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3.9: Paraphrasing and Summarizing

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    Figure: Image by Pixabay


    The essay assignments for most first-year composition classes call on you to use information from various texts. However, you cannot just copy the exact words out of the text you are writing about. If you do, you are plagiarizing and may put your academic career in jeopardy. If you are not citing direct quotes and citing them, you must put the words from the readings fully into your own words and cite them.

    When paraphrasing, there are two basic kinds of changes you can make:

    1. Change the words so you are using synonyms wherever possible. For example, imagine you are paraphrasing the sentence “After work, Judy rushed back to her house.” Instead of “her house” you can say “her home” or “her place.” Instead of “rushed” you could say “hurried.”
    1. Change the sentence structure so that it is different. One method is to switch the order of dependent and independent clauses. For example, instead of “After work, Judy rushed back to her house” you might write, “Judy was in a hurry to get back home at the end of the day.”

    However, this is really just a bit simplistic. It still may not give you a full paraphrase. A full paraphrase, which should convey another's idea fully and truly, should be in your own words (except for, perhaps, key words and data measures). One of the best ways to paraphrase another's idea is to put aside the text (don't look at it) and write down the gist (the general idea) of what the author is saying.

    One important thing to remember is that you choose which information is important. For a simple example,

    Joe drove after hours for Lyft for six months to save up enough money to buy himself a laptop.

    You could decide that some of the detail is not necessary for your paper. You could leave the unimportant detail out of your paraphrase, like this:

    In order to afford a laptop, Joe worked for a long time.

    The author of this sentence decided that the specific job Joe held, the number of years, and the fact that it was his dream stereo wasn’t important. That was his choice.

    Here is a video that explains the above with additional examples.

    Video \(\PageIndex{1}\)

    How to Paraphrase in Five Easy Steps. Authored by: Scribbr. License: All Rights Reserved. License Terms: Standard YouTube license.

    Remember: When paraphrasing another's idea, be sure to still provide an in-text citation.

    How to avoid plagiarism when paraphrasing a text:

    Stop, Thief! Avoid Plagiarism by Paraphrasing. Authored by: Emily Nimsakont. All Rights Reserved. Standard YouTube License.

    Exercise 1\(\PageIndex{1}\)

    Using the methods discussed above (especially the "don't look at the original method") paraphrase the following passage on your own piece of paper.

    Infectious diseases are transmitted from person to person by direct or indirect contact. Certain types of viruses, bacteria, parasites, and fungi can all cause infectious disease. Malaria, measles, and respiratory illnesses are examples of infectious diseases. (Source: No author).

    Exercise 2\(\PageIndex{1}\)

    Using the methods discussed above (especially the "don't look at the original method") paraphrase the following passage on your own piece of paper.

    As the continued spread of COVID-19 puts much of the U.S. economy at a standstill, many are wondering how the economic slowdown will affect the real estate market. While construction is considered an essential business in the majority of states and real estate agents have transitioned to online showings, housing markets nationwide are likely to struggle, and some appear to be far more vulnerable than others. (Source: Evan Comen, May 26, 2020, USA Today)


    How to Write a Summary

    Proficient students understand that summarizing, identifying what is most important and restating the text (or other media) in your own words, is an important tool for college success.

    After all, if you really know a subject, you will be able to summarize it. If you cannot summarize a subject, even if you have memorized all the facts about it, you can be absolutely sure that you have not learned it. And, if you truly learn the subject, you will still be able to summarize it months or years from now.

    Proficient students may monitor their understanding of a text by summarizing as they read. They understand that if they can write a one- or two-sentence summary of each paragraph after reading it, then that is a good sign that they have correctly understood it. If they can not summarize the main idea of the paragraph, they know that comprehension has broken down and they need to use fix-up strategies to repair understanding.

    How to Write a Summary (A Review)

    A summary is a brief restatement of someone else’s points in your own words. It needs to be:

    • Brief – much shorter than the original, so not the details but just the main points
    • Complete – including all the key information
    • Accurate – the correct information
    • Objectivenot your opinion, but what the writer actually communicates

    Step A. Annotating the Text for Main Ideas

    1. Annotate for engagement and understanding: be sure you stayed awake and actually understood what you read!

    2. Find the main ideas of each of the sections and, when appropriate, each of the paragraphs in your section.

    3. You may underline the main ideas, or write them in your own words in the margin.

    Remember, a main idea is a complete idea or sentence, not just a couple of words.

    • Don’t write for your main idea: “youth unemployment”
    • Do say: “Youth unemployment has increased.”

    Step B. Planning the Summary

    Write the main ideas of each paragraph and each section in your own words – and make sure each is a complete sentence. Do not include any judgment about what is in the article.

    Step C. Write a Draft Summary

    1. Introduce the name of the article and the author in the first sentence along with the main idea of the article.

    2. Type up the paraphrased main ideas in complete sentences.

    3. Analyze how the ideas connect and relate to each other. (For example, does one idea cause the next? Are some ideas examples of a larger point?) Organize the sentences into a logical order.

    4. Include transition words that help the reader understand these connections.

    5. Edit out ideas that repeat, and change the order of sentences as necessary.

    6. Write the name of the article, the authors, and the controlling idea (main idea of the whole reading) in the first or second sentence.

    7. Make sure that important details are included, but not details that are too specific.

    8. Do not give your own opinions or say whether the authors do a good or bad job.

    9. If the article discusses a study, the summary should briefly describe the purpose of the study and include the results of the study on a high level.

    Summary Writing Format

    • When writing a summary, remember that it should be in the form of a paragraph.
    • A summary begins with an introductory sentence that states the text’s title, author and main point of the text as you see it.
    • A summary is written in your own words.
    • A summary contains only the ideas of the original text. Do not insert any of your own opinions, interpretations, deductions or comments into a summary.

    Example \(\PageIndex{1}\)

    Summary Writing Format Example

    In the essay Santa Ana, author Joan Didion’s main point is (state main point). According to Didion “…passage 1…” (para.3). Didion also writes “…passage 2…” (para.8). Finally, she states “…passage 3…” (para. 12) Write a last sentence that “wraps” up your summary; often a simple rephrasing of the main point.

    Summary: Using it Wisely

    Knowing how to summarize something you have read, seen, or heard is a valuable skill, one you have probably used in many writing assignments. It is important, though, to recognize when you must go beyond describing, explaining, and restating texts and offer a more complex analysis. This page will help you distinguish between summary and analysis and avoid inappropriate summary in your academic writing.

    It is important that your keep your assignment and your audience in mind as you write. If your assignment requires an argument with a thesis statement and supporting evidence—as many academic writing assignments do—then you should limit the amount of summary in your paper. You might use summary to provide background, set the stage, or illustrate supporting evidence, but keep it very brief: a few sentences should do the trick. Most of your paper should focus on your argument.

    Writing a summary of what you know about your topic before you start drafting your actual paper can sometimes be helpful. If you are unfamiliar with the material you’re analyzing, you may need to summarize what you’ve read in order to understand your reading and get your thoughts in order. Once you figure out what you know about a subject, it’s easier to decide what you want to argue.

    Why is it so tempting to stick with summary and skip analysis?

    Many writers rely too heavily on summary because it is what they can most easily write. If you’re stalled by a difficult writing prompt, summarizing may be more appealing than staring at the computer for three hours and wondering what argument to make about the content.

    To write a more analytical paper, you may need to carefully consider your writing assignment before reading, viewing, or listening to the material about which you’ll be writing so that your encounter with the material will be more purposeful.

    How do I know if I’m writing an argument instead of just summarizing?

    If you answer yes to the questions below, it is a sign that your paper may have analysis rather than just summary (which is usually a good thing):

    • Am I making an original argument about the text?
    • Have I arranged my evidence around my own points, rather than just stating what the author has said?
    • Am I explaining why or how an aspect of the text is significant?

    Strategies for Writing a Summary

    You can use T.I.P.S. to help you write a summary.


    I=main idea

    P=major supporting points


    Read through the selection you are summarizing thoroughly, jotting down the topic, main idea, major supporting points. Then, in a couple of lines, summarize the information you have jotted down in your own words. This is your summary.

    How to Write a Summary by Paraphrasing Source Material

    When you paraphrase material from a source, you restate the information from an entire sentence or passage in your own words, using your own original sentence structure. A paraphrased source differs from a summarized source in that you focus on restating the ideas, not condensing them.

    It is important to check your paraphrase against the source material to make sure it is both accurate and original. Inexperienced writers sometimes use the thesaurus method of paraphrasing—that is, they simply rewrite the source material, replacing most of the words with synonyms. This constitutes a misuse of sources. A true paraphrase restates the gist of the ideas using the writer’s own language and style

    Example \(\PageIndex{1}\)

    Example Paraphrase Writing Format

    In the essay Santa Ana, author Joan Didion’s main point is (state main point). According to Didion …PARAPHRASE 1…”. Didion also CLAIMS… PARAPHRASE 2…”. Finally, she CLAIMS “…PARAPHRASE 3…” Write a last sentence that “wraps” up your summary; often a simple rephrasing of the main point.

    Exercise \(\PageIndex{1}\)

    Summarizing Circles: A small group/ class activity

    Practice summarizing by working with teams.

    1. Divide the text you are summarizing into small sections.

    2. In groups of three or so, ask students to summarize each section. They must use words such as

    “In other words,….” “Here the author is saying that….”To summarize,

    3. Students should try to write their section down in a single line using these starters. They should not use the words used in the text, but instead come up with their own words to explain the ideas in the text. They should get at the main idea in the section rather than just repeat the details.

    4. As a class, determine the main idea of the whole passage. Write up a sample summary on the board based on the summaries from the sections.

    Contributors and Attributions

    This page most recently revised on June 6, 2020.

    This page titled 3.9: Paraphrasing and Summarizing is shared under a CC BY-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Athena Kashyap & Erika Dyquisto (ASCCC Open Educational Resources Initiative) .