Difference Between a Paraphrase & a Summary

Knowing how to effectively recount the argumentative gist of a secondary source or the central thrust of a primary text can help to intensify the success of your work. Understanding the difference between a paraphrase and a 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 you summarize 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." Just as in the summary process, paraphrasing involves recounting a source's primary material in words that are different than those of the original text. It is essential in paraphrasing, to still communicate the central idea of the words, passage or text in question.


When completing a summary or paraphrase, students should start with a first pass or original text read-through followed by an active reading of the text with notations of main points and any questions. After establishing familiarity with the main points, students then could set aside the original text where it isn't visible. When the original text isn't in front of them, writing the summary or paraphrase is less likely to involve accidental plagiarism. After writing the summary or paraphrase away from the original writing, students can then go back and verify all key information has been included. By using a method that removes the original text, students are less likely to copy or plagiarize direct information.

What's the Difference?

Paraphrasing and summarizing are similar tasks 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 without plagiarizing. 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, you must still still cite the source from which you are borrowing material as it is essential in avoiding accidental plagiarism. Avoiding plagiarism is important for the purposes of preserving intellectual honesty. In institutions of higher learning, academic dishonesty is seen as grounds for punishments that can range from a zero on that plagiarized assignment to expulsion from the institution.