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:


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


Problems with word order

In English, the order of the words is more fixed than it is in Spanish. It is usual to begin with the subject, followed by the verb, followed by the object, and then add any extra element in the sentence:

  • Lucy speaks German very fluently.
  • The driver could not keep the car under control.

Adverbs of frequency, amplifiers and downtoners are often placed before the main verb:

  • Hospitals are regularly visited by inspectors.
  • People frequently use the infinitive to indicate purpose.
  • I absolutely refuse to listen to them.
  • His mother mildy disapproved of his new friend.

It is important for Spanish speakers to remember that adverbs of manner generally go after the verb, or if there is an object, after the object:

  • He speaks very well.
  • He speaks German very well.
  • She plays badly.
  • She plays the piano badly.

Adverbs are never placed between the verb and the object.

Word order is more difficult in the case of questions. In simple, direct questions, the subject and verb are inverted, and if the verb is not a modal verb, the inversion is made with the substitute verb “do”:

  • Are you a good swimmer?
  • Can you swim?
  • Do you know how to swim?

The problem comes when the question is not a direct question, but is incorporated into another sentence. In such cases, there is no inversion: in other words, we return to the normal subject – verb – object structure:

  • When are you going out?
  • He asked me when I was going out.
  • How many books do we need to read?
  • We asked them how many books we needed to read.
  • What time is it?
  • He asked me what time it was.

Another issue that causes difficulty is what is known as “negative inversion”. This is used for special emphasis, usually to stress a negative or dramatic word.

  • I have never seen such an untidy room. (normal word order)
  • Never have I seen such an untidy room. (negative inversion)

Since negative inversions function rather like question forms, if the first verb is not a modal verb, the inversion is performed with “do”:

  • Wiggins not only won the Tour de France, but he also received a gold medal in the Olympics.
  • Not only did Wiggins win the Tour de France, but he also received a gold medal in the Olympics.

For more information on adverbs, see: Adverbs
And to practise negative inversions, see: Negative inversion practice exercise