Paraphrasing and Summarizing Sources


Paraphrasing Texts1

To paraphrase is to restate the thoughts of another in your own words. You may find that you often have reason to paraphrase as you produce your own work. While it is acceptable, indeed necessary, to use the ideas of others as the basis for your own analysis, it is similarly necessary to paraphrase accurately, noting your sources.

The following example, which makes use of Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar's The Madwoman in the Attic, demonstrates correct paraphrasing.

Here is an original passage from "Infection in the Sentence," Gilbert and Gubar’s response to Harold Bloom’s Oedipal criticism:

"Surrounded as she is by images of disease, traditions of disease, and invitations both to disease and to dis-ease, it is no wonder that the woman writer has held many mirrors up to the discomforts of her own nature. As we shall see, the notion that 'Infection in the sentence breeds' has been so central a truth for literary women that the great artistic achievements of nineteenth-century novelists and poets from Austen and Shelley to Dickinson and Barrett Browning are often both literally and figuratively concerned with disease, as if to emphasize the effort with which health and wholeness were won from the infectious 'vapors' of despair and fragmentation" (Gilbert and Gubar 57).

Here is a paraphrase of this passage:

According to Gilbert and Gubar, the nineteenth-century female author was inevitably caught up in constricting images and thoughts of gender-specific illnesses, generated by society. As a result, the sentences and verses she penned were often dominated by images of disease and poor health, “as if to emphasize” the difficulty of maintaining “health and wholeness” in a culture which insisted upon her physical and psychological weakness (57).

A paraphrase preserves the logical relationships between ideas present in the original source. No key ideas are omitted, and the meaning of the original passage is not interpreted or expanded upon.

When paraphrasing and summarizing, it is important to maintain the distinction between the language used by the source and your own language. Search for substitute words wherever possible. Substitute word choices or expressions ought to be accurate.

If more than three words in a row from the original text are used, they should be marked as a direct quotation. Paraphrases should be documented according to in-text citation guidelines.


Summarizing Texts

A summary of a passage is shorter and more direct than a paraphrase. Its focus is the primary point or opinion expressed in the passage. A summary of the Gilbert and Gubar statement above might read as follows:

Gilbert and Gubar claim that the nineteenth-century female author focused on images of infection and illness because she was surrounded by these images in everyday life (57).

A summary, like a paraphrase, should preserve the logical relationships between ideas present in the original source, and should refrain from interpretation. If more than three words in a row from the original text are used, they should be marked as a direct quotation. Summaries should be documented according to in-text citation guidelines.


Relevant Links

For more information on accurate and inaccurate paraphrasing and summarizing, consult your professor, the English Department’s “Guide to the Preparation of Papers,” the MLA Handbook or Rules for Writers, or see:


1. Image: How to Stop the Cataleptic State. Late 19th-century French engraving.