Academic Writing

Reporting - paraphrase, summary & synthesis

Paraphrase

Paraphrasing is writing the ideas of another person in your own words. Paraphrasing is useful when you are using the work of others to support your own view. See Writing Functions 18: Supporting

When paraphrasing, you need to change the words and the structure but keep the meaning the same. Please remember, though, that even when you paraphrase someone's work, you must acknowledge it. See Writing: Citation

Look at this example:

Source

It has long been known that Cairo is the most populous city on earth, but no-one knew exactly how populous it was until last month.

Paraphrase

Although Cairo has been the world's most heavily populated city for many years, the precise population was not known until four weeks ago.

The following stages may be useful:

  1. Read and understand the text.
  2. Make a list of the main ideas.
    1. Find the important ideas - the important words/phrases. In some way mark them - write them down, underline or highlight them.
    2. Find alternative words/synonyms for these words/phrases - do not change specialised vocabulary and common words.
  3. Change the structure of the text.
    1. Identify the meaning relationships between the words/ideas - e.g. cause/effect, generalisation, contrast. Look at Writing Paragraphs Signalling for more information.
    2. Express these relationships in a different way.
    3. Change the grammar of the text: change nouns to verbs, adjectives to adverbs, etc., break up long sentences, combine short sentences.
  4. Rewrite the main ideas in complete sentences. Combine your notes into a piece of continuous writing.
  5. Check your work.
    1. Make sure the meaning is the same.
    2. Make sure the length is the same.
    3. Make sure the style is your own.
    4. Remember to acknowledge other people's work.

1. Read and understand the text. See Reading Strategies Introduction for help here.

2. Find the important ideas, write down the important words/phrases and find alternative words, or synonyms. Keep specialised vocabulary and common words.

Examples:

  1. Paul Ekman from the University of California has conducted a long series of experiments on how nonverbal behaviour may reveal real inner states.
    Paul Ekman who works at the University of California has performed a sequence of investigations on the way nonverbal behaviour may disclose real internal conditions.
  2. There are reckoned to be over 4,000 plant species used by forest dwellers as food and medicine alone. 
    There are calculated to be more than 4,000 plant species utilised by forest inhabitants just as foodstuffs and drugs.
  3. Memory is the capacity for storing and retrieving information.
    Memory is the facility for keeping and recovering data.
  4. Research and publications are accumulating in each of the four fields of anthropology at an exponential rate. 
    Studies and books are gathering in all of the four areas of anthropology at a very fast speed.
  5. It is worth looking at one or two aspects of the way a mother behaves towards her baby.
    It is useful to observe several features of how a mother acts when she is with her small child.

Note: This is not enough by itself. You also need to change the words and the structure of the text.

3a/b. Identify the meaning relationships in the text and express them in a different way.

Examples:

  1. Many invertebrates, on the other hand, such as snails and worms and crustacea, have a spiral pattern of cleavage. 
    In contrast, many invertebrates, such as snails and worms and crustacea, have a spiral pattern of cleavage.
  2. Similarly, the muscles will not grow in length unless they are attached to tendons and bones so that as the bones lengthen, they are stretched. 
    Likewise, if the muscles are not attached to tendons and bones so that as the bones lengthen, they are stretched, they will not grow in length.
  3. Besides being a theory about the basis and origin of knowledge and the contents of our minds in general, empiricism is also sometimes a methodology. 
    Not only is empiricism a theory about the basis and origin of knowledge and the contents of our minds in general, it also sometimes a methodology.
  4. As opposed to this, Locke is often supposed to be saying that, in addition to properties, things have a "substratum" which "supports" their properties. 
    Locke is often supposed to be saying, on the other hand, that, in addition to properties, things have a "substratum" which "supports" their properties.
  5. Consequently in a sense one may speak of the Common Law as unwritten law in contrast with Statute Law, which is written law. 
    In a sense, therefore, one may speak of the Common Law as unwritten law in contrast with Statute Law, which is written law.

Note: This is not enough by itself. You also need to change the structure of the text.

3b/c. Change the grammar of the text:

For example:

  1. change nouns to verbs
    1. This rewriting of history was not so much a matter of a new start. 
      This rewriting of history was not so much a matter of starting again.
    2. Here he lives with the labourers in one of the barrack rooms, and out of his small earnings makes a start at having a house built. 
      Here he lives with the labourers in one of the barrack rooms, and out of his small earnings starts to have a house built.
  2. change verbs to nouns
    1. The Normans invaded in 1066. 
      The Norman invasion took place in 1066.
    2. The bomb exploded and caused many casualties.
      The explosion caused many casualties.
  3. change adverbs to adjectives
    1. He wrote frequently. 
      He wrote on frequent occasions.
    2. Politically, it was a bad decision. 
      From a political point of view, it was a bad decision.
  4. change active verbs to passive
    1. We can relate a study of this kind to texts in other media too 
      A study of this kind can be related to texts in other media too.
    2. In this treatment the teacher can use a variety of techniques to elicit the language learners already know. 
      In this treatment a variety of techniques is used to elicit the language learners already know.
  5. break up sentences
    1. Given the extent to which deforestation increased markedly in the four southern states during 1987 and 1988, it is heartening news that during the early part of the 1989 dry season the burning seemed to have been curtailed somewhat, due to a combination of policy changes, better controls on burning, and most important of all an exceptionally wet "dry" season. 
      Deforestation increased markedly in the four southern states during 1987 and 1988. On account of this, it is heartening news that during the early part of the 1989 dry season the burning seemed to have been curtailed somewhat. The reason for this is a combination of policy changes, better controls on burning, and most important of all an exceptionally wet "dry" season.
    2. In 1851 the average family size was 4.7, roughly the same as it had been in the seventeenth century, but the 1½ million couples who married during the 1860s, which the historian G. M. Young described as the best decade in English history to have been brought up in, raised the figure to 6.2.
      In 1851 the average family size was 4.7, roughly the same as it had been in the seventeenth century. However, the 1½ million couples who married during the 1860s, which the historian G. M. Young described as the best decade in English history to have been brought up in, raised the figure to 6.2.
  6. combine sentences
    1. Tropical forests are defined here as evergreen or partly evergreen forests. They grow in areas receiving not less than 100 mm of precipitation in any month for two out of three years. The mean annual temperature is 24-plus degrees Celsius. The area is essentially frost-free. 
      Tropical forests are defined here as evergreen or partly evergreen forests, in areas receiving not less than 100 mm of precipitation in any month for two out of three years, with mean annual temperature of 24-plus degrees Celsius, and essentially frost-free.
    2. The third National Government followed upon the resignation of the Liberal ministers and of the free trader, Snowden. This happened in September 1932. After this it became little more than a Conservative government. A few ex-Labour and Liberal politicians were added. They all owed their seats to an electoral pact with the Conservatives.
      The third National Government followed upon the resignation of the Liberal ministers and of the free trader, Snowden, in September 1932, after which it became little more than a Conservative government, with the addition of a few ex-Labour and Liberal politicians, all owing their seats to an electoral pact with the Conservatives.

Note: This is not enough by itself. You also need to change the words and the structure of the text.