Paraphrasing

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One of the most important things in Academic English is to be able to refer to other people’s writing without copying. In fact, it is one of the essential skills at university.

I am interested in how universities can help students to adapt to university life and I found an article about how one university did some research into supporting students by texting them on their mobile phones. Think about that for a moment – would you like your teachers, tutors and administrative support staff to text you on your phone saying things like: “Don’t forget to hand your essay in!” or “Tomorrow’s lecture is in room 113” ?

Here is a paragraph from that article:

“Our findings show that text messaging is the dominant mode of electronic communication amongst our student sample and that text messages from university staff, if used sensitively and sparingly, are viewed positively by students. We also found that text messaging is integral to students’ every day social relationships and provides peer support in two areas: support to help them negotiate administrative structures and emotional support. However, the interviews also show that, in both areas, during the period of transition to university, students need more support than that which peers are able to provide. ”

Harley D, Winn S, Pemberton S, and Wilcox P (2007) Using texting to support students’ transition to university, Innovation in Education and Teaching International, Vol 44, No 3, August 2007, pp229-241

I want to use these ideas in my writing so I need to paraphrase this material.

Step one: understand the material thoroughly before you paraphrase it. Sounds obvious to me, but I find sometimes that students write down some things that they don’t actually understand! You cannot put something into different words if you do not understand the original. Use a dictionary, make an appointment with your language support teacher and ask them questions. Ask a friend.

Step two: make notes. This means that you will isolate the important points. A paraphrase is usually shorter than the original, so it is often like a summary of the main points in your own words.

My notes from the paragraph above look like this:

1. texting = dominant mode of elect. comm. for sts

2. sts like texts fr staff

3. texting = integral to sts social relationships

4. texting = peer support = 1. in administrative structures 2. emotionally

5. sts need more support than just from peers

Step three: Look at your notes and try to put them into sentences. This is my first attempt:

Harley et al (2007) found that texting is the main way students communicate electronically and that students generally like getting texts from staff. Texting is essential for personal relationships and provides peer support for administrative and emotional matters. Students need more than peer support.

Step four: Compare your writing with the original. I wrote

text messaging is essential for personal relationships

the original was:

text messaging is integral to students’ everyday social relationships

Oops! Too close to the original – the sentence structure and many of the words are the same. I need to think again. Actually now I look at my writing I see that these ideas:

texting is the main way students communciate electronically

and

texting is essential for personal relationships

are very similar. In fact both these sentences are talking about how important texting is in students’ friendships. So, put these sentences together to get the idea:

Harley et al (2007) found that texting plays a vital role in students’ social lives.

Now we are getting somewhere! That’s a paraphrase – the essential meaning is drawn out but the words are totally different because I am not paraphrasing sentence by sentence.

Step five: Write your paraphrase again! This is my next attempt:

Harley et al (2007) found that texting plays a vital role in students’ social lives and that students generally welcome texts from university staff. Texting provides peer support for administrative and emotional matters. Peer support is not sufficient.

Step six: Check your paraphrase against the original again. I find that I am still unhappy with my phrase:

Texting provides peer support

because the original is:

text messaging….provides peer support

so I am going to try again:

Harley et al (2007) found that texting plays a vital role in students’ social lives and that students generally welcome texts from university staff. Students support each other in administrative and emotional matters through texting but this peer support is not sufficient.

Step seven: go and have a cup of tea, job well done.

I am a native speaker and it took me that long to get it right! It is a case of understanding, drafting, checking and redrafting. Slow and steady wins the race!

For more great input and further paraphrasing exercises visit that fantastic site The Online Writing Lab at Purdue University here.