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.

Summarizing

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

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.

Quoting

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:

http://writing.wisc.edu/Handbook/QPA_paraphrase2.html

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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:

http://www.elsevier.com/connect/get-found-optimize-your-research-articles-for-search-engines

https://www.google.es/trends/