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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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

 


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Uso y abuso de la pasiva

Desde hace tiempo se viene denunciando cierto abuso de las construcciones pasivas con auxiliar en el lenguaje periodístico, donde se vincula a la traducción apresurada y directa de noticias de agencias internacionales. Últimamente se advierte también en géneros académicos, y no solo en trabajos redactados por alumnos no hispanohablantes, sino también en aquellos de hablantes nativos de español que realizan una versión demasiado literal de fuentes manejadas en lengua inglesa:

  • Causas variadas han sido señaladas para este fenómeno que solo recientemente ha sido descrito.
  • Por ejemplo, del director de Dal’stroy fue dicho que “su palabra era ley a lo largo de los vastos territorios de las tierras del noreste” (Conquest 1990).

En la mayor parte de estos casos resulta preferible la pasiva con se, mucho más natural: “Se han señalado causas variadas para este fenómeno que solo recientemente se ha descrito/ha sido descrito”, “del director de Dal’stroy se dijo que…”.

Por otra parte, la perífrasis de pasiva puede contribuir al estilo nominal si se combina con otros elementos que alargan innecesariamente el texto, en un tipo de discurso claramente artificioso:

  • Con el trabajo ya concluido, esperamos que los conocimientos del lector hayan sido aumentados y este es invitado a llevar a cabo la consulta de la bibliografía en aras de una mayor profundización en el tema.

Aunque el complemento agente puede no estar expreso, lo cierto es que la pasiva con auxiliar tiende a emplearse normalmente cuando el agente es relevante y, por tanto, se hace explícito:

  • El trabajo fue traducido por un especialista de renombre internacional / ?Los trabajos serán recogidos en la oficina correspondiente (Los trabajos se recogerán en la oficina correspondiente)

Además, parece clara la preferencia en ciertos contextos por el uso de la pasiva con agente si este designa una pluralidad y no un individuo específico:

  • Los informativos de la televisión pública son criticados por mucha gente /?Los informativos de la televisión pública son criticados por el profesor de géneros periodísticos (El profesor de géneros periodísticos critica los informativos de la televisión pública)
  • El libro fue comentado por los alumnos/?El libro fue comentado por mi compañero (Mi compañero comentó el libro)

En cambio, son raros –y generalmente vinculados al lenguaje jurídico- los casos de pasiva refleja con agente:

  • En su día se dictó sentencia por el tribunal competente.

Ciertamente, el discurso escrito formal admite la pasiva con auxiliar en mayor proporción que la comunicación informal, pero habrá que evitar usos claramente artificiales o la acumulación innecesaria de estas construcciones, especialmente cuando se parafrasean fuentes en inglés.