Monday, August 23, 2004

Tips on Summaries, Paraphrases, & Quotations

Tips on Summaries, Paraphrases, and Quotations
Tips for Summaries Keep in mind that a summary is a short condensation of a text. It should not be as long as the original story or article being summarized and often can be much shorter yet still get the main points of the story across well and succinctly. Determining the main points of the original story is of paramount importance in writing a superb summary. It may be helpful to re-read your text and highlight or outline the main points. Generally speaking, if you have written much over a page-long summary you are in danger of "larding" your summary with too much superfluous information. (Nota bene: I just read an article that said the President gets summaries only a half-page long and does not like them to go over one page unless the topic is especially important.) The following advice on summaries is from William Strunk in the terrific book The Elements of Style 1. "In summarizing the action of a drama, the writer should use the present tense. In summarizing a poem, story, or novel, he should also use the present, though he may use the past if it seems more natural to do so." 2. "...whichever tense the writer chooses he should use throughout. Shifting from one tense to another gives the appearance of uncertainty and irresolution." Tips on Paraphrases Although students have been vexed with paraphrasing as long as I have been teaching writing, it is often as easy and simple to do as a child telling you what her bedtime story was about. Paraphrasing is no more than putting what someone says into your own words. One easy way to begin a paraphrase is to take the first sentence and simply put it your own words without borrowing or plagiarizing the words of the author. It is okay to simplify the text, particularly if it sounds writerly or difficult. Paraphrasing is very helpful for your research papers with legal wording, medical terminology, or thick, dense, impenetrable academic writing. You should never say in the body of a paraphrase what your author is saying. For example do not say: "John Simon says that Star Wars is a mediocre film unworthy of the talents of director George Lucas." Instead you should write: "Star Wars is unworthy of such a promising young talent as George Lucas." A paraphrase should be similar in length to the original text, not usually shortened. Be very careful not to steal or plagiarize the words of the author. Those words belong to him or her and you must invent your own way of restating those words. Do not use a thesaurus to merely substitute words in a paraphrase. Words have shades of meaning frequently lost when you use a thesaurus as a word substituter. Using it as a tool may be helpful, but never use a thesaurus as a crutch. Tips for Quotations Most students know the basics of writing using quotations from sources, but a few tips certainly can't hurt. Keep in mind that any time quotation marks are used the words locked inside those quotes must be EXACTLY what was said in the original text. I always consider quotation marks the equivalent of locks to lock in precisely the words of someone else. Occasionally you do need to alter a word in a quote for clarity. For example if you found a source that said "On Monday two men were found dead in the parking lot" and you discovered that the text was over two months old it would be correct to alter the wording using brackets. The way this quote could be properly changed is as follows: "[June 2] two men were found dead in the parking lot." Sometimes you will want to take out a slab of writing in the middle of a text that is irrelevant to the point you are making. You can then pick up the remaining part of the text you wish to quote tying the two quotes together as one using three dots, also called an ellipsis. An example would be "There are many historians who believe President Franklin D. Roosevelt had prior knowledge of the attack on Pearl Harbor...considering the many notes and radio signals that were documented on the day of the attack." A quote within a quote is easy to remember: The beginning and end of the whole quoted section ends with double quotation marks. All quotes within those are in single quotation marks. For example: Author Robert Sapolsky was curious what the response of his Masai friend Rhoda would be if he quizzed her about the obvious mental illness of the woman they had just locked up. The following is quoted directly from his text. I have bold-faced the quote-within-a-quote for illustrative purposes: "'So Rhoda,' I began laconically, 'what do you suppose was wrong with that woman?' She looked at me as if I was mad. 'She is crazy.'"


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