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Paraphrasing versus Summarizing

The terms paraphrasing and summarizing often confuse students of English. This is not surprising since the two mean very similar things with just a slight difference. First off, what are paraphrasing and summarizing?

Paraphrasing and summarizing are both indispensable writing tools. They are both techniques of incorporating other writers’ works or ideas into your writing using your own words. Although a writer must always use his/her own ideas when writing, sometimes it becomes necessary to use other writers’ thoughts and concepts. This may be due to one or more of the following reasons:

• To provide support to your own ideas
• To give reasons of why you agree or disagree with something
• To give depth to your writing
• To refer to something that led to your ideas
• To give a point of view which is different from yours 

These same reasons for paraphrasing and summarizing are the cause of the confusion between the two. So what is the difference then?

Paraphrasing is re-writing another writer’s words or ideas in your own words without altering the meaning.  The paraphrase is about the same length as the original since the purpose is to rephrase without leaving out anything, and not to shorten. Summarizing, on the other hand, is putting down the main ideas of someone else’s work in your own words. A summary is always shorter than the original since the idea is to include only the main points of the original work and to leave out the irrelevant. A summary is usually about one-third the size of the original.

Now when should you paraphrase and when should you summarize?

Paraphrase when:

• You want to use another writer’s words without plagiarizing
• You want to use another writer’s words without the use of quotes
• The ideas of the other writer are more important than his/her style
• You think that the words of the other writer are too difficult for your readers

Summarize when:

• You want to identify only the main ideas of the writer
• You want to give an overview of the topic (from several sources)
• You want to simplify a complex argument
• You want to condense the matter to suit your requirement

Whether paraphrasing or summarizing, it is very important to always cite the original work in order to give credit to the source.

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