Paraphrasing, summarising and quoting
In your assignments you will be expected to draw on the writing of experts in your field of study to demonstrate your understanding of key concepts, ideas and debates. You will also use this material as evidence to support your arguments and justify your claims.
Care is needed when incorporating the work of others into your assignments to avoid plagiarism. The techniques that will assist you to achieve this are: paraphrasing, summarising and quoting combined with correct referencing.
The tutorial will cover:
Making notes for assignments
Although it can be tempting to copy chunks word-for-word from a text when making notes for an assignment, you should avoid this for three reasons:
- it can increase the risk of accidental plagiarism
- it can mask the fact that you do not fully understand what you have read
- it is a passive technique and does not help you to learn.
Rewording some technical terms or specialised vocabulary (e.g. direct instruction and liquid chromatography in the following examples) might not be easily possible because replacing them with similar words can alter the original meaning or not communicate the same meaning.
b. Liquid chromatography will be used to separate the components of the mixture.
Therefore, you might need to copy the keywords or discipline-specific words that are essential to retain the original meaning in your notes and use them in your assignments.
The following tips will help you write effective notes and avoid plagiarism. Click on the headings below for more details.
When planning and writing your assignment, use only your own notes which are written in your own words. This will help you avoid plagiarism.
ActivityAre the following statements about note making true or false?
Paraphrasing means expressing information or ideas from other sources in your own words in a similar number of words as the source text. Paraphrasing is NOT simply replacing words with synonyms or rearranging the structure of sentences. It involves rephrasing a text substantially while retaining the original meaning. Paraphrasing involves acknowledging the original source with proper referencing.
A paraphrase is particularly useful:
- when you are dealing with facts and definitions
- when you need to refer to a chunk of information from one particular part of a source (e.g. a paragraph in the introduction of a journal article).
Here is how to paraphrase:
- The first step in paraphrasing is to read the original text and get a full grasp of it. You may need to read the original text a few times and check the meaning of key words to fully understand it.
- While you are reading, think about the overall meaning of each paragraph or section - don’t just focus on the individual words and sentences.
- After each paragraph or section, put the reading aside and state it in your own words.
- When you can do this, you are ready to write your paraphrase.
- Finally, proofread, revise and edit your paraphrase as necessary.
Don't forget to include a proper citation when paraphrasing and be careful not to change the author’s meaning.
The paragraph below is a paraphrase written by a student. Its aim is to support one of the key contentions in their essay on learning motivation among older students studying off campus. Compare the student’s paraphrase to the original text and answer the following question.
The student’s paraphrase:
Below is an extract from a text which a student intends to use in an assignment, followed by two attempts at paraphrasing it. Read through these, then indicate which you think does a better job of paraphrasing.
It is generally agreed that homelessness is increasing in Australia, yet there is no commonly accepted definition. What does it mean to be ‘homeless’, and why is it so hard for governments, charities and social commentators to agree on a definition?
Paraphrasing - Example A
Paraphrasing - Example B
Summarising means briefly outlining the main points of a reading in your own words without adding your own ideas or changing the author’s meaning. Summarised information must be accompanied by a citation.
A summary is particularly useful if you need to refer to the main idea/argument presented in a source (e.g. a book/chapter/article, etc.).
Here is how to summarise:
- Similar to paraphrasing, the first step in summarising is to read the original text and get a full grasp of it. You may need to re-read the original source a few times and look up the meaning of key words to fully understand it.
- When reading, ask yourself: What is the overall message? What are the key points?
- Concentrate on the essentials and leave out details and examples.
- Put the source aside and state its key points in your own words.
- When you can do this, you are ready to write your summary.
- Finally, proofread, revise and edit your summary as necessary.
Don't forget to include a proper citation when summarising and be careful not to add new points or change the original meaning.
The following paragraph is a summary of the original source below written by a student as part of a report on the dietary habits of Australian adolescents. Compare the student's summary to the original text and answer the question.
The student’s summary:
Read this section of an article and choose which option from the answers below best summarises it.
Remember: Read the text carefully and check anything you do not understand. Your summary will not be accurate if you have misunderstood the work. Also, be careful not to let your own ideas get mixed up with those of the author’s.
Quoting means repeating the author’s exact words. In some disciplines, such as literary studies and history, quoting is used frequently to support an argument. In most others, especially science and technology, it is used sparingly, if at all. Make sure you understand how quoting is used in your discipline. If unsure, ask a lecturer or tutor.
Some situations which might justify direct quoting could be:
- the author has devised and named a new theory, model, concept, technique or scale
- the author has provided a definition of a concept
- the author’s words have unusual impact and would be difficult to express in any other way
- the author is a notable authority on the subject and their words will lend weight to your argument
- you are expected to use examples to justify your interpretation or analysis of a literary work.
Keep the quote as brief as possible, and integrate it into the development of your argument or discussion. This means commenting on the quote to show how it connects to your point. All quotes require page numbers in the citation.
Different citation styles have different definitions of short and long quotes. Check your citation style or ask your tutor or lecturer if you are unsure.
For a short quote (up to two or three lines), place the relevant words in quotation marks and incorporate them into your sentence.
You do not need to place technical terms or specialised vocabulary in quotation marks if you use them as a part of a paraphrase or summary in your assignment.
Long (Block) quotes
Quotes of more than 30 or 40 words (depending on the citation style you are using) should be:
- set apart from the rest of your text, usually by leaving one blank line before and after
- indented, usually by five spaces
- possibly typed in a smaller font.
Generally, the quote should be preceded by a colon. Check the referencing style guide for your unit.
Kotler comments on the tendency of many Americans to assume that everything in the United States is better than elsewhere:
A nation that is great does not need to boast about it! It will be known without promotion. Other nations don’t appreciate hearing, by implication, that their country offers much less than the U.S. does. The citizens of many countries actually prefer their country’s ways and culture to U.S. culture. Many Europeans, especially the French, feel their lives are more satisfying (Kotler, 2016, p. 168).
A similar attitude prevails in Australia and can be discerned in discussions about immigration. Many commentators take it for granted that everyone would prefer to live here.
Never end a paragraph with a block quote. You should always explain how the quote fits into your argument.
Each of these four attempts at quoting has an error. Drag the error the writer has made (on the right hand side) and match it to the quote on the left.
Look at the following examples of long quotes. Indicate whether the quote has been used appropriately. Hint: This activity requires you to consider more than just the formatting of the quote.
Information-prominent or Author-prominent citation
There are two broad types of citation; information-prominent and author-prominent.
Information-prominent citation is used when what (i.e. the information) you want to convey is more important to your purpose than telling the reader who (i.e. the author) wrote that information. In this case the citation follows the content. For example:
Author-prominent citation is used when the primary importance is given to who (i.e. the author) has written the information, findings or opinion you are presenting in your writing rather than what is presented. In this case the author is usually mentioned in the subject of the sentence. Instances when author-prominent citation are useful include:
- when the author is a noted authority on the topic
- when tracing the historical or chronological development of new thinking or discoveries
- when comparing differing expert opinions.
Look at the following citations. Are they information-prominent or author-prominent?
Putting it all together
So far we have discussed three methods of presenting or referring to the work of others in your assignments: paraphrasing, summarising and quoting.
In any assignment you will most likely use a mix of these techniques to convey what you have read. However, there are other considerations which will affect the way you present this information:
- Naturally you will select the information which best supports your purpose in relation to the assignment. You might use only part of the information provided in a given source and you will often need to incorporate information from several sources to fulfil your purpose, whether it is to support your argument, to explain a concept, or to refute another writer’s ideas.
- The words you choose to introduce and comment on the information you present, as well as the way you synthesise information from various sources, will show your attitude to the content. This is often referred to as your 'voice' which provides clues to the readers about how they should interpret what they read.
Look at the example below. The purpose of the paragraph is to introduce the concept of homelessness and lead into a discussion of policy development and service provision. Note how the writer has incorporated materials from several sources.
Homelessness can be defined in a number of ways. These extend from the want of shelter (ABS, 2012), which may or may not include temporary shelter such as couchsurfing and crisis accommodation (Mission Australia, 2017), to a lack of permanency, membership of a family or social unit, or sense of historical belonging (OUP, 2017). The difficulty of agreeing on a definition is reflected in the complexity involved in developing effective policies and services for those deemed to be homeless (ABS, 2012).
Respond True/ False or Agree/Disagree to the following statements with reference to the paragraph above.
Now read the version below. This time we can hear the essay writer’s voice in the way the information is conveyed.
Click on the words, phrases or sentences that indicate the writer’s attitude.
Answer true or false to the following statement about the paragraph above.
Austen, J. (1992). Persuasion. Promotional Reprint Company.
Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2012). A Statistical Definition of Homelessness (No. 4922.0). http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/4922.0main+features32012
Chomsky, N. (2006). Language and mind. Cambridge University Press.
Fayet-Moore, F., McConnell, A., Kim, J. & Mathias, KC. (2017). Identifying eating occasion based opportunities to improve the overall diets of Australian adolescents, Nutrients, 9(6), 608. doi:10.3390/nu9060608
Kahu, E. (2014). Increasing the emotional engagement of first year mature-aged distance students: Interest and belonging. The International Journal of The First Year In Higher Education, 5(2), 5-55. doi:10.5204/intjfyhe.v5i2.231
Kotler, P. (2016). Democracy in decline: rebuilding its future. Sage Publications.
McHardy, J. & Chapman, E. (2016). Adult reading teachers’ beliefs about how less-skilled adult readers can be taught to read, Literacy and Numeracy Studies, 24(2), 24-42. doi:10.5130/lns.v24i2.4809
Mission Australia. (2017). What is homelessness? https://www.missionaustralia.com.au/what-we-do/homelessness-social-housing/what-is-homelessness?
Oxford Living Dictionary. (2017). Home. https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/home
Scholte, J. A. (2008). Defining Globalisation. World Economy, 31(11), 1471–1502. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9701.2007.01019.x