Summarising and paraphrasing

One of the main ways to incorporate evidence in your work is to explain it in your own words, either by summarising or paraphrasing.

Summarising

Paraphrasing

  • concisely explains someone's argument in your own words
  • explains someone's idea in detail, using your own words
  • aims to capture the essence of the argument, so it focuses on the main ideas only
  • aims to provide more specific detail of an author's argument
  • can briefly cover an entire book, chapter, or article
  • could refer to a sentence or short passage from the original source

Writing in your own words is strongly encouraged because it helps you to learn and demonstrate your understanding of the relevant information. Summarising and paraphrasing are used much more than quoting because they show your marker that you understand the material. There are more strategies and examples of how to summarise and paraphrase on the Turnitin practice site

Case study

The following sections use examples from Woolworths' 2016 annual report to demonstrate how to summarise, paraphrase and quote. Note that we're using the Harvard referencing style for this case study, because it is an example from Business.

Source: Woolworths Limited 2016, Annual Report 2016, viewed 22 June 2017, <https://www.woolworthsgroup.com.au/icms_docs/185865_annual-report-2016.pdf>

How do I summarise?

A summary should capture the 'essence' of a source. It is high-level and broad. There is no need to capture all of the detail in a summary. This is a common skill used when you are writing about important topics and debates in your field.

On pages 8 and 9 of the Woolworths annual report, they present a visual overview of the company's performance in 2016. This sort of high-level information is ideal for a summary. For example, you could write:

In 2016, Woolworths Limited (2016) reported a sharp drop in ordinary earnings and dividend payout, compared to the previous year. Earnings also dropped sharply in the face of a dip in sales, alongside a slight increase in operating capital expenditure.

The summary covers large parts of the report without going into too much detail about the actual dollar figures and percentages.

How do I paraphrase?

Paraphrasing requires a detailed understanding of the source. Paraphrasing is a skill that takes time and practice to develop.

A paraphrase is always in your own words. This means describing an idea without referring to the original non-technical vocabulary or sentence structure. You may use the same or similar technical terms, but it's best to reword as much of the idea as possible. It is not a simple description of the source, it is a description of your understanding of the source.

Follow the steps below to help you paraphrase.

  1. Read the original source that you want to cite in your assignment. Take notes and make sure you fully understand its ideas. You cannot skip this part. If you do not understand, read it again, break the information down into smaller parts, and ask yourself how it fits into the source's main idea. 
  2. Put the source text away, or cover it so you cannot see the original words.
  3. Describe the main idea to a friend or colleague, or try to write it down.
  4. Think about your description. Does it fully capture the main idea? You may need to edit it for clarity.

You can then use your paraphrase in your assignment, followed by a citation. If it is a paraphrase of a particular part of the source, use a page number.

The following text comes from the Director's Statutory Report in Woolworths' annual report (Woolworths Limited 2016, p. 33):

Soon after the appointment of Brad Banducci to the role of Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer (Group CEO), the Board approved a new and refocused business strategy and operational structure. In support of this transformational agenda, the People Policy Committee (PPC) has completed a comprehensive revision of the remuneration framework, incorporating best practices where appropriate. These changes reinforce the Company's strategic objectives by providing a clear link between business performance and reward outcomes for all relevant management, from our critically important store managers through to our newly formed senior executive team. We believe the new remuneration programs will reinforce a culture of accountability, which is vital to our long term success.

A paraphrase aims to capture more detail than a simple summary. A paraphrase of this section may look like the following:

Chair of Woolworths' People Policy Committee Holly Kramer reports that the company has recently taken measures to improve accountability and performance (Woolworths Limited 2016, p. 33). She argues that best practice modifications to the company's remuneration framework will uphold its new strategy under Brad Banducci's leadership.

Note how the paraphrase captures the ideas expressed in the original text, but uses different wording and sentence structure. Note also that the second sentence does not require a citation because it is clear that the information is from the same source.

Note how the paraphrase captures the ideas expressed in the original text, but uses different wording and sentence structure. Note also that the second sentence does not require a citation because it is clear that the information is from the same source.

A word of warning

You may have seen online paraphrasing generators that take an excerpt of text and replace some of the words. These do not work because they do not produce genuine paraphrases. If you use them, it could be seen as misconduct or plagiarism. There really is no shortcut to actually understanding the source and paraphrasing it accurately.

References

Woolworths Limited 2016, Annual Report 2016, viewed 22 June 2017, <https://www.woolworthsgroup.com.au/icms_docs/185865_annual-report-2016.pdf>