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:

How to write the “highlights” for a research paper

One of the most recent innovations in academic publishing is the “highlights” section, which often appears immediately after the article’s title in online journals. Some authors may wonder why they now have to produce a “highlights” section as well as an abstract, and how they should go about writing it.

In fact, this is a very new development. Elsevier journals started inserting highlights sections around 2010 and gradually phased this feature in across their whole range. Since Elsevier is the largest publisher of scientific journals, currently running around 3000 titles, its decision to introduce highlights has had a major impact on the sector as a whole. Now that the “highlights” sections are mandatory, Elsevier has now moved on to the second stage of what is evidently a long-term plan: in January 2014 Elsevier launched a “Research Highlights app” which is designed to make it easy to consult research papers on a smartphone – something that would not be possible if information were not available in the condensed, schematic format provided by the title and “highlights”.

So what exactly should the “highlights” section contain? Since this is a new genre, there is a certain amount of confusion among authors, and a high degree of variation can be observed between the “highlights” sections of different journals and papers, which range from lists of keywords displayed with bullet points, to detailed and complex accounts of results. According to the official Elsevier authors’ website, highlights are “a short collection of bullet points that convey the core findings” and provide researchers with a quick overview of the article in text form. Moreover, according to the same authors’ website, highlights should “describe the essence of the research (e.g. results or conclusions) and highlight what is distinctive about it”. Yet a cursory glance at the examples provided on the authors’ website is enough to tell us that this is not the whole truth. In fact, the examples provided by the publisher itself seem to suggest that the highlights can best be understood as a highly condensed abstract foregrounding the design of the study, on the one hand, and the results, on the other.

In particular, two features of the examples recommended by Elsevier should be noted. First, in these examples, the first one or two sentences in the “highlights” are used to orientate the reader as to the nature of the study, while the rest are a summary of the main results. Second, even though the characteristic format of the “highlights” section is the use of bullet points, in Elsevier’s examples the highlights themselves are expressed in full sentences, rather than making use of the more schematic style permitted in English when using bullet points. Taken together, these features suggest that when writing highlights, it is best to think of them as a kind of short abstract, than as either a summary of results or a list of points.

Perhaps the best advice is to allow yourself to be guided by the comment made by one researcher who found that the highlights were “quick to read and gave me a flavour of the research without giving me too much to sift through”. The aim of the “highlights” section is that researchers who glance at their mobile phone in search of information should able to read something comprehensible on a field they know little about. So you should start with a sentence that orientates the reader as to the nature of the study. Then move on to explain your most interesting findings in simple terms. Finish with a sentence that summarizes what your study contributes to the field. The language should be clear, concise and to the point, and you should use full sentences

For examples, see: