"I can understand the text, but I can't express the main ideas in my own words. And when I do try to do it, I'm not sure if I'm paraphrasing or summarising."

EAL student

Some Definitions (from Collins Cobuild English Language Dictionary)

plagiarism  (noun) The action of using or copying someone else's work or ideas without acknowledgement.

paraphrase (noun) An account, sentence, or expression that gives the meaning of another account, sentence, or expression in a different way. If you paraphrase something written or spoken, you give [the original meaning] using different words. 

summarise (verb) If you summarise something, you give a short account of [a longer text], containing only the important points but not the details or examples.

rephrase (verb) to restate in other words.


Essential Tools in Academic Work

At university you are expected to read other people's research but when you report them or use their work as evidence to support your discussion, you may need to express their ideas in your own words while retaining the original meaning of the ideas. You cannot rely entirely on direct quotations to build ideas in a paragraph. Direct quotes should be used to enhance the argument or a point made; otherwise, it is best to paraphrase the quote or summarise the ideas when you use other people's writing.

You summarise a passage when you want to extract the main ideas only and use them as background material in your writing. A summary is usually much shorter than the original because the details are left out. You paraphrase a passage when you want to keep all the points in the original; therefore, the paraphrase is sometimes the same length as the source passage. NOTE:Summarising and paraphrasing are closely linked to understanding; you cannot do either if you do not understand what the author is saying.

Aim of this Module

The main aim of this module is to explore some basic techniques for rephrasing, beginning with paraphrasing at the word and sentence levels, and then moving on to text-level paraphrasing. It is hoped that working through these techniques will give you confidence in using new sentence structures to rephrase ideas.

Some Internet Resources

Click on these weblinks for a general overview of what is involved in paraphrasing and summarising:

The process of summarising

 Paraphrasing techniques