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Ask the Experts: Quotes and paraphrasing

Ask the Experts: Quotes and paraphrasing

Author: Linda Neuman

This lesson discusses how expert testimony can be used as a supporting detail.

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Notable Quotables: Using Expert Testimony as supporting evidence

Read along with the text below as you listen to this audio track, and follow the instructions given. It will help you see how paraphrasing and choosing the right quotes can make a big impact on your reader.

Source: Linda Neuman

Notable Quotables

Facts and statistics are good solid evidence to support your thesis, but it’s hard to beat a pithy quote from a trusted expert for making a lasting impression on your reader.

Pithy:  brief, forceful, and meaningful in expression; full of vigor, substance, or meaning; terse.

In other words,  it has to be a great quote. 

Expert testimony

While it might contain strong support for your thesis, expert testimony is often dry and verbose.  It might even contain language that is unfamiliar, vague or confusing to your reader.  In this case, you will want to paraphrase the quote rather than use it word for word.

To paraphrase an expert, take the information from the quote and rewrite it in an understandable and intriguing way.  You could also directly lift a part of a quote, the part that hits home for your reader.  You can lead into it by using the information you got from the rest of the quote.

Try reading this excerpt from a report published in a medical journal on diagnostic imaging:

“Awareness of the incidence and clinical significance of extravascular findings at CT
angiography is important for several reasons. Most importantly, it calls attention to
the high number of findings that lie outside the vascular system and underscores the im-
portance of careful interpretation of the entire angiographic study. Also, these studies
are often referred to radiologists from vascular specialists. When important extravascu-
lar findings are reported, appropriate follow-up or referrals may not be made.” (AJR vol 194 no. 6 1631)

This was written by experts for experts in this field.  In its current form, it's potentially confusing for an average reader, but you’d like to use it as evidence for your paper which claims doctors make a lot of mistakes

Topic sentence example:  Doctors don’t always interpret test results properly.  

Here’s how you can paraphrase the excerpt above, to lend support to this topic sentence and make it a better read for your audience. Notice how a part of the quote is retained and placed in quotation marks:

If a doctor suspects a problem with a patient’s blood vessels, he might call in a vascular specialist who would order an angiogram.  But if those x-rays reveal problems that lie outside the vascular system, they could be misinterpreted because no one is looking for a problem beyond the blood vessels.  According to a study conducted by doctors at the Mayo Clinic, this happens with enough frequency to cause concern. “When important extravascular findings are reported, appropriate follow-up or referrrals may not be made,” the researchers concluded  (AJR June 2010 vol 194 no. 6 1630-1634).

As you can see, paraphrasing doesn’t always mean shortening; however, you do want to make sure you understand the original text before you attempt to paraphrase it.  Don’t forget to cite your source, whether you are paraphrasing or lifting a direct quote.

It’s always good to try to use some direct quotation.  It breaks up the factual information, making those facts easier to digest.  It also helps the reader imagine a real person behind the facts, someone authoritative on this topic.  

If you can’t glean any good direct quotes from your research, you have a couple of options:

1.  Do more research and find a different expert on the topic whose words are more compelling.  
2.  Generate your own quotes, by contacting and briefly interviewing an expert who can concur with the research you’ve found (use a sound recorder so that you can be sure to accurately quote your expert). 

Quotes are word-for-word direct excerpts from an interview or a written document.  They should be used if they are intriguing enough to make a strong impact on the reader, and only if they support your thesis.

All direct quotes MUST:

- be written in quotation marks
- be attributed to someone (use the full name and title) or some authoritative entity
- be engaging in content, and reasonable in length (don’t include more than you really need)

How do you know you have a real expert?

Your “expert” does not have to be a rocket scientist.  He or she simply has to be someone your reader will accept as an authority on the topic you are covering. If your topic is the pitfalls of Pac-Man, your little brother could be one of your experts if he’s been playing the game for several years and knows everything about it.  

The “expert” also does not have to be a specific person; it can be an institute, a company, an encyclopedia, or some other entity recognized as authoritative on your topic.  

Always get at least two different experts to back up the claims you are making in your paper.  It is far more compelling to read about two or more experts who agree on something.

Opinions count

In fact, expert opinions often make the best quotes because they reflect strong emotions.  Most experts take their opinions seriously, and will speak more plainly when describing how they feel about a topic.  This can make a big impact on your reader.

Remember, your job is to convince the reader you know what you’re talking about.  But you shouldn't try to carry the entire burden of that responsibility on your own; roll out the experts and let them do some of the heavy lifting!