Summarizing, Paraphrasing, and Quoting: A Guide to Doing it Right!

Summarizing, Paraphrasing, and Quoting: A Guide to Doing it Right!


Summarizing, Paraphrasing and Quoting: A Guide to Doing it Right! Let’s start off by talking about summarizing. Summarizing takes something and boils it down to its essence. From something larger to something smaller. Let’s take a look at an example: Here’s some text that you may be familiar with. If I was going to summarize this, I would take a look at that text and see what stands out for me? It opens with a really great quote! I can’t replace or do better than it, so I’m going to include that quote in my summary. After that, let’s look at the first paragraph. What’s important in that first paragraph? Well, there are a couple of things that stand out. First off, I see that I have two sides – the Rebels and the evil Galactic Empire. I see that they’re having a civil war and that the Rebels have just won their first victory. Those are the important key points there. In the second paragraph, I see again, the Rebels, stole some secret plans to the Death Star. That’s important and good to know. Lastly, I see that Princess Leia is being pursued and she has the stolen plans. There’s a lot more there, but these are unnecessary details, if I’m trying to just come up with a summary. So an acceptable summary might look like this. What makes this acceptable? It starts with some citation information. This is not MLA, APA, or Chicago style, but at the very least it’s saying – where is this coming from – the movie, Star Wars. After that, my exact quote – my great quote – I used it, and I put it in quotation marks, to say, this isn’t me, I’m borrowing this from the movie. After that, I see a lot of the key points that we saw in that original text. We knew there was a civil war between the Rebels and the Galactic Empire. We knew the Rebels had stolen the plans to the Death Star, and that the Empire was trying to get them back. So you can see, I took that larger block of text and tried to really boil it down into its essence. Let’s take a look at a not-so-good example: What makes this unacceptable? It still starts with that citation information, which is good, but then what happens after that? There’s that great quote, but you’ll notice, there are no quotation marks here, so, I’m saying – I wrote that – that’s my language – those are my words – and I didn’t take that from anywhere. That’s what you’re doing when you don’t have quotation marks around other people’s words. What about the rest of my wording? Well, I borrowed things and I *just* changed them a little bit. The original text from the movie was, “evil Galactic Empire,” and what have I got? I didn’t even bother changing that, “the evil Galactic Empire.” Again, it’s not in quotes, and I just used it exactly the way it was. “Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans.” What did I use? I used, “Rebel spies were able to steal the secret plans.” Those are pretty similar. “Princess Leia races home aboard her starship.” And I put, “Princess Leia is speeding home on her starship.” They sound the same. They look the same. If your text has the feel of the original, then I’m not summarizing, I’m just taking chunks of it and putting it together. Copying and pasting and changing a few words, is not a summary. Let’s talk about paraphrasing. Paraphrasing is almost like a translation. It’s taking something written in a particular style, using particular language, and translating it into what sounds like you. What would come out of your mouth. For instance, let’s say I start with a sentence like this: That sounds scientific. It sounds pretty fancy. I’m going to read this and really get a feel for it, and now I can translate it into what I would say. Are all of the important points still there? Let’s take a look. So they said, “the authors studied the effects,” and I said, “this study looked at.” A little simpler. What did they look at? They looked at “sub-zero temperatures,” and I say, “very cold.” It doesn’t have to be so specific. The “mortality,” well, mortality is another way of saying surviving or not surviving. Your ability to live or not live. And they went scientific, they went with “Rattus Norvegicus,” well, I’m just going to make it simple, “rats.” So I’ve got the same basic components. I made them a little more understandable for people who wouldn’t be comfortable with the original text. Let’s do it again! So here is our original block of text. A little more scientific, but not bad. But still, it’s not me. It’s not how I would write or speak. So I’m going to take that and translate it into myself. Here’s what I would say. Let’s take a look again and see if we can find the various bits and pieces. “Researchers found,” I’m going to go with, “the study looked at.” “Researchers found,”is not nearly as intimidating perhaps as, “the authors studied the effects,” but, it’s not how I would speak. “Equally strong association,” well, I’m going to call that a similarity. Things are equally strong, well, then they’re similar, and I’m going to say that there was a “similarity between” these things. They say, “the pleasurable effects of eating Oreos,” and I just say, “the highs produced by sugary junk food.” “Cocaine or morphine,” I don’t need to be that specific, I can just say, “specific drugs.” There’s my rats, so I’m still looking at the drugs and the sugary junk food on rats, and specifically, about a particular environment where the rats wanted to be. They found that the drugs and the Oreos made them both want to be there. They wanted to be where those things were. Didn’t matter if it was drugs, didn’t matter if it was junk food, the rats liked them both. You’re got to take the original in its actual intent, and you’ve got to translate it into something that sounds more like you. Let’s see something that’s a little easier than those two blocks of text. You might be familiar with this movie. If you recognize that phrase, you know that it’s something that gets repeated quite a bit. What if I wanted to paraphrase that phrase? He informs his foe of the reason why he is angry, and he then immediately issues a threat to him. The essential parts, his name, why he’s angry, and what he’s going to do next, there they are, only said in a different way. Let’s go back to our Star Wars. I have that first paragraph, and now I have my paraphrase of it. Are the important points still there? Let’s see. Yep – there’s “civil war,” and there is a “civil war,” I mention that. They said, “Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory,” and I say, “Rebels are using guerilla tactics resulting in a recent success.” Same basic idea. I did like that phrase though, “the evil Galactic Empire,” so I took it and I put it inside quotes. Remember, if you can’t do better than them, use their words, put them in quotes. Second paragraph, well, the “Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans.” “Rebels have just stolen the plans.” There’s a weapon “with enough power to destroy an entire planet,” and I’m going just call that a “cataclysmic weapon.” So I said, in a shorter sentence, a lot of what they said. I didn’t feel that the Death Star, the fact that it’s an armored space station, was absolutely essential there. Good enough. That last paragraph, let’s take a look at what we’ve got there. “Pursued by the Empire,” well, “the Empire is giving chase,” sure. To our main character there, Princess Leia, well one of them. “Plans that can save her people and restore freedom to the galaxy,” “she hopes to use the plans to win the fight against the Empire.” I was a little less dramatic. You can see the important points and a phrase was kept in quotes. How about an unacceptable paraphrase? Well, let’s start with that first paragraph again, what have I done here? There are some exact phrases without quotation marks again. There’s “striking from a hidden base,” and there’s “striking from a hidden base.” There’s my “against the evil Galactic Empire,” and there it is again. If their words are great, that’s fine, but, quotation marks! Let’s take a look at the rest of this thing. What’s wrong with the rest of it, or what else is wrong with it? How many very slightly reworded sentences do I have, that still sound and feel like the originals? Oh, a lot, wait until you see! “Have won their first victory,” “had a recent victory,” it’s close. “During the battle, Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire’s ultimate weapon,” “during the recent fight, Rebel spies were able to steal the plans to the Empire’s supreme weapon.” You know, ultimate, supreme, there’s not a lot of difference there. The Death Star we see is, “an armored space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet,” and I said that the Death Star, “is a space station strong enough to vaporize a whole planet.” Yeah, close enough, sounds the same. “Custodian of the stolen plans that can save her people and restore freedom to the galaxy,” sounds a whole lot like, “because she has the stolen plans that can save the Rebels and bring peace to the universe.” Just leaving off the “…” on the end, not enough. There is, believe it or not, some actual paraphrasing going on in here. Up at the top, I had “it is a period of civil war,” and I turned that into, “the Rebels and the Galactic Empire are engaged in a civil war.” “Pursued by the Empire’s sinister agents, Princess Leia races home aboard her starship.” “Princess Leia is being chased by the evil members of the Empire as she heads to her home world.” It needs to be more than sounds the same and you just substituted one or two words here or there. Not good enough. So when should you use quotes? Ask yourself, can you say it better? In this movie there are a couple of really great lines, and I don’t think that “once upon a time in a far away place in space,” can do better than “a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.” “May the force be with you,” is a beautifully put statement. “I hope that the spiritual energy of the universe is on your side,” it’s a little clunky. “You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.” That’s classic. “There is no worse place, filled with such terrible people, in existence.” That is not classic. Think about it. Hear it in your head. Can you do better? Is it a great line? Does it really sum up what you want to say? Could you do better? If not, use it, put it in quotes. However, use quotes sparingly! Not every sentence is a gem. Find the best, use those. How do you summarize? You always start, no matter what you’re doing, by reading the text. Jot down the few key words and ideas. What stands out? Remember, stand back, take a look at it as a whole. Now put it away. Don’t have it sitting there while you’re working on it. What’s important is what will filter up in your memory. What do you remember? That’s what stood out. State that main idea in YOUR OWN WORDS. Remember, this is supposed to sound like you. Don’t put your opinion into the summary. A summary is just a statement of the facts. Don’t also put your interpretations, that comes later. If you’re just summarizing a source, be it a webpage, a book, a movie, be plain about what you’re summarizing, and then talk about it after. Then go back. Check your summary against the original. Make sure you didn’t go with any of those exact phrases, and if you did, put them in quotes if they were worth keeping. If you used exact phrases and didn’t mean to, get rid of it. Take another stab at it. Maybe you got a little more detailed than you needed to be. Get rid of unnecessary details. What is it that’s important to know? Don’t be flowery, just go basic. Paraphrasing, starts as I said, the same way, read your text. But now put it away. Don’t look at it. Just like when you’re summarizing, you don’t want it there, because it’s a temptation to look over it, and then it will be hard to think your own thoughts, with their thoughts, their words, right in your face. State those ideas in YOUR OWN WORDS, your language. What would you say? How would you say it? Don’t change the meaning of the text and don’t change the order. Paraphrasing is not taking three paragraphs and moving them around like a shell game and suddenly now paragraph three is paragraph one, and you feel as though you’ve paraphrased. No, no. It’s got to be in the basic order it came in originally. Don’t change what the person was trying to say. Don’t change the order it came in. Check your paraphrase against the original, again for phrases. Make sure that any exact phrases are in quotation marks. And if it still sounds like the text with only a slightly different word here or there. You need to do more work on it.

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