Paraphrasing and Summarizing



By writing a careful paraphrase, you will clarify for yourself the full meaning of another writer's statements. In the process of writing a paraphrase, you must pay close attention to the meaning of the original passage in order to reproduce that meaning in your own words. Substituting synonyms for individual words and rearranging the sentence structure will help you find a new way to express the original meaning. Paraphrasing not only will help you increase your own understanding of a particular passage but will allow you to communicate the meaning of that passage to others. In your own writing, you will frequently include a paraphrase, particularly when you need to refer to another writer's work in the course of making your own original statements. The paraphrase is a skill useful for both reading accurately, when you want to take precise notes on what you have read, and for writing, when you want to reproduce other writer's ideas.

Example 1: Opening sentence of the Gettysburg Address by Abraham Lincoln

original: Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Step One: Use of Synonyms

Eighty-seven years before now, our ancestors founded in North America a new country, thought of in freedom and based on the principle that all people are born with the same rights.

Step Two: Restructuring the Sentence

Our ancestors thought of freedom when they founded a new country in North America eighty-seven years ago. They based their thinking on the principle that all people are born with the same rights.

Example 2: from V.A. Firsoff, Strange World of the Moon (1959)

original: The moon is a small world and the diameter of 2,160 miles gives her a volume equal to 1/49 of the Earth's. Yet whether we explore her vicariously through a telescope or at some future date directly, it is her surface rather than her volume that will concern us first and foremost. This equals about 1/4 of our planet's total superficial area or approximately 10 million square miles. Moreover, most of the terrestrial globe is under water, only 57,500,000 square miles being dry land, while the moon has no seas. Thus she has over 1/6 of the total combined area of our continents, counting Antarctica, to offer to the explorers who first make a successful landing among her rather forbidding mountain landscape.

paraphrase: The moon's size is less than that of most heavenly bodies. The Earth is forty-nine times the volume of the moon, which measures 2,160 across. But when we observe the moon either at our current distance through a telescope or in the future when we land on it, what we notice first--and are primarily interested in--is the exterior, not the interior. The surface of the earth is only fourteen times the roughly ten million square mile surface of the moon. Because less than half (only 57,500,000 square miles) of the earth's surface is not covered by seas and oceans, which do not exist on the moon, the dry surface of the earth, even including Antartica, is less than six times the dry surface of the moon.

Try the next example on your own.

Example 3: from Keith Sward, Legend of Henry Ford (1976)

original: In his first effort as knight errant, Ford ran up the standard of a militant pacifist. His debut in world politics began in summer of 1915 when the European war was entering its second year. His first skirmishes over new terrain were purely verbal. They took the form of statements to the press that were studded with passionate denunciations of war. Most of these bristling manifestos were, in reality, the work of Theodore Delavigne, a Detroit newspaper reporter, whom Ford engaged as his pamphleteer and "peace secretary." Issued in the name of his distinguished patron, Delaigne's broadsides were all the more newsworthy in that Ford was swimming upstream. Wall Street had already forged an alliance with France and Britain. Pro-British sentiment was deep-seated in America. The advocates of military preparedness were in the saddle. Against such a combination of social forces, Ford flung himself headlong.

Step One: Use of Synonyms




Step Two: Restructuring the Sentence






A summary will help you understand the major direction, the main points, and the overall shape of the more detailed original text. A summary restates the essence of the original in as few words as possible. In writing a summary, you focus on the most important statements of the original passage and eliminate less important material. Producing a summary involves selection and deletion followed by gathering the main points into coherent sentences. Like paraphrase, summary can be used for many purposes: to understand the main points and structure of an author's argument, to convey that understanding to others, to present background information quickly, and to refer to another writer's ideas in the course of your own original statement.

Example 1: from Richard Deming, Sleep: Our Unknown Life (1972)

Original (with selected passages underlined):

Unlike human subjects, animal subjects in the sleep laboratory obviously cannot be awakened and asked what they were dreaming. So until relatively recently it was impossible to state with absolute certainty that any animal actually dreamed. Then, by a happy accident, experimenters obtained pretty solid evidence that at least one animal has dreams.

A team of researchers at the University of Pittsburgh was attempting to find out if sleep loss would cause hallucinations (or microsleep dreams, if Dr. Ralph Berger's theory is correct) in monkeys, as it did in human beings. The initial procedure was to strap each monkey to a chair inside what had originally been a telephone booth. A projection screen was placed directly in front of the monkey, and colored slides were periodically shown on it. Each time a slide was projected, the monkey received an electric shock unless it repeatedly pressed a bar in front of it.

All the monkeys used in the experiment quickly learned to avoid the shock by pressing the bar. They pressed it on an average of fifty times a minute whenever an image appeared on the screen.

After a monkey had learned its lessons and had been thoroughly deprived of sleep, the researchers fitted it with contact lenses that dimmed its vision without completely blinding it. They left the screen in place, but projected no more slides onto it. Then they waited for the monkey to develop hallucinations and start pressing the bar.

Unfortunately for the purposes of the experiment, all the animals went to sleep. Each time they put a different monkey in the converted telephone booth, the same thing happened. Finally, as the experimenters ruefully watched one of the monkeys through the viewing window, it passed into deep sleep, then back up into REM sleep -- and suddenly, in its sleep, began furiously pressing the lever.

Obviously the monkey was seeing images in its sleep, which could only mean that it was dreaming. Therefore, while the experiment failed in its initial purpose, it did prove something equally important -- that at least one animal, the monkey, has dreams during sleep.


Definite evidence of dreams in any animal is only recent. In an experiment on hallucinations caused by sleep loss, monkeys had to press a bar to avoid shock when slides, shown periodically, appeared. Trained in this manner, the monkeys were deprived of sleep, had their vision dimmed, and were placed before the screen, but no slides were projected. Although falling into REM sleep, one monkey repeatedly pressed the bar, apparently seeing images and, therefore, dreaming.

Try the next example on your own.


Example 2: from Mort Rosenblum, Coups and Earthquakes: Reporting the World for America (1979)

Original (please underline main points you select):

News organizations respond differently when direct measures are imposed. When former Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi insisted that Western reporters sign a list of guidelines for coverage, there were three reactions. Some refused to sign and left the country in a blaze of integrity; some signed and respected the restrictions; and others signed and paid no attention to them. Correspondents who stayed and ignored the guidelines say they pulled no punches. But some editors who followed events closely said they detected a slightly tempered tone.

The imposition of self-censorship can be more damaging than direct measures. Many authorities will let correspondents file whatever they want, but they react harshly if they are unhappy with what is reported. This was called the "File now, die later" policy in Chile after the 1973 coup. Faced with undefined threats, reporters may inadvertently withhold sensitive information by convincing themselves that their perfectly reliable sources are not good enough. And the more timid deliberately omit material that might well have gotten by an official censor.

A number of foreign editors tell their correspondents to ignore pressures and report frankly. Should they get thrown out, they will be reassigned somewhere else. But other editors prefer that their correspondents do not risk getting thrown out except on the biggest of stories. An expulsion is not necessarily a badge of honor. Often authorities will not allow news organizations to replace ejected corespondents. News agencies can be particularly sensitive if they sell their news and photos to local papers in the country. AP and UPI policy is to report the news, whatever the consequences, but local bureau chiefs and correspondents are sometimes reluctant to jeopardize agency income by risking having their offices closed down. Regardless of an organization's policy, correspondents know that if they provoke the wrath of hard-line rulers, they could suffer a fate worse than expulsion.




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