English Language Support | Department of Student Services | Ryerson University


On-line Workshop on Paraphrasing and Summarizing


Whenever you write up research from books, articles, etc., you will need to paraphrase. Sometimes you will also need to summarize. You will very rarely need to quote. Let us look at each of these techniques separately.





Paraphrasing means putting somebody else’s idea into your own words. When you do this, you must give a reference to the original source.


If you need more practice with giving references, see the “On-line Workshop on Avoiding Plagiarism.”


Paraphrasing is used when you need the answer to a research question. You look for the answer in one or more scholarly books and articles. When you find a suitable answer, you put it into your own words. Then you show the citation, referring to the source of the information.


To see an example paper, showing many paraphrases and citations, click on the link below.

When you are finished, click on the return arrow at the upper left of your word processor screen to return here. [http://www.ryerson.ca/els/Handouts%20for%20ELS%20site/APA%20layout.doc]


There are three main ways to paraphrase:








Use synonyms (e.g. car = automobile)


Add or remove prepositions from a phrase (e.g. the computer screen = the screen of the computer)


Change the sentence grammar by changing a part of speech. For example, change a verb to a noun. (e.g. The mudslide displaced tonnes of water. = The displacement of tonnes of water was caused by the mudslide.)


It is usually best to combine these techniques when you paraphrase. Remember to change the original wording as much as possible without changing the original idea. Technical words and phrases, such as ozone, capitalism, social welfare, etc. do not get changed.







Sometimes you need to give the main points of an entire article. In this case, you paraphrase the main points only and remove all the details and supporting information. This is called summarizing. The main steps in summarizing are the following:










Carefully read the original text and highlight or underline all main points.


Make a point-form outline of the main points.


Remove the original article. This is important because you must not copy any of the original text, except for technical terms. If you copy it, you will not shorten it.


Use the outline only to write the summary.


Note: a summary usually varies in length from about 15% to about 25% of the length of the original. The length varies according to the density of information in the original.


For a simple practice exercise in summarizing, click on the link below.

When you are finished, click on the return arrow at the upper left of your word processor screen to return here. [http://www.ryerson.ca/els/Handouts%20for%20ELS%20site/Summary%20writing.doc]







A very useful kind of summary is called an abstract. An abstract is a scholarly summary of a research paper or article. When you find an article for your research project, you will often see an abstract at the top of the article. Reading the abstract will help you to decide whether or not that article is useful for your studies. Abstracts save readers a great deal of time.


Structured abstracts


A type of structured abstract was devised by the researcher Françoise Salager-Meyer. Salager-Meyer proposed that all scholarly abstracts should have the following six parts:

(We have added some information about content and language in the following table.)


Structure of a technical abstract

(Based on: Salager-Meyer, F. (1991). Medical English abstracts: how well are they structured? Journal of the American Society for the Information Science, 42(7), 528-532.)


SECTION OF THE ABSTRACT          (Italics)



Study Objective:

Briefly summarize what was to be investigated in the study.

Begin with “To investigate...” (Complete sentences are not necessary.)


Explain precisely and briefly who the subjects were, how they were chosen, and how they were grouped for the study.

Use numbers (e.g. 18), not words (e.g. eighteen). Use passive voice.


Briefly summarize the main steps in the procedure.

Passive voice

Statistical Treatment of Data:

Briefly summarize the statistical methods used in the procedure.

Passive voice


State the main results of the procedure and statistical treatment. State what was found or observed. Do not interpret the results.

Active voice


Briefly interpret the results, indicating what was learned from the study.

Active voice


Here is an example of a structured abstract based on Macdonald, G. & Sirotich, F. (2005). Violence in the Social Work Workplace: The Canadian Experience. International Social Work, 48(6), 772-781. Ryerson University students may view a copy of the complete article by using a Ryerson network computer and clicking on the link below:




Violence in the Social Work Workplace: The Canadian Experience


Grant Macdonald and Frank Sirotich




Study Objective:To investigate the degree to which social workers feel threatened by violence from their clients.

Subjects: 171 Ontario social workers (130 female; 41 male) of different ages, with different levels of education and holding different professional positions.

Design: A questionnaire was mailed to 300 social workers, and information was collected from the 57% who responded. Questions focussed on experience and attitudes of the respondents regarding personal harassment and violence.

Statistical Treatment of Data: Responses were quantified as numbers and percentages for each of the questions on the questionnaire.

Results: Percentages of respondents reporting incidents of personal attacks over the previous two years ranged from 90% for verbal harassment, through threats of physical harm (67%), to sexual harassment (10%). With regard to perceived vulnerability to client violence, a large majority (over 80%) reported feeling safe or fairly safe with clients, but a significant minority (18.7%) reported sometimes feeling unsafe with clients.

Conclusions: Incidents and perceptions of violence in the workplace have harmful effects on social workers, including psychological trauma, impaired relationships, reduced work productivity, and increased absenteeism. Different grades of staff are exposed to different degrees and kinds of violence. Female workers are often in front-line positions that leave them more vulnerable than many of their male colleagues. Managers may not be aware of the situations being faced by front-line staff. The conclusions lead to recommendations for the improvement of curricula, in-service programs, and safer work environments.



Try to make structured abstracts of the research articles that you read. This will aid in your understanding of the main sections and important information contained in such articles.







As much as possible, avoid using direct quotations in your written work. Paraphrase instead. Quote only if the information is very notable or special.

For example, you can quote a famous authority in the field or a famous statement. If you quote, remember to give a reference.

The reference normally comes immediately after the quotation. If the quote is from a book or article, include the page number. Be sure to put quotation marks around quoted text. Double-check each quotation to make sure that it is accurate. It must appear like a photograph of the original text. You must not change even one letter or comma.





More on paraphrasing and summarizing


For more information on paraphrasing and summarizing, click on the link below to see the handout entitled “Paraphrasing and Summarizing.”

When you are finished, click on the return arrow at the upper left of your word processor screen to return here.  [http://www.ryerson.ca/els/Handouts%20for%20ELS%20site/Paraphrasing%20and%20Summarizing.doc]







Go through your written assignments and try to locate a quotation that could be paraphrased. Use the advice in this workshop to rewrite this quotation as a paraphrase. Remember to give a reference.





If your first language of academic study is not English, and if you have any questions about English or would like to discuss how to paraphrase or summarize, you can make an appointment at English Language Support Services by going to [http://www.ryerson.ca/els/ProgramsOnlineRegistration.htm].


Whether or not your first language of academic study is English, you are welcome to use the services of the Ryerson Writing Centre, located in the library. Follow this link: [http://www.ryerson.ca/writing-centre/].