Paraphrasing vs. Summarizing: Knowing the Difference

Writers who write informative or academic papers will need to understand the difference between paraphrasing vs. summarizing. Learn more in this article.

Paraphrasing and summarizing are similar writing techniques where an author takes an original passage and puts it into their own words without using the author’s exact words. Yet the goal of these two techniques is different. With one, you rephrase the content in your own words, but you pull out the main ideas and shorten the work with the other.

With both paraphrasing and summarizing, you can use someone else’s ideas in your writing to give it meaning and back up the claims you make. However, you do need to know how to use the tools to properly portray the ideas you wish to convey without falling guilty of plagiarism.

As you work on creating research papers and projects, you’re going to want to know the difference between paraphrasing vs. summarizing. This guide will help you understand how these are different, so you can use the right tool when you need it.

Paraphrasing vs. Summarizing: The Key Is in the Goal

What is the primary difference between summarizing and paraphrasing in your writing? The key is in the goal of your writing.

Both paraphrasing and summarizing are ways to avoid plagiarism in your writing by ensuring you are not using the original author’s exact words, but they are done for different reasons. With paraphrasing, you are rewording the original author’s work, but by summarizing, you boil down the main points into a more concise version of the original post.

The Dangers of Plagiarism

In academic writing, plagiarism is a serious offense. To avoid this offense, you must include a proper citation whenever you have a quote, paraphrase, and summary statement. If the original work is not your idea or something considered common knowledge, it requires a citation.

If you are found guilty of plagiarism, you will have serious repercussions. This often means failing the assignment or even the class in academic settings. You may face expulsion, too.

If you are preparing something for publication, you risk having your work completely discredited. Your reputation as a writer is ruined. While few people go to jail for plagiarism, you could face lawsuits or fines for breaking the law.

The Definition of Paraphrasing

When you paraphrase something, you take the original material and rewrite it, changing the sentence structure or verb tense to say the same thing differently. The new sentence or paragraph will have enough differences that you cannot point out that it came from the source material.

This process is different from a direct quote. With a direct quote, you use the same wording, word for word, and put it in quotation marks. With a paraphrase, you have no wording that is the same, but instead, you use synonyms and new sentence structure to make it your own. However, the meaning of the original text stays consistent.

Paraphrased works in academic writing still require a citation using the APA or MLA format, depending on the assignment. The original idea still comes from the original author, and you can’t take that and claim it as your own without proper citation.

When to Paraphrase

The best time to paraphrase is when you want to show that you can read someone else’s ideas but then put them in your own words. It shows that you understand the concepts and ideas you are writing about. You still want to credit the original author, but you don’t want to make a paper or article from quotes.

Paraphrasing shows that you understand the concepts of your sources. If you can paraphrase well, you have a clear grasp of the topic.

The Definition of Summarizing

Paraphrasing vs. Summarizing
Summaries, like paraphrases, do not require quotation marks

Summarizing is done when the original writer’s work is lengthy, and you need the main points, but not a direct quotation or full sentences that copy the meaning. For example, if you are using an entire chapter of a book as a resource for one point in a paragraph, you aren’t going to be able to include all of the ideas from the book. Instead, you will simplify those ideas into something shorter, keeping the main points intact and concisely expressing them.

Summaries, like paraphrases, do not require quotation marks. You won’t use quotation marks even if the main headings or points are repeated in your work. However, you will cite the original author and the original article or book using proper formatting.

When to Summarize

A summary works well when you have a large chunk of text you want to pull the main ideas from in your piece. It allows you to get to the main idea of the author’s piece, only pulling out what is necessary for you to make your point. It provides background information to the reader, as well.

Summaries also work well if you need just the main points of the writer’s work instead of all of the added material. This strategy works particularly well when you need to argue a point and want to use an entire work to do so but do not have enough space to quote the source material.

Similarities Between Paraphrasing and Summarizing

Though they are different, paraphrases and summaries have some similarities. Both allow writers to use other writers’ ideas in their pieces. They both make concepts easier to understand or help them flow in the writer’s own words and writing style. Both keep the passage’s main ideas in place even while changing the wording or shortening the piece.

Paraphrasing and Summarizing Often Go Hand in Hand

In academic writing, you will often paraphrase and summarize source materials in the same work. Sometimes, the author’s ideas are already concise, so all you need to do is restate them in your writing. This is paraphrasing.

Sometimes, the author’s ideas are too lengthy for you to include in your work as they are. In these cases, simplification is necessary to flow with your work. Thus, you will summarize.

Paraphrases and summaries are also preferred over direct quotes. They allow you to show your writing skills and ability to pull ideas from someone else’s works without relying entirely on the other writer’s work.

Creating a Works Cited or Bibliography Page

After you finish your writing, you will need to include a list of all of the works you used to create it. This bibliography or works cited page will have formatting based on the publication manual used in the assignment. It will include all of the books, articles, and journals you used to write the essay or paper, whether you quoted, summarized, or paraphrased.

Paraphrasing vs. Summarizing: Both Make Your Writing Stronger

Most writing will borrow from another person’s ideas and even words, as long as the author properly cites and credits the original author. Paraphrasing and summaries are tools writers use to use the ideas of others without copying them directly effectively.

Anyone can copy and paste work from other writers to put together an informative paper or paragraph. Quotes have their place, as they can give the writing a sense of authority and provide strong evidence that the claims you make are valid. However, it takes a skilled writer to summarize or paraphrase the works of other writers.

Both summaries and paraphrases make writing stronger and show that you clearly understand the materials you used in your research. Most academic papers are a mixture of paraphrases, summaries, and quotes. All three require citations, but you will find that paraphrasing and summarizing allow you to put your flair into the writing.

Paraphrasing Vs. Summarizing: Key Points

Paraphrasing and summarizing both offer a way to use someone else’s idea as your own in your writing. Paraphrasing transforms the writing into your own words but keeps the same basic length and idea in writing. Summarizing condenses the writing into its main points.

Both paraphrasing and summarizing require proper citation because the idea comes from another writing. You can use your research skills to write engaging essays and papers with these tools. 

If you are interested in learning more, check out our paraphrasing vs. plagiarism guide!

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