Paraphrase vs Summary: Which is Best for Your Writing?

When it comes to writing original material, you likely need to do some research to get the words exactly right. There are two main options you can use outside of direct quotations from your source material: paraphrase and summary. Both can help you elaborate on your main points and get key ideas across to your reader. How do you know whether you should use paraphrase vs summary?

Here is a quick guide to help you find the perfect method of sharing your main ideas with the world.

Paraphrase vs Summary: The Basics

Both paraphrasing and summarizing are great ways to put another author’s text into your own words. Here is a breakdown of what you can expect from each one.

What is Paraphrasing?

Paraphrasing is the act of taking an author’s argument and putting it into your own words. It should include attention to detail when it comes to relating to the original key points included in the text. In other words, it should be about the same length and specificity as that text, though it will be written in your own words.

Paraphrasing is designed to convey one aspect of the original passage in greater detail without using direct quotations.

When compared to a summary, paraphrasing is a little more specific and tends to be longer. If you want to use the entire source material to support your argument in your paper or blog post, then it might be more beneficial to summarize your sources.

What is Summary?

A summary is a little different than paraphrasing, but it shares some of the same attributes. Most notably, you will share the key points of the original material in your own words. On the other hand, this method is designed to highlight the entirety of a document in just a few short sentences.

To summarize effectively, you will need to boil down a document for its most essential main ideas and share just these in your own words. It should be a short passage with a broad overview of the original source.

Think big picture as you make a condensed version that is significantly shorter than paraphrasing. Check out our article on how to write a summary of an article for more guidance.

When to Use Paraphrase vs Summary

When should you choose one over the other to relay a passage in your own words?

Paraphrasing is best used when you are working with a challenging passage.

While you don’t want to use the author’s words, it allows you to get lots of detail and specificity in your work when paraphrasing a source’s argument. You can draw on specifics as long as you aren’t using exact words.

If you have a hard time distilling it down into a shorter format, paraphrasing is likely what you will do.

However, there are times when you just want to use the author’s position for your paper. If you can get it down to a couple of brief sentences, then this is likely considered a summary. It won’t have nearly the same level of detail as a paraphrase, but it can be equally helpful in establishing your position.

When to Use Exact Words and Quotations

Sometimes, you won’t be able to get the main idea from your original source into your own words. You should always give credit to an author when you want to use their words. If you struggle to put the findings into your own words or the phrasing is already perfect to support your paper or blog post, then exact quotations are likely the better choice.

Always remember to put quotation marks around a direct quote and to use parenthetical citations at the end of the sentence to give credit.

How to Cite Sources for Paraphrase and Summary

After you paraphrase or summarize the main idea of a piece, you should feel responsible for giving credit where credit is due. In other words, you need to know how to cite your original text. The good news is that both paraphrasing and summarizing are cited the same way in both MLA and APA formats.

In MLA format, you will include a parenthetical citation using the author’s last name and the page number from which you are quoting (if applicable). If the author’s name is not available, it will be the title of the piece with the page numbers.

In APA format, you will typically use a parenthetical citation with the author’s last name and the year the original material was published.

Tips to Set Yourself Up for Success with Summary & Paraphrasing

The best thing you can do to get your wording just right is to prepare to summarize and paraphrase from the very beginning. You need to set yourself up for success using some of these tips to get the meaning of the article across in your own writing.

Not to mention, these tips can help you learn how to write faster so that you can get more done in less time!

Write it While You Read

When you are reading a work that you know you will want to reference, try taking notes on it and writing the main idea in your own words on notecards. This allows you to have something to reference when you go to do your writing and puts you at a lesser risk of unconsciously stealing the exact words of your source.

Better yet, you should close the original source on your computer or book and then write your notes.

Go back and reread the source to make sure you got the ideas right, and then read your notes to make sure you didn’t subconsciously rewrite their exact wording. If you can, write your piece right away with the right parenthetical citations.

Bulletpoint Notes

Another thing you can do as you go is to take bullet-point notes about the main point of each text. Later, you can go back through and put this into sentences and paragraphs when the main source material is no longer directly in front of you. This gives you much better odds of shaping the text into something that sounds more like you.

Finding Direct Quotes

If you find that there is a direct quote or details that you want to include, then you can also jot these down and make notes that you want to use their argument from this passage. Include the page number where the direct quote is from so that you have it for reference later.

Final Thoughts: Should You Use Paraphrase vs Summary?

Should you paraphrase and summarize in your next piece? Most of the time, we don’t have all of the ideas completely on our own to make a standout argument for any particular viewpoint. Instead, you can draw on the work of experts — as long as you are accurately citing your sources and giving credit where credit is due.

Next time you need to write something, be sure to refer back to this handy guide to get the details of your subject just right!

Don’t forget to check out this page on the best proofreading services to ensure your sources are cited correctly!

Tran Danh

Tran Danh

I'm Tran Danh, the author behind Smart Passive Income (SPI), a blog dedicated to online business and entrepreneurship. I started this blog in 2008, following in the footsteps of Pat Flynn, the founder. Being one of the leading business blogs globally, SPI attracts over 2 million readers each month. Through my content, I aim to assist individuals in generating passive income from various online sources. Join me on this transformative journey as we delve into the world of online business and uncover the strategies and tactics that have led to tremendous success for myself and countless others.

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