Change of Preference

Summarising, paraphrasing and quoting

A distinctive characteristic of academic writing is that it is based on reading and research and it discusses the ideas and findings of other writers. As a student writer, therefore, it is essential that you know how to discuss the work of other writers and researchers, and correctly acknowledge their contribution in the papers you submit for assessment.

Integrating information and ideas from sources into your writing is a complex task, involving several skills. There are three ways of using the ideas, research findings and words of others in your writing: summarising, paraphrasing and quoting.

In your paper you should mainly summarise and paraphrase the writers you discuss, and quote only sparingly. It is important to note that you must reference whether you are summarising, paraphrasing or quoting.

The examples below have been created from the following extract:

To write successfully at university you need a sense of what the final product should look and sound like, so if possible, read model assignments or if these are not available, study the way in which journal articles have been written in your specific area. These articles may be lengthy and some may be based on research rather than a discussion of issues, but from them you will get a sense of how academic writing 'sounds', that is, its tone, and also how respected writers in your field assemble information. You will also gain a sense of the complexity of being an apprentice writer in an academic culture, or rather cultures, where expectations may vary from discipline to discipline, even subject to subject and where you can build a repertoire of critical thinking and writing skills that enable you to enter the academic debates, even to challenge. 

Morley-Warner, T 2001, Academic writing is…: a guide to writing in a university context , 2nd edn, CREA Publications, University of Technology Sydney, Lindfield, NSW.

Summarising

It is often useful to summarise a passage, or even an entire article or book. There is no correlation between the length of a text and the length of a summary of it. An entire book can be summarised in one sentence! It all depends on your purpose as a writer. Of course, it is essential to understand the text and have a clear purpose for summarising it.

Below is a summary from the above extract using the Harvard style of referencing.

Morley-Warner (2001, p. 6) suggests that for university students to convey the appropriate academic tone in their assignments, they need to develop the critical thinking and writing skills that will allow them to participate in academic debate.

How has this summary been successfully constructed?

  • Only the main points have been included.
  • The text is condensed without losing the essence of the material. Detailed examples and explanations have been omitted.
  • The summary writer's own words are used, but many of the technical terms remain e.g. 'tone', 'critical thinking'.
  • Reporting verbs ('suggests') are used to discuss and comment on ideas in the text.
  • An appropriate citation is provided (in this case in Harvard style). Page numbers should be provided if the summarised material appears in specific pages, chapters or sections, rather than if the summary is of an entire work.
  • This citation would also have a reference list entry giving full bibliographic details.

Paraphrasing

Paraphrasing is the rewording of a short passage from a text, in roughly the same number of words. As a writer, the passages you choose to paraphrase will depend on its interest and relevance to your paper. Before you paraphrase it is important that you fully understand the passage and have a clear purpose for using it.

Below is a paraphrase from the above extract using the Harvard style of referencing.

Students will come to understand what is required of them in their writing by studying how journal articles are written (Morley-Warner 2001, p. 6). They will also become aware of the different demands of various disciplines and even the different requirements from subject to subject, argues Morley-Warner (2001, p. 6). Through this process, Morley-Warner maintains, students will develop critical thinking and writing skills that will allow them to participate in academic debate and even to challenge ideas.

How has this paraphrase been successfully constructed?

  • Unlike a summary of the main points, this paraphrase rewords a specific passage of text.
  • The sentence structure and the vocabulary of the original have been changed but many of the technical terms remain e.g. 'academic debate', 'critical thinking'.
  • The first sentence introduces the paraphrased material. Reporting verbs ('argues' and 'maintains') are used throughout the paragraph to frame the ideas from the source.
  • In-text citations are given and page numbers are provided.
  • This citation would also have a reference list entry giving full bibliographic details.

Short quotes

A short quote is a sentence or part of a sentence that has been reproduced word for word. The length of a short quote varies; for example it consists of fewer than about 30 words when using the Harvard style and fewer than 40 words when using the APA style. Refer to your recommended style guide for further details.

The following example is formatted in the Harvard style.

Morley-Warner (2001, p. 6) acknowledges the challenges of writing at university. She describes the novice student writer as 'an apprentice writer in an academic culture, or rather cultures, where expectations may vary from discipline to discipline, even subject to subject'.

Points to note:

  • The quote is brief and integrated into the writer's sentence.
  • The writer comments on the quotation, and does not simply reproduce it. Reporting verbs are used ('acknowledges' and 'describes') to introduce and analyse the quotation.
  • Quotation marks are used to indicate the words from the original text. In this case, single quotation marks have been used for Harvard style.
  • The in-text citation includes the family name of the author (no initials), year of publication and page number. It is essential to provide page numbers for quotes.
  • Note that not all styles use in-text citations – refer to specific style guides for more information.
  • This citation would also have a reference list entry giving full bibliographic details.

Longer quotes

A longer quote is referred to as a block quote. The length of a block quote varies; for example it consists of more than about 30 words when using the Harvard style and more than 40 words when using the APA style. Refer to your recommende style guide for further details.

The following example is formatted in the Harvard style.

Morley-Warner discusses how university students can learn to acquire and convey the appropriate academic tone in their assignments. She suggests that students should focus on how journal articles in their subject are written and structured. She describes another benefit of this process:

You will also gain a sense of the complexity of being an apprentice writer in an academic culture, or rather cultures, where expectations may vary from discipline to discipline, even subject to subject and where you can build a repertoire of critical thinking and writing skills that enable you to enter the academic debates, even to challenge. (Morley-Warner 2001, p. 6)

Points to note:

  • The writer introduces the quotation and does not simply reproduce it. The quotation is preceded by a preliminary explanation (the first three sentences).
  • Reporting verbs ('discusses', 'suggests' and 'describes') are used to introduce the material quoted.
  • The in-text citation includes family name of author, (no initials), year of publication and page number. It is essential to provide page numbers for quotes. Not all styles use in-text citations – refer to specific style guides for more information.
  • The quotation is indented – set in from the left margin.
  • The quotation is preceded by a colon. This is common for block quotes but not always necessary.
  • Smaller font size is used for the quote – usually 1 point smaller.
  • Single spacing is used for the quotation; the rest of the paper should use 1.5 spacing or double spacing.
  • No quotation marks are used for block quotes.
  • This citation would also have a reference list entry giving full bibliographic details.
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