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Summarizing, Paraphrasing and Quoting

In his essay about the famous musical West Side Story, Siddiq Mohamed:

  • Summarizes the plot of West Side Story’s film version;
  • Describes how the play was created;
  • Analyzes racial dynamics in the work;


  • Reflects on his own response to the film as a Guyanese American.

This is a lot to accomplish in a relatively short paper. How does he do it?

Mohamed’s skillful quoting, paraphrasing and summarizing is the key to his success.

Read the passages and commentary below for discussion of how he uses each of these tools to move quickly from one idea to the next.

Example 1:

However, a main cause for concern was the creators’ distance from their source material. Stephen Sondheim was quoted saying, “I’ve never been that poor and I’ve never even known a Puerto Rican” (Zadan 11-12). This fact in particular intensified my split between fully loving the film version of West Side Story and questioning the film’s possible use of stereotyping.

This passage is one of a couple of examples in this paper of Mohamed’s skillful use of summarizing or paraphrasing and quotation in combination with each other.

The first sentence is a summary of a widely discussed idea about the creation of West Side Story—that Stephen Sondheim, the writer of the musical, was not very familiar with the kinds of people (i.e. the “source material”) he was writing about.

It is also is a perfect introduction to the second sentence, a quote from Sondheim. Here, Sondheim expresses this same idea in his own words.

Reading Sondheim’s words, the reader gains an even clearer understanding of the same idea – the idea Sondheim was not very familiar with the kinds of people he was writing about.

In these two sentences, summarizing and quoting work together to help the reader understand an idea.

In the third sentence, Mohamed responds to the idea he has introduced. And because of the work he’s done with summarizing and quoting, we know exactly what he’s responding to.

Example 2:

Tony, upon meeting Maria at a ballroom dance (which was considered neutral territory for both the Jets and Sharks), found that their love could not coexist in a realm of hatred and racial intolerance. This main conflict thus led to their hidden relationship and also the struggle to keep the relationship alive amidst the racial tension. Although their love was the main conflict, additional conflicts were in place.

Because Mohamed has written this paper for an audience that he knows may not be familiar with West Side Story, he includes some summary of West Side Story’s plot. In this passage, he efficiently summarizes the central conflict of the story. Notice how much information he includes in just three sentences.

Example 3:

What Anita and her friends expounded upon within “America” were the opportunities and ideals that the United States were based upon. However, what were declared through Chakiris’ character were the actualized emotions of being an immigrant. As the back and forth occurred, Bernardo’s character often addressed the flaws within the stated ideals: Anita claimed “Lots of new housing with more space”; in juxtaposition, Bernardo stated, “Lots of doors slamming in our face.”

Here, again, Mohamed uses summary and quotation in combination with each other. In one sentence, he explains that the song “America” reflected the idealized way of looking at America Anita shared with her friends. In the next, he contrasts this way of looking at America with Chakiris’.

Because of Mohamed’s summary, we understand the contrast between the ideas of Chakiris and Anita even before we encounter the very well chosen quotations from both characters that reflect their contrasting views.

Example 4:

In “West Side Story, A Puerto Rican Reading of ‘America’,” Sandoval-Sánchez proclaimed that the reason behind writing his article was the cheering of Anglo-Americans who only knew about Puerto Ricans from what they saw in theaters. He stated that not only were the lyrics to “America” distanced from the emotions of Puerto Ricans and himself, but he also found the number to have “an iconic ideological articulation of the stereotype and identity of Puerto Rican immigrants in the U.S.A.” (Sandoval-Sánchez).

In this passage, Mohamed summarizes, paraphrases and uses quotation.

He uses summary to capture the motivation Sandoval-Sánchez states for writing his article – he wrote it as a response to the cheering he witnessed by Anglo-Americans.

In the next sentence, Mohamed introduces two ideas about the song, “America.” Mohamed paraphrases one idea and quotes the other.

In the paraphrase, Mohamed uses his own words to describe one of Sanchez’s ideas. He chooses to quote the other idea because he wants to capture the scathing tone of Sandoval-Sánchez’s language in Sandoval-Sánchez’s criticism of the song, “America.”

Next steps

One of Siddiq Mohamed’s most effective techniques in this paper involves his use of summary to introduce quotations, which we see at work in examples 1 and 3.

To use this technique in your next paper, use these two steps:

1)   After you select the quotations you’ll use for your paper, write a brief, one or two-sentence summary for each quotation. (for guidance on how to select quotes, see John Baran’s paper)

2)   Insert your summaries before the quotations they summarize.

Keep in mind that any quote you use should be properly introduced. Your introductions to your quotes will come between your summaries and the quotes. See example 1: “Stephen Sondheim was quoted saying” is Mohamed’s introduction to the quote he has just summarized.

20 Responses to “Summarizing, Paraphrasing and Quoting”

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