Blog de Comunicación Académica

Técnicas de comunicación académica en español e inglés como lenguas extranjeras

Summarising, paraphrasing, quoting

When we write academic papers, we generally refer to other people’s work. But of course, it is important to avoid plagiarism, which means that we have to make a choice about how to show that we have used those other people’s ideas or words. The main options are: to summarize or paraphrase the ideas and attribute them to their author, or to quote the author directly.


In this case, you have to put the author’s main ideas into your own words. It is usual to try to explain them concisely, including only the most important points. Here is an example of summarizing:

Fukuyama (1992) argues that the rise of Western liberal democracy signals the end point of the socio-cultural development of humankind. In his view, history should be understood as an evolutionary process, and the advent liberal democracy marks the final stage in this progression.

We should note that the summary attributes the ideas to the author in question, and refers to the year of the book in which these ideas appear. The details of this work will be given in the references. Most publishers and journals do not require you to provide the page number if you are not quoting directly from the text.


Paraphrasing means putting an extract from the source text into your own words. Paraphrases may be somewhat shorter than the original, and may omit inessential details or examples. However, the ideas in your paraphrased text must still be attributed to the original author.

For example, the nineteenth-century art critic and thinker John Ruskin said that: “The first duty of government is to see that people have food, fuel and clothes. The second, that they have the means of moral and intellectual education.”

You could paraphrase this by saying:

According to Ruskin (1876), the government’s first obligation is to supply people’s material needs, while the second is to give them access to academic and moral education.

Note that in the paraphrase, you should try not to use exactly the same words as in the original, and that you may well decide to omit any details or examples. Of course, you can also include quotations from the original text, but these should be marked as such.


The easiest way to refer to previous authors is to quote them directly. However, a text with a large number of quotations is not easy to read, so it is usual just to quote the most significant or striking words. When you use direct quotations, you should always give the page number in the reference.

As John Henry Newman said: “To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often” (1878, p. 20).

It is important to use the exact words that the original author used, and to maintain the same punctuation. If you make any changes, you should indicate this. So if you decide to omit any part of the quotation, you should show where the omission is by putting (…) or […] where you have left the words out (see the style sheet of the journal or publishing house for more guidance on this). Similarly, if you change the punctuation, it is usual to show which letter has been changed by using brackets. The following example illustrates both these points.

“[A]n idea not only modifies, but is modified […] by the state of things in which it is carried out,” according to Newman (1875, p. 20).

Another convention that is associated with direct quotations is the use of the Latin word sic, “thus”, in brackets [sic], after a word or phrase that has been transcribed directly from the original source, but which is incorrect, inappropriate, or in some way strange. This has the effect of showing that the present writer is not responsible for what is stated. In the following example, [sic] is used to show that the writer recognizes that the use of “man” in this context would now be regarded as inappropriate.

Fifty years ago, Schein expressed concern at the “considerable waste of human resources” (1964, p. 68) that occurs when graduates do not adapt to the realities of company life, and advocates “the giving of immediate responsibility to the college graduate but under a supervisor who is sensitive to the new man’s [sic] needs and capacities” (1964, p. 72).

For some ideas about how to summarize and paraphrase effectively, see:

How to choose the right keywords

Keywords are a useful feature of academic publishing. Most journals require authors to supply five or six keywords, which are often published with the abstract, or included in the information sent to databases. Keywords were invented to help researchers identify articles about subjects of interest quickly and easily, even if they are not regular readers of the journals in question. They act to supplement the information given in the title: titles do not always explicitly refer to the article’s areas of relevance. For example, a review article with the title “New approaches to drug delivery in hepatology” may include a detailed section on nanotechnology – but unless we know the field well, we are unlikely to guess this from the title.

So how can we choose the right keywords? Some journals, such as the Journal of Crystal Growth, actually supply a list of possible keywords, while others make a few stipulations, such as not to use words from the title of the journal itself. However, most journals leave the decision to the author. One thing to remember is that there is no need to repeat what is in the title. The words in the title are automatically included in indexes and databases, so keywords should complement these to ensure that more people read our article. It is important that these words should be specific enough to indicate what is in our paper – but also general enough to attract a wide readership. Here are some practical suggestions from the journal websites:

  • Read through your paper and note down the terms or phrases that seem to be very frequent in the text.
  • Consult a glossary or standard indexing list for your field of research (for education, try using ERIC Thesaurus).
  • Include at least one keyword that refers to the method you used. Researchers sometimes look for papers that apply particular methods.
  • Do not use multiple concepts, such as “teaching and learning mathematics in primary school”. These should be two separate keywords.
  • If certain abbreviations are widely used in your field, you can use them as keywords. Do not use abbreviations that readers are unlikely to recognise.
  • When you have chosen some keywords, put them into a search engine, and look at what comes up. If the articles that appear have something in common with your paper, then the keywords are probably right.
  • If general visibility is a priority, you can also use web tools such as Google Trends to find out which topics are becoming popular, and try to relate your keywords to these.

More information on how to publicise your research, and how to find out what issues are topical, can be found on:


Sevilla or Seville? How should I refer to a place name that seems to have different forms?

Many names for places have several forms. There is the “native form” or “endonym”, which is what the people who live in a particular place call it. But there is also the “translated form” or “exonym”, which is the name that has traditionally been used for that place in another language. Such translated forms are generally used in the case of countries, because these forms are very well established. For example, we all know that “España” is known in English as “Spain”, and there seems to be no problem with using this.

In other cases, such as names for cities or regions, it is increasingly common in English to prefer the native form to the translated form. The first and most important reasons for this is that the native form is more respectful to the people who live there. For example, until the 1980s it was common for the British press to refer to a large port on the Baltic as Danzig, because it had been known by this name when it was part of Germany. However, it became obvious that it is more respectful to the people who live in the Polish city of Gdansk to call their city by the name that they use themselves, and so the international media changed their policy. Danzig is now always known as Gdansk. For similar reasons, it is more natural to call the city that was once Byzantium “Istanbul” (its Turkish name) rather than “Constantinople” (its Greek name).

Another reason for opting to use the native form is that it is simply more rational. After all, if a city is known by several different names, issues like maps and signposting become problematic. Particularly if the different forms are not well known, people might actually get confused.

None the less, it is still usual in English to use Anglicized forms when these are very well established. In English, it is generally considered correct to say “Seville” and “Lisbon”. The same applies to many Italian city names, such as “Rome”, “Venice”, “Naples”, “Florence” and “Milan”, and to some other European cities, including “Brussels”, “Vienna”, “Cologne”, “Prague”, “Warsaw” and “Copenhagen”. When the native form would be written in a different alphabet or writing system, there is a stronger tendency to retain the Anglicized form, so we say “Moscow”, “Belgrade” and “Shanghai”. However, this is not always the case: the well-established form “Peking” has now been almost entirely placed by the form “Beijing”, which is the same name represented using the standard Pinyin spelling system for Chinese words.

In its guide for translators, the European Commission recommends that native forms should be used “unless the anglicized form is overwhelmingly common”. In its country guide for Spain, it recommends using native forms except for: Seville, Castile, Catalonia, Andalusia, Balearic Islands, Canary Islands, Basque Country and Navarre. This means that older anglicized forms, such as “Saragossa” for “Zaragoza” and “Cordova” for “Córdoba” should be avoided. In view of the growing trend towards using native forms, it is interesting that the University of Navarra has been using the native form “Navarra” for many years. As we have seen, this is fully in line with tendencies in English on a world scale.

For further information, see the EU Style Guide for Translators, Section on Geographical Names, p. 10 onwards:

RSVP ASAP – dealing with common abbreviations in English

In English, there are many standard abbreviations and acronyms that can cause problems for non-native English users. In general, they are not common in formal academic writing, where it is only considered correct to use a few standard abbreviations such as:

e.g. (exempli gratia), which is read as “for example”
i.e. (id est), which is read as “that is”
etc. (et cetera), which is read as “et cetera”

However, abbreviations are extremely frequent in business correspondence and informal communication. If you often receive e-mails in English, you will soon become familiar with the most common ones, such as:

asap, or a.s.a.p., which stands for “as soon as possible”
foa, or f.o.a., which stands for “for the attention of”
fyi, or f.y.i., which stands for “for your information”

Other curious examples that are frequently encountered are:

RSVP or R.S.V.P., used on formal invitations, which means “répondez s’il vous plaît”, that is, “please reply”.
PTO or P.T.O., on documents, which means “please turn over”, in other words, the text continues on the other side of the page.

There are also many job titles, roles and qualifications which are commonly abbreviated:

CEO Chief Executive Officer
MP Member of Parliament
PM Prime Minister
MD Doctor of Medicine
PhD Doctor of Philosophy

Abbreviations are even more frequent in the case of text messages. A whole set of conventionalized short forms has developed so that people can communicate their ideas in just a few letters. This new range of abbreviated forms tends to be humorous or disrespectful in tone, and includes examples like:

LOL lots of love / laughing out loud
SWYP so what’s your problem?
TIME tears in my eyes
GR8 great!

One problem that abbreviations and acronyms pose for writers is the question as to whether or not to put a full stop after the letter. Should we write “NATO” or “N.A.T.O.”? The answer is to be found in the style sheet of the journal or publisher in question. The Chicago Manual of Style recommends not using full stops in the case of acronyms, so “NATO” would be preferred, but some more traditional systems require the use of the full stop after every letter. On the other hand, it is standard practice in the USA to use full stops for many other shortened forms, such as “Mr.”, “Dr.” or “Jr.”. In British English, these short forms do not take a full stop, because they are strictly speaking not abbreviations (truncated words) but contractions (words with the middle taken out), and so in the UK it is normal to write “Mr” or “Dr”.

For a long list of abbreviations with their explanations, see:

Writing the abridged abstract: telling a research story in under 50 words

If it is hard to give an adequate explanation of our research in a normal abstract, then it is even more challenging to write an “abridged abstract” or “brief blurb” of the kind that is increasingly being used by publishers and conference organisers. Many journals now require authors to submit a short summary or blurb for their article, which will be used to accompany the article’s title on a webpage, or to generate a short feed that they can send out to subscribers. For example, the PLOS (Public Library of Science) suite of journals asks authors for a blurb of no more than 30 words to go on the contents page of their online journals. Along similar lines, conference organisers are asking for increasingly succinct abstracts, so that the programme does not expand beyond reasonable limits – many large congresses in the USA now ask delegates to submit a 50-word abstract for their papers.

So how can we compress countless hours of research and reflection into 30-50 words? Two useful pieces of advice come from the PLOS suite itself, which suggests that the abstract “should, without exaggeration, entice people to read your manuscript”. In other words, think of one reason why your research is important/reliable/innovative, and make sure that you highlight this feature. If you look at the following example, you will observe that it highlights the importance of the problem that is being addressed by identifying it as “a serious threat”:

  1. Rabies has been a serious public health threat in Flores Island, Indonesia since it was introduced in 1997. The objective of this paper is to identify risk factors associated with the uptake of rabies control measures by individual dog owners in Flores Island. (43 words)

The second example, below, illustrates a different way to promote one’s own research:

  1. Despite the common belief that sensory stimuli matter, little research has explored how such specific shapes can affect consumers’ evaluations of brand extension fit. Using experiments, this research shows that specific geometric shapes can affect consumer perceptions for dissimilar brand extensions. (42 words)


In this case, the writer has chosen to emphasize the “research gap”, and to show how his/her research supplies new knowledge about a neglected area.

Another piece of advice provided by PLOS is that the “blurb” should not be redundant with the title. That means that you should consider how the abstract and the title complement each other. For example, your blurb might be:

  1. Serological data and mathematical modelling reveal key aspects of the human immune system’s response to seasonal influenza infection. (19 words)


In this case, it would make no sense to use a title like “Modelling the immune response to seasonal influenza”, because this just repeats the information given in the blurb. The author of this blurb actually decided to choose a more eye-catching title for the article: “Learning about influenza from the mark it leaves behind”.

Finally, another idea that might be useful is to consider what important parts of the article you want to mention. Researchers have found that when writing abridged abstracts, researchers are likely to try to include the Purpose, Method and Results of their study (Sancho Guinda, 2014). The following example manages to combine elements of all three of these:

  1. This study explores the message strategies employed by advertisers for children’s products in US children’s magazines, using Taylor’s six-segment strategy wheel as its theoretical framework. We examined 531 ads from three different children’s magazines published in 2010-12. Content analysis reveals that advertisers use more transformational approaches than informational approaches. (50 words)


However, this is a challenge, and it might be more practical to focus specifically on the results, as this author did:

  1. Five studies, using real consumption and taste rating as dependent measures, show that preschoolers (3-5.5 years old) infer that food that is instrumental to achieving health or intellectual goals is less tasty, and therefore they consume less of it, compared to presenting the food with a neutral or taste frame. (50 words)


One last idea is that in the pressure to compress information, we should not forget to “advertise” our research. The following values are thought to make a piece of research more “marketable”: importance, effectiveness, newness, breadth of scope, applicability and reliability. By adding just one adjective to our abstract, we can make it sound more attractive and interesting to potential readers. An “innovative project” sounds more exciting than a “project”, and a “robust design” seems more trustworthy than a “design”.


For further information and examples, see:

Sancho Guinda, C. 2014. Abridged abstracts: Rushing the research race? Revista Canaria de Estudios Ingleses 69, 15-34


Designing and writing conference posters

Many conferences have a slot for “poster sessions”. In these, researchers put up a large poster to display their work, and then they usually stand beside it to answer questions. This is a good method for telling people about work in progress, or about large projects that you are involved in.

If you are starting to design a poster, it is vital to remember that posters must be:

  • Focused
  • Ordered
  • Visual

Focus your ideas

When you are designing your poster, it is very important to be clear about your main idea. You must make sure that the audience can understand that idea immediately. This means that you have to think carefully about the title, the section headings and the main images. Poster titles are often written as phrases (“Effects of music on examination performance”) but may also be full sentences (“Aspirin prevents heart disease”) or questions (“Does aspirin prevent heart disease?”).

Order the information

Regarding design, people usually read from top to bottom and from left to right, so it may be a good idea to order your poster in this way. Many posters retain the conventional IMRaD (Introduction, Material and Method, Results and Discussion) structure used in empirical research, but distribute the different sections in columns or labelled blocks around the poster. The method and results can easily be communicated in visual form, but remember to give them headings so that people can understand them quickly.

Make it visually attractive

The art of creating a good poster varies a little from one discipline to another, but one thing is always true: a poster is a visual medium, and so it is not enough just to include text. Posters should be pleasing to the eye, and should contain colourful photographs, diagrams or graphs. They also need text, but this should always be large enough to read.

When you are choosing colours, it is better to avoid dark backgrounds, and to keep within a range of two or three colours for the text and images. Try to arrange the images and text in a way that is pleasant to look at: a good balance of colours, images and text is important. Above all, do not try to cram in too much information: it is useful to leave some light space, because this makes your poster look cleaner and tidier.

The following websites contain links to some excellent examples, as well as templates that can be used to create attractive posters:


Realise or realize?

Why do some people spell words with “ise” while others use “ize”? Which is correct?

In the United States, words like “organize”, “realize”, “familiarize” and “colonize” are spelled with a “z”, and yet you will find the spellings “organise”, “realise”, “familiarise” and “colonise” in many books published in Britain, Australia and New Zealand. Spellings with “ize” are often regarded as American, because “ize” is the standard form in American English. However, “ize” spellings are also used by Oxford University Press and the Oxford Dictionary, and are sometimes known as “Oxford spelling”. The Oxford Dictionary defends this position by saying that words derived from Greek should follow the “z” spelling of the original language. Today, “ize” spellings are generally used in scientific publications across the world. However, “ise” spellings are used by many influential British institutions, including Cambridge University Press and many leading newspapers. In fact, “ise” spellings have become more common in British English in recent years, perhaps as a reaction against American spelling. The European Union also now uses “ise” spellings in its official documents.

Even if you prefer to use “ize” spellings, you should remember that some words which might seem to fit into this category are always spelled with “ise”, even in the USA and in Oxford publications, because they are not derived from Greek. These include words like: “advertise”, “advise”, “arise”, “compromise”, “devise”, “excise”, “exercise”, “incise”, “revise”, “supervise”, “surmise” “surprise” and “televise”.

It is also useful to note that many scientific words which end in “yze” or “yse” follow a different pattern. These words are always written with “yze” in American English, and “yse” in British English. Examples of this are “analyze”, “paralyze” and “catalyze” (USA), which are written “analyse”, “paralyse” and “catalyse” in all variants of British English.

If you are writing for a specific journal, it is a good idea to look at the style sheet or guidelines for authors, which will usually specify whether you should use British or American spelling, and in the former case, whether “ise” or “ize” is preferred. If no specific instructions are given, you should choose one type of spelling and keep to it throughout your paper. It makes a bad impression to mix two different kinds of spelling!

For more information: