Difference Between a Paraphrase & a Summary

by John Manshire
Choosing between paraphrasing and summarizing can change the way your argument is presented.

Choosing between paraphrasing and summarizing can change the way your argument is presented.

Knowing how to effectively recount the argumentative gist of a secondary source or the central thrust of a primary text can help to augment the success of your work. Understanding the difference between paraphrase and summary is essential to avoiding plagiarism, and choosing between the two can make the difference in the presentation of a compelling argument.


Summary is the process of providing an abridged version of an argument, narrative or concept. When one summarizes a text or other medium, the objective is to condense the whole of the text's content into a space that is more quickly digested while still presenting the object's central ideas or concepts in a clear and effective fashion.


"To paraphrase" comes from the Greek "paraphrasis," meaning literally "to tell in other words." In contrast to the process of summarizing, paraphrasing involves recounting a source's primary material in words that are different than the original. It is essential, in paraphrasing, to still communicate the central idea of the words, passage or text in question.

What's the Difference?

Paraphrasing and summarizing are extremely similar actions and involve many of the same processes. The difference between the two is what their objectives are. The purpose of a summary is to condense source material into a shorter form. Paraphrasing, however, is not centrally concerned with length. Rather, paraphrasing is concerned primarily with the restatement of source material in a form that is different than the original.

Avoiding Plagiarism

Neither summary nor paraphrase allows a writer to parrot material from another creator without attribution. When summarizing or paraphrasing, it is still essential to cite the source from which you are borrowing material. Not only is this important for the purposes of intellectual honesty, but in academic settings plagiarism is considered extremely reprehensible and, in most institutions of higher learning, may constitute grounds for severe punishment.


About the Author

John Manshire has been writing professionally since 2007, contributing to newspapers, magazines and various online publications. He is a graduate of UC Berkeley, where he received a B.A. in English.

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