How to Summarize and Paraphrase

Updated on May 22, 2016
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Kymberly has taught in music, programming, and natural languages for over 15 years. She is crazily passionate about learning!

Summarizing is a very important skill in today's fast-paced world. Being able to convey the most important information concisely and accurately, without wasting any time or causing misunderstandings, is a skill that many managers prize in their employees, and many employees appreciate in their managers.

Paraphrasing is equally important, as it is often used to check understanding of a task or problem. If you can paraphrase accurately and simply, many misunderstandings can be prevented.

Writing well is not only useful for school essays!
Writing well is not only useful for school essays! | Source

Summarizing

Summaries omit the detail, and focus on the core, most important points in a longer piece of information. They are top-down, birds-eye views, and are used in all aspects of our lives.

When studying, summarizing is important for note taking, for the same reasons as paraphrasing - it helps link new information to existing information, and cements the most important information in our thoughts. Being able to summarize lengthy articles or papers and link them together, provides the best background or base for a research report.

By learning how to summarize, we are also training ourselves to recognize important information quickly. This is especially useful and time-saving when skimming articles, papers, or websites for information that required to solve a problem.

In the workplace, being able to summarize can save time, when checking your understanding of a task, describing a problem, preparing reports, or recommending solutions to problems. Meetings run faster, and documents are concise and clear.

Advertising is one form that we are exposed to all the time. Only the important (useful) features of a product are noted, usually in very short phrases, designed to catch out attention and desire.

We summarize for our families and friends all the time - instead of explaining every single detail of a trip recently taken or a movie recently seen, we choose to explain only the highlights. Or when giving directions, we explain only the most important decision points (not every street lamp or graffitied wall). Or even when we write notes for our parents to follow, so they don't forget how to access and use their email!

Summarization In Any Subject: 50 Techniques To Improve Student Learning
Summarization In Any Subject: 50 Techniques To Improve Student Learning

Summarization helps students learn more effectively, but teaching it can be hard. This book is full of techniques and tips for teaching (and learning) the skill of summarizing, with exercises at the end, and a small but important section on paraphrasing.

 

Summarizing tips

Do:

  • use your own words.
  • only note the most important points, using key words and phrases.
  • read the original text multiple times, ensuring you don't miss any critical points.
  • ensure a summary is much shorter than the original source.
  • include the original source in the references for a written document.
  • read widely and try to develop a summary or the article/book in your head as you read.

Don't:

  • include unnecessary details, examples or supporting information.
  • include your own opinions or thoughts.
  • repeat phrases word for word - this is plagiarism.

How do you take notes?

See results

Mind-maps and other concise graphical representations of information are also summaries, and can be used for learning new information, and also for planning documents or speeches. Pictures and graphics may be used to make notes in summary form more memorable.

One person's summary will never be the same as another's, as each individual has their own ideas of what information is most important. It is important that language teachers allow for this difference, when planning tasks that require summarization skills.

Paraphrasing

Describing information that you have read or heard using your own words is paraphrasing. When a text has been well paraphrased, all of the details in the original text should be retained and should have the same meaning. It is much longer than a summary, which contains only the most important information.

Every person learns differently, they have different background knowledge. When a student learns something new, they build on existing knowledge. Writing notes in their own words links the new information much more solidly and clearly to their existing knowledge, and is therefore less likely to be forgotten.

It vitally important that teachers are able to paraphrase, to ensure explanations or sections of textbooks are understood by each student. It is common for teachers to have to present the same information in many ways, before the entire class understands.

In the workplace, you can paraphrase a question or task to confirm your understanding of the problem. This saves time and avoids conflict when action is taken based on misunderstood requirements - how often have you heard (or said) "But I thought you meant ... !"

Tips for paraphrasing

Do:

  • use your own words, synonyms or synonym phrases.
  • change the order of the information, change the grammar and sentence structure.
  • keep the meaning, as well as the emphasis on and relationships between main and supporting points the same.
  • reference the original text when paraphrasing written material.

Don't:

  • repeat the information word for word, or change a word here and there, leaving most of the text and the sentence order the same - this is plagiarism.
  • add your own opinions or thoughts - the information should be the same as in the original source.

Everyone will paraphrase differently, just as everyone uses language differently. Teachers (and managers or parents) can ask students to paraphrase information or task instructions, to check that students have understood correctly.

Summarizing, Paraphrasing, and Retelling: Skills for Better Reading, Writing, and Test Taking
Summarizing, Paraphrasing, and Retelling: Skills for Better Reading, Writing, and Test Taking

Another fantastic resource for teachers and students who want to focus on building summarizing and paraphrasing skills for reading comprehension, better writing and test results at high school and beyond. Especially good for teachers or parents of students with disabilities, who have many problems with these skills.

 

Use paraphrasing and summarizing together

Combining the skills of paraphrasing and summarizing will save time and make great impressions in a workplace, where effective communication is highly valued.

They are vitally important when studying, both for note taking and report writing. By summarizing and paraphrasing you demonstrate a full understanding of the topic, identify the most important information, and explain using your own words.

Paraphrasing and summarizing helps you learn languages much faster!
Paraphrasing and summarizing helps you learn languages much faster! | Source

When learning languages

Summarizing and paraphrasing both help with language acquisition, linking words and phrases together and improving retention of new vocabulary.

Learning and remembering new vocabulary is a problem faced by most students. By regularly paraphrasing sentences, thoughts, and questions in the language you are learning, you will increase your vocabulary, encourage quick recall of words and develop a more fluent grasp of target language's grammar.

Summarizing longer articles or speeches also helps in a number of ways, as more attention is paid to the grammar and words to find the most important information. New words and unfamiliar grammar forms have a higher chance to be remembered, when they have been simplified in a summary.

Other short note-taking skills such as mind-mapping can also help with vocabulary building, but work best when combined with paraphrasing to link the new knowledge to existing, and reinforce sentence grammar.

Avoiding plagiarism

One of the biggest problems for teachers in secondary and further education is plagiarism. Incorrectly paraphrased, copied sections of text from books or the internet mean that many students will fail or lose marks at some time during their studies.

Even years on, plagiarism can catch up with you. Politicians and high ranking officials in universities and companies regularly lose their positions when it is found out that portions of their university work were plagiarized. Even the vice-chancellor of my university in Australia lost his job because he copied work!


It's important that students learn how to paraphrase, summarize and present information in their own words to avoid being in such a situation. Parents and teachers have a responsibility to educate younger children, and discourage them from taking the 'easy-way-out' and copying information.

These skills are most easily taught in the context of language classes, but are used in all subjects. You can also model these skills to children - paraphrasing and summarizing what they have just told you.

No teacher wants to fail a student due to plagiarism, but I once had to fail nearly an entire class!
No teacher wants to fail a student due to plagiarism, but I once had to fail nearly an entire class! | Source

Comments

How did you learn how to summarize and paraphrase?
How do you improve these skills?
Let us know in the comments below!

Questions & Answers

    Comments

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      • profile image

        Florence 

        2 months ago

        There is need to apply this in our essay writing very good content .

      • profile image

        Khalid 

        8 months ago

        thanks for your information and I appriciate your effort

      • profile image

        EricRoth18 

        4 years ago

        Thank you for sharing this insightful, practical article on a frequently neglected skill.

        As you suggest, summarizing and paraphrasing is a crucial skill in both writing and speaking - yet many remain unaware of its importance. We can't retell an entire movie so we have to summarize the plot and give a compelling movie review in a few sentences (or minutes) in daily conversation. Many language learners find this skill particularly difficult to master!

      • nifwlseirff profile imageAUTHOR

        Kymberly Fergusson 

        6 years ago from Villingen Schwenningen, Germany

        denkmuskel - mindmapping and drawing help a lot of people, and are excellent for science-type subjects. I found I learned best in high school when I summarized my (already summarized) notes - it distilled the information down and made me remember it. I couldn't do that easily in maths, and I forgot it two years after leaving school.

        For learning languages I think summarizing/paraphrasing/mindmapping essential!

      • denkmuskel profile image

        Michael Schmitz 

        6 years ago from Berlin

        I did a lot of mindmapping when I returned to school (Kolleg, so called 2. Bildungsweg in Germany). Actually I almost exclusively did that and passed my Exams with an A-. Though I do not really think that the technique was the most important key to my success I guess it really helped in getting to the core of things. Ever since then I haven't used it at all and at university I started to take notes and scribble around them. I did boxes, circles, lil drawings anything that made it visually more attractive for me. I must say that I almost never remembered much when I reviewed my notes, neither at that first mentioned school, nor at university when they were older than a month as I would have lost the connection to their meaning. Especially when they were taken during a lecture. But as it turned out, I knew enough of what I needed to know, so I was fine again ;)

      • cbpoet profile image

        cbpoet 

        6 years ago from Las Vegas, Nevada

        Good read. These are techniques that are required of me on a daily basis in consultative sales. It's nice to read about it from another person's perspective.

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