Writing nonfiction: Direct quotations, paraphrases

When writing academic papers or nonfiction books, you’ll likely needed to include the thoughts and observation of experts to bolster your positions or explain your points. These experts’ statements can be presented either as direct quotations and as paraphrases.

direct quotation provides the expert’s words exactly as they were written or spoken. Should the quotation be shorter than 40 words, they need to be placed in quotation marks:

Bignell (2013) asserts that writing talent likely isn’t genetic: “There’s no doubt, however, that some people spend their formative years garnering the experiences and mastering the skills that later will make them good storytellers.”

If the quotation is 40 words or more, then you would use a block quotation:

Bignell (2013) posits that hard work can play a greater role than genetics in becoming a great writer:

In any case, there are those with “less” talent who work at making themselves writers – and their writing shines brighter than many who are talented. Remember, George Orwell once was viewed as an average kid with no talent; today he is considered one of the greatest writers of the 20th century.

Depending on which style (MLA, APA, Turabian, Chicago Manual, etc.) you’re using to write the paper or nonfiction book, you’ll need to cite the quotation by including at least the name of the quoted expert, the year the book was published or speech given in which the quote appears, and probably the page number in the book. When researching, always write down the author, book title, year the book was published, the publishing company and the city it was published in, and the page number for every quotation and note taken; this will save you time later.

paraphrase is restating the expert’s words in your own. Sometimes you can state the expert’s ideas in a short or more exciting way; sin such instances, a paraphrase is preferable to reading a long or a dull passage. You also want to cite the expert when paraphrasing, though often a page number isn’t required.

The previously used quotation could be paraphrased as:

Bignell (2013) believes that even if some people are genetically inclined to be great writers, hard work still can produce quality literature, as was the case with Orwell.


My name is Rob Bignell. I’m an affordable, professional editor who runs Inventing Reality Editing Service, which meets the manuscript needs of writers both new and published. I also offer a variety of self-publishing services. During the past decade, I’ve helped more than 300 novelists and nonfiction authors obtain their publishing dreams at reasonable prices. I’m also the author of the 7 Minutes a Day… writing guidebooks, four nonfiction hiking guidebook series, and the literary novel Windmill. Several of my short stories in the literary and science fiction genres also have been published.