Linguistic Challenges of
Summary and Paraphrase
Dr. Jan Frodesen
Director, English as a Second Language
Department of Linguistics
UC-Santa Barbara
Outline of presentation
Overview of paraphrasing and summary tasks
Plagiarism issues: Defining unacceptable
Multilingual writers’ paraphrasing strategies
Problems with existing paraphrase instruction
Activities and tasks for guided paraphrase
An overview of summary and
paraphrasing tasks
Many kinds of academic assignments in
and out of class require writing from
sources. The importance of summary
and paraphrase skills for these purposes
has been well documented.
(Leki and Carson, 1997, Johns and
Mayes, 1990, Shi, 2004, Keck, 2006)
Although there are many types of summary, in general
they involve the following:
 Understanding the author’s purpose and the meaning
of text on various levels
 Selecting key ideas appropriate for the writing task:
reducing source text to its “gist” to varying extents
 Combining ideas effectively from different parts of
 Using appropriate citation methods for referencing
 Using an appropriate balance of paraphrase and
Paraphrasing is usually defined as a textual borrowing
strategy in which the writer states another’s ideas in
a form other than the original. It often involves the
following skills in academic writing:
 Understanding the meaning of source sentences
within their contexts
 Determining what ideas outside of a source sentence
may need to be referenced to produce a paraphrase
within the writer’s own text that is comprehensible to
another reader.
Paraphrasing cont.
Deciding which vocabulary to keep and which to
replace in a paraphrase
Technical specialized vocabulary that cannot be replaced
Distinctive vocabulary that should not be copied
General vocabulary that can be used but not in large
Drawing on appropriate vocabulary and grammatical
forms for rewording
Using resources (dictionaries, thesauruses,
collocation dictionaries) effectively
Paraphrasing cont.
Integrating quotations into paraphrases appropriately
and grammatically
Using inferential thinking (Yamada, 2003)
Introducing and citing the source of the paraphrase
Problems identified in unsuccessful
Inappropriate “copy-delete” strategies in
summarizing: Lots of verbatim replication of
Inappropriate paraphrasing strategies
“Near copies” (Campbell 1990) or “patchwriting”
(Howard, 1996)
A few words have been substituted with synonyms,
but most words and phrasing are kept, and syntax
of the original is retained.
Plagiarism issues
Attitudes about plagiarism in relation to student
writing vary; some researchers feel that copying,
near copying reflect developmental stages in student
writers’ referencing of sources (Pecorari, 2003)
Teachers vary in what they consider acceptable
Applied linguistics researchers have attempted to
identify more precisely what constitutes an
unacceptable paraphrase in terms of closeness to
Unacceptable paraphrases
Unique links (Keck, 2006):
Individual lexical words or exactly copied
strings of words used in the paraphrase
that occurred in original but only in one
place in the original.
Unacceptable paraphrases
Example of unique links of three or more
Original: Women have less work
experience, less seniority, a lower rate of
unionization and so on.
Paraphrase: Women have less job
experience, less seniority, and a low rate of
Research on multilingual writers’
summary and paraphrasing strategies
Findings summarized in Shi (2004)
ESL writers tended to alter the tone or intent of the original
(Bashman & Rounds, 1981)
ESL writers had problems with syntactic simplifications of
texts in summaries (Johns & Mayes, 1990)
Especially with international ESL writers, copying was viewed
as a legitimate strategy for paraphrasing (Currie, 1998,
Leki and Carson, 1997)
Citation: ESL writers tended to use implicit attribution (e.g.,
“It is said…”;” native English writers tended to mention
authors explicitly (Moore, 1997)
Research findings, cont.
Paraphrase analysis in summaries of L1 and L2
writers: Keck (2006)
Four types of paraphrase attempts identified:
Near Copy
Minimal Revision
Moderate Revision
Substantial Revision
L2 writers used significantly more Near Copies
L1 writers had more Moderate and Substantial Revision
Most exact copies (118/144) were used by L2 writers –
These were considered not attempted paraphrases
Problems with existing paraphrase
Almost every handbook and academic writing website
offers guidance for paraphrasing. However, this
guidance is often not adequate for multilingual
 Unacceptable vs. acceptable paraphrase models
are difficult to follow for developing writers: The
writers can see that the examples are different but
they can’t decode the processes by which writers
move from the source text to a substantial
paraphrase of it.
Unacceptable/acceptable paraphrase
Example from OWL at Purdue (
The original passage:
Students frequently overuse direct quotation in
taking notes, and as a result they overuse
quotations in the final [research] paper. Probably
only about 10% of your final manuscript should
appear as directly quoted matter. Therefore, you
should strive to limit the amount of exact
transcribing of source materials while taking
notes. Lester, James D. Writing Research Papers.
2nd ed. (1976): 46-47.
Unacceptable/acceptable paraphrase,cont
A legitimate paraphrase:
In research papers students often quote excessively, failing to keep
quoted material down to a desirable level. Since the problem
usually originates during note taking, it is essential to minimize the
material recorded verbatim (Lester 46-47).
A plagiarized version:
Students often use too many direct quotations when they take
notes, resulting in too many of them in the final research paper. In
fact, probably only about 10% of the final copy should consist of
directly quoted material. So it is important to limit the amount of
source material copied while taking notes.
Copyright ©1995-2007 by The Writing Lab & The OWL at Purdue
Other problems with paraphrase
Step-by step guidance for
paraphrasing can be helpful, but
again it may not be enough for less
advanced student writers in creating
effective paraphrases.
Paraphrasing steps
Step 1: Understand what you are reading. If you
don't understand it, you can't paraphrase it correctly.
That's guaranteed.
Step 2: Think about the ideas, especially how the
ideas may relate to your specific topic.
Step 3: Not looking at the original, write down the
Step 4: Look back at the original to see if you have
changed the grammar and vocabulary. If not, change
them now.
(; accessed
March 8, 2004)
Step by step paraphrasing
Named for James Brady, the White House press secretary who
was shot and wounded by John Hinckley Jr. during the
attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan in March
1981, the Brady Bill establishes a national waiting period and
background check for the purchase of a handgun. (Bender,
1995: 137)
Changing the order of ideas, grammar, and vocabulary:
Bender (1995) explains that people who want to buy handguns
in the US now have a waiting period and a background check as
a result of the Brady Bill. The bill was named after White House
press secretary James Brady, who was wounded during an
assassination attempt on President Reagan. (137).
Students’ paraphrase attempt
Your turn:
Downlut believes that the Brady Bill trespasses on the rights of
law-abiding citizens, and is therefore inconsistent with the
Constitution, because it imposes a waiting period on exercising
the right to own guns. (Bender, 1995: 137)
What students wrote after listing key terms and covering
up the original:
Downlut believes that the Brady Bill trespasses law-abiding
people’s rights and is against the Constitution since it imposes a
waiting period to get a gun. (Bender, 1995: 137)
Example from Margi Wald, UCB
One last problem with typical
paraphrasing instruction
Writers may understand the processes of
producing an acceptable rephrasing but
lack the ability to manipulate word forms
and recast sentences with substantial
syntactic changes. Their paraphrases end
up distorting the meaning of the original
and/or are not comprehensible to readers.
Many student writers could benefit from more guided
instruction and practice in the following areas:
 Considering the language of paraphrases in the
context of their own texts
 Appropriately attributing the source; using
appropriate reporting verbs
 Developing vocabulary (including knowledge of
kinds of vocabulary that require paraphrasing)
 Building on grammar knowledge and the ability to
manipulate syntactic forms in ways that serve
paraphrasing goals (including inserting quotations
within paraphrases)
Guiding paraphrasing practice
What follows are a variety of activities
and exercises intended to help
multilingual writers better meet the
challenges of paraphrasing for academic
writing tasks. Many of these have been
used with students in my
undergraduate writing classes.
Paraphrases in context
In paraphrasing source materials, writers must pay
special attention to words and phrases that get part
of their meaning from other parts of the original text.
Look at the following groups of words from “Why
People Don’t Help in a Crisis” and identify the
language that depends on other sentences in the
passage for the full meaning. Then substitute a word
or phrase that would make the meaning clear if you
used it in your own text.
Paraphrases in context
Dazed and shocked, she calls for help…
All of these explanations share one
But if we look closely at the behavior of
these witnesses, they begin to seem less
This tendency is not merely slavish
Using appropriate reporting verbs
Directions: Circle the reporting verb that is most appropriate for
each sentence given the information in parentheses after the
David Elkind (asserts/remarks/speculates) that children grow up
too fast. (express a strong claim)
1. Miller (confirms/contends/suggests) that the results are
deceiving. (express a weak claim)
2. Johns (mentions/proposes/stresses) the importance of good
writing. (express an important point)
3. Williams (cautions/notes/remarks) that all the evidence must
be considered. (express offering advice)
Identifying distinctive character
words that need paraphrasing
Directions: The following are excerpts from the passage “Why
People Don’t Help in a Crisis.” Circle “D” if the underlined word
is distinctive vocabulary and “N” if non-distinctive vocabulary.
For all underlined words, suggest a synonym (word or phrase)
(a) Dazed and in shock, she calls for (b) help, but the hurrying
(c) stream of people simply parts and flows past.
Identifying distinctive character words
More examples: Distinctive vs. neutral
1. There are three (a) things bystanders must do if
they are to (b) intervene in an emergency.
2. He (a) clutches his chest, (b) staggers to the nearest
(c) building and slumps sitting to the sidewalk.
3. We often find that a bystander in an (a) emergency
is an (b) anguished c) individual in genuine doubt.
Using synonyms for distinctive words
and key (non-technical) words
Directions: Underline one distinctive word or phrase
in each sentence and then provide a synonym (word
or phrase) for it in the blank below.
How can so many people watch another
human being in distress and do nothing?
Synonym: suffering
Using synonyms for distinctive words
and key words
(Identify words, provide synonyms)
1. The presence of other bystanders may at each
stage inhibit action.
This tendency is not merely slavish conformity.
3. Each individual feels that his or her responsibility
is diffused and diluted.
Vocabulary development:
Word families
The native languages of many multilingual writers do
not have different word forms (e.g., noun, verb,
adjective forms); thus, learning and using word
forms may be a special challenge for some. Knowing
a word means knowing its various forms. This kind of
vocabulary knowledge is important for paraphrasing
In the following task, students are given a chart with
vocabulary and asked to complete the chart by
writing in different grammatical forms of the words
Vocabulary development:
Word families
Vocabulary development: General
academic vocabulary
Corpus linguistics research (e.g., Biber
et al.) has identified vocabulary that is
frequently used across a variety of
academic registers. Especially useful for
developing paraphrasing skills are
common adjectives and nouns. These
can be used to develop exercises such
as the following. (For lists, see Hinkel
Using synonyms for descriptive adjectives
commonly found in academic writing
Directions: In the blank provided, write a word that
could substitute for each underlined word; be careful
that the word makes sense in the context.
incessant complaints about job conditions
unending complaints
an elaborate design for the building
a complex design
Vocabulary development: Using
a legitimate excuse
a credible witness
an ingenious argument
perpetual disagreements
innate characteristics
Changing syntactic structures in
Multilingual writers often have difficulty
with the first steps of changing
sentence structures. Guided practice in
specific kinds of changes can help them
gain awareness of the options they
have in manipulating syntax and the
need to look at all parts of the resulting
sentence in rewording.
Paraphrase strategy: Changing
active to passive voice
The following exercise provides practice in
rephrasing by changing voice. Obviously
some prior discussion of this strategy is
needed since not all sentences can be or
should be changed in this way. These kinds
of syntactic re-structurings should be
considered just one step in constructing a
paraphrase; by themselves they do not
produce acceptable paraphrase.
Paraphrase strategy: Changing voice
Directions: Change the underlined clauses or
sentences to passive voice. Rewrite the sentence as
needed for grammatical correctness. Hint: Read the
sentence closely for understanding. Find the verb;
change the verb and then re-structure the sentence
There are three things bystanders must do if
they are to intervene in an emergency.
Rewrite: Three things must be done by
bystanders if …
Paraphrase strategy: Changing voice
Change from underlined from active to passive voice:
1. Ordinarily we derive much valuable information about new
situations from how others around us behave. (Note: Only the
underline part needs to be rewritten)
2. Screams in the street may signal an assault or a family
3. The presence of other bystanders may at each stage inhibit
Note: After changes have been made, you may want to work with
students to substitute synonyms or make other changes to create a
complete paraphrase.
Paraphrase strategy: Changing
In the next exercise, students are asked
to write a paraphrase of the original text
using a specific word or words in their
paraphrase. Using these words will
require the writer to restructure the
sentence in some way such as reversing
order of constituents.
Paraphrase strategy: Changing structure
Directions: Rewrite the sentence as a paraphrase
using the words in parentheses. Make any additions,
deletions or other changes as needed, but do not
change the meaning of the sentence.
All of these explanations share one characteristic.
(is present)
Rewrite: One characteristic is present in all of these
This example changes the relational verb which
triggers the change in sentence constituents.
Prompting structural change
1. People trying to interpret them to see how
to react. (base reactions on)
2. There are three things bystanders must do
if they are to intervene
in an emergency. (necessary)
3. Even if a person defines an event as an
Note: Once again, after writers make the structural
changes, they can take additional steps to rephrase
words, etc.
Benefits of tasks requiring changing
In exercises such as the preceding, giving
writers prompts helps in the following ways:
You can direct the kinds of structural changes that
would be useful for them to practice.
Students get practice paying attention to the
grammatical changes needed by selection of
different vocabulary.
Students can develop a better sense of how they
can make changes for future paraphrasing work.
Composing and draft revision
Moving from guided exercises to actual
paraphrases in student drafts, you can ask
students to practice the various strategies in
paraphrasing source materials in assignments
or to revise paraphrases in their drafts,
paying attention to concerns such as clarity of
meaning in context, use of distinctive
vocabulary, restructuring of sentences and
grammatical accuracy.
Draft revision activities
Writers can also check drafts to edit for
grammatical accuracy in places where they
have inserted quotations along with
paraphrases. Quotations need to fit the
grammar of the writer’s sentence!
Example from UCB CWR4A draft:
Also, Henry describes part of his father’s
success in “gently and not so gently
exploited his own” (p. 54).
In conclusion…
“Textual borrowing” in academic writing is
clearly a complicated process!
Paraphrasing effectively requires a great
many language skills; through guided
activities, we can help multilingual writers
understand the processes underlying
successful paraphrases and develop the
language skills needed to create them.
Students’ second attempt
Your turn:
Downlut believes that the Brady Bill trespasses on the rights of law-abiding
citizens, and is therefore inconsistent with the Constitution, because it imposes a
waiting period on exercising the right to own guns. (Bender, 1995: 137)
What students wrote after practice with paraphrase techniques:
Because the Brady Bill’s waiting period puts limits on owning
guns, Downlut argues that the bill is unconstitutional since it
does not allow citizens who obey laws to practice their
According to Downlut, the waiting period to buy a gun-required by the Brady Bill--infringes on the rights of people
who obey the law; thus, the Brady Bill violates the
Example from Margi Wald, UCB

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