How to Choose between Summarizing or Paraphrasing
So you have to explain a text you’ve been given. You will most likely have to summarize (or sum up) the text, or else paraphrase (or rephrase) it. This is a challenging task, one that calls for selection of method. But do you know whether to summarize or paraphrase? Do you know the difference and when to use which? It’s a tricky trap that can make answering a prompt correctly much more difficult. For those of you struggling, we offer some helpful tips to know whether you need to summarize or paraphrase, and how to do both. You’ll find it much easier after you’re through with them.
Summarizing and Paraphrasing
First, it’s important that you know that both summarizing and paraphrasing involve capturing the essence of an idea and getting it down on paper in different words. The key here is ‘different words’; if you don’t want to be accused of plagiarism, it’s very important to make sure your text is distinct. The best way to do this is to make notes on the point of the sentence, rather than directly copying what it says. That way you can involve even an unconscious urge to copy the author’s original point.
Now, onto the question of differentiation. To refresh what was said in the introduction, summarizing is summing up a text. To summarize, you will consider the whole and then produce something that explains it in your own words. Paraphrasing, however, is simply rephrasing individual sections, rather than the whole. Think of it like baking. Summarizing is like using all the same ingredients to make a totally different kind of cookie. Paraphrasing, by contrast, is changing the ingredients to produce essentially the same cookie.
Basically, when you’re paraphrasing, you’re going piece by piece. For instance, maybe you want to paraphrase an article that discusses the merits of vampires vs werewolves. With paraphrasing, you would go through and rephrase each sentence or paragraph, depending on how long the piece is. By contrast, with a summary, you’ll read the entire thing and then produce an entirely new piece. The order, the structure, and the writing style will probably be totally different.
When to Use Summarizing or Paraphrasing
You might now be wondering how to figure out which one you should be using. Consider that summarizing is much more condensed. With summarizing, it is possible to learn how to summarize a poem. It’s difficult, and it takes practice, but you can do it. You are allowed to leave out unimportant things for the sake of brevity. Generally, however, a paraphrased section is going to be similar in length to the original. You can leave out a few things, but you’ll keep in far more than you’ll remove.
Thus, the main question you need to answer when wondering which to use is ‘how much of the source do I need to go into?’ Paraphrasing is usually used only when you are taking smaller sections. You might, for instance, be citing an author’s book for your paper. You would paraphrase only a small piece of the book– not the whole thing! Small sections are likewise difficult to summarize because there’s not much to sum up. So, if you have to do a small chunk, use paraphrasing. If you have to do a larger one, or even a whole text, use a summary.
Summarizing vs Paraphrasing Key Tip
Whether you need to summarize or paraphrase, just remember that the difference is in the degree of deconstruction! Are you taking it apart a little, or a lot? This can help you choose. However, if you’re still struggling and don’t know how to write a perfect summary, don’t hesitate to reach out to someone more knowledgeable. What seems daunting on your own can often be much easier with just a little bit of assistance. A teacher, professor, or even a friend can offer advice. And with a staff of experienced authors, we can too. We have all been students, and thus we understand the expectations laid on them. If you need exercises and assistance, we are a great place to turn.