own words. Further, quotations only provide evidence to support your assertions, but are not replacements for developing your own analysis.

Source: Lisa Webley, Legal Writing (Routledge, 3rd Edition, 2013) at Chapter 6

Quoting 101

Formatting for quotations

  • For quotations within a sentence: Shorter quotes should be set in the paragraphs as per normal. Quotations within a sentence should be set in double quotation marks ("  "). A quotation within a quotation should be enclosed in single quotation marks ('  ').
  • For quotations in a separate block: A quotation that exceeds three lines should be set out in a separate block that is indented from both the left and right margins by one tab stop. Do not enclose the quotation in quotation marks.

Source: The Singapore Academy of Law Style Guide 2004 Edition at p 40

Most common quotation problems

  • Forgetting to use quotation marks for someone else's words: Quotation marks are required to show when the writer borrowed language from another author.
  • Overquoting: Overquoting is problematic because readers tend to skim quotes and hence end up reading very little of an article which has too many quotations. Further, quotations rarely convey your point as directly and concisely as you could in your own words. One should only quote:
    • when the point will turn on the construction of particular words of a statutory provision, rule or key case;
    • key language from an authority with significant precedential value; and
    • key language when the author has articulated the point in an especially eloquent manner.
  • Insufficiently editing quotations:  Your reader should not have to sort through the quoted material for your point - edit your quotes down to the key words.

Source: Linda H. Edwards, Legal Writing and Analysis (Wolters Kluwer Law & Business, 3rd Edition, 2011) at Chapter 20

Paraphrasing 101

Step-by-step guide for good paraphrasing (P. U. R. E.):

  1. Pinpoint: Identify the essence/ main point of the source, that is useful for your essay.
  2. Understand: Students face difficulty when paraphrasing because more often than not, they do not quite understand the phrase they want to use - it is challenging to paraphrase something that one does not correctly understand. Take time to think about the point the author is trying to bring across and look up the dictionary if necessary. Rest assured that you will get more credit for properly distilling an idea, as opposed to simply copying and pasting the quote!
  3. Rephrase: Paraphrase properly by using your own words and not merely changing a few words in the original passage.
  4. Evidence: Attribute, attribute, attribute! Even if you have used your own words, remember to give a proper citation for authority since you have used the source's ideas.


Good paraphrasing vs. bad paraphrasing:

Here are some examples of well-paraphrased and poorly paraphrased passages.

[link with word doc/ pictures]

Source: Lisa Webley, Legal Writing (Routledge, 3rd Edition, 2013) at Chapter 6

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