Writing an Essay: (2)
Paraphrasing, Summarising and Quoting


Some essays are written purely from one's own experience, but most essays require some research. This means that you will be using information from other people's books, web pages, etc.

There is a right way and a wrong way to use information collected in this way. For the wrong way, see my web page on Plagiarism; for the right way, study this page and the page on Notes, References and Bibliography.

Basically, there are two ways of using information from other sources. One is to give the same information in your own words. This is called 'paraphrasing'. When we paraphrase, it is usually better to close the book, web page, etc., first. That way, we won't be tempted to copy! Often we find that the source  we are using gives a lot more detail than we want to use, so when we paraphrase we leave out a lot of those details and just focus on the main points. This type of paraphrasing is called 'summarising'.

The other way of giving information is to use exactly the same words as the source. This is called 'quoting'. Quotes are shown by inverted commas ("like this!", or 'like this!').

I would like to give an example, using an English source text, but first let me explain how you should treat Japanese source texts. If you are paraphrasing or summarising a Japanese text, then you should do exactly the same as you would with an English text; close the book and describe in your own words the points you wish to use in your essay. Do not translate the Japanese text into English! If you are quoting from the Japanese text then of course you do translate it, and after the translation you should put the words 'my translation'. If your Japanese text is translated from an original English version, then avoid translating altogether; it would sound pretty stupid, for example, to quote, 'The question is, should we exist or not exist', as your translation into English of a Japanese translation of Hamlet's 'To be or not to be, that is the question'! In such cases, you must use the original English text.

Now let's look at an example in English. Suppose you are interested in the Romantic poets and wan to use the following passage (from Praz, The Romantic Agony):

The word 'romantic' appears for the first time in the English language about the middle of the seventeenth century, meaning 'like the old romances', and shows how there began to be felt, about this time, a real need to give names to certain characteristics of the chivalrous and pastoral romances. These characteristics, thrown into relief by contrast with the growing rationalistic spirit which was soon to triumph in Pope and Dr. Johnson, lay in the falsity, the unreality, the fantastic and irrational nature of events and sentiments described in these romances. Like the terms 'gothic' and 'baroque' therefore, 'romantic' started in a bad sense. The shade of meaning indicated by 'romantic', at this stage of its development, is clearly evinced by the other words with which it was usually coupled, words such as 'chimerical', 'ridiculous', 'unnatural', 'bombast'...

But a new current in taste can be discerned right from the beginning of the eighteenth century: there is a growing tendency to recognize the importance of imagination in works of art. 'Romantic', though continuing to mean something slightly absurd, takes on the flavour of attractive, suited to please the imagination. 'The subject and scene of this tragedy, so romantic and uncommon, are highly pleasing to the imagination', wrote J. Warton in 1757...

It would be a mistake to quote the whole passage; it's much too long. Quotes should usually be no longer than two or three lines, and very often two or three words are enough.

It would also be a mistake to try to give all the details of this text in our essay; they simply wouldn't be necessary.

The best thing would be to close the book and sum up the main idea of the text. The result might look something like this:

The word 'romantic' (which had a negative meaning when it was first introduced in the 17th century) started to be used in a positive way in the 18th century.

That would probably be enough; we want to write an essay about the Romantic poets, not about the origins of the word 'romantic'.

The only improvement we might want to make would be to use a few words from the original text. For example 'in a positive way' is perhaps a bit general; let me check what Praz's actual words were...Oh, yes! That's better; let me change my work a little bit:

The word 'romantic' (which had a negative meaning when it was first introduced on the 17th century) started to be used to mean 'attractive, suited to please the imagination'.

All I need to do now is to show where the information came from. I do this in a reference. See Notes, References and Bibliography for details of how to give references.

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