Paraphrasing

A précis or summary is an encapsulation of someone's writing or ideas. It can be useful for readers if you include high-quality summaries of academic texts in your own academic writing, as we all have a limited time to access all the information that's available. It is a constant source of delight in academic life to speculate whether an author has actually read a text they are talking about, or someone’s précis, or even someone else’s description of that précis.

Summaries may not always follow a direct line through what they’re summarising – if you want to summarise someone else’s ideas in a few sentences, it might make more sense if you begin with their conclusion, and work back to the arguments they use to develop that conclusion. Readers might also appreciate you approaching a familiar piece of work from a surprising angle: for example, “Wealthy man assaults the mentally ill”, for example, is a reasonable summary of the film Batman, while Twilight is neatly encapsulated by “Girl gives up college for stalker”.

Summarising a text is also an important first step in writing a book review, so the links on the next page offer some introductory guidance to that genre as well. Whatever you want to do with summaries, there are certain good principles to follow. Click on the links opposite to learn more.

When you are producing a piece of writing at university, you will often want to talk about what someone else has written about the topic. Quoting and paraphrasing are two distinct ways of doing this.
Quoting means directly including in your work the published words or other data you have found in a source. Paraphrasing means expressing in your own words the ideas, arguments, words or other material you have found published elsewhere.

There are many reasons for quoting or paraphrasing in your own work, but essentially these techniques allow you to show your understanding of current knowledge about the topic you are studying, and respond to that knowledge in your work. Remember that you will need to cite and reference all of the sources that have informed your work.

It is actually quite a complex linguistic skill, incorporating others’ work smoothly and efficiently into your own by quoting or paraphrasing. It needs to be learned and developed: the resources linked on the right can certainly help with this.

As with other aspects of working with sources, it is important to follow your department’s specific guidelines about these skills.

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