Difference Between Paraphrasing and Summarizing

It can be difficult to know where to draw the line between paraphrasing and summarizing. These terms are often used interchangeably, but there’s a clear difference between the two that should be understood by anyone who wants their writing to be clear. This article hopes to clarify the difference between paraphrasing and summarizing so that you can decide which of these two is best for your writing style.

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Paraphrasing vs. Summarizing

Paraphrasing is a subset of summarizing. It’s when you take a passage and rewrite it in your own words. Summarizing, on the other hand, is when you take a passage (of any length) and condense it into a paragraph of description. The major difference between the two techniques is that with paraphrasing, you should be able to recognize what you’ve written, but with summarizing, the result should be so “pithy” that someone could never guess what the original material was. Take this example:


The young prince runs off into the woods to escape his duties as prince. He meets a mysterious hermit who he asks about how to cope with his new crown. The hermit tells him to forget his old life and live free and wild and only then will he be able to enjoy his reign. The young prince does so, but soon finds that it contains many struggles and hardships. He quickly realizes that he can’t escape his fate and ultimately realizes that he is fulfilling his duties as a prince by living however he wants despite the hardships.


The Prince doesn’t enjoy his new life, so he runs away. After speaking to a hermit, he comes to the conclusion that living however he wants is the key to enjoying his position as crown prince.

Given just these two example paragraphs, you can probably tell which one is the paraphrase and which is the summary. Paraphrasing tends to be somewhat “voicey” (first person) while summaries are always written in a more objective manner (third person). The summary also contains facts that can be verified as true, while the paraphrase contains more open-ended opinions and ideas.

What is Paraphrasing?

Paraphrasing occurs when you take someone else’s words and rewrite them in your own words. This means that all the meaning of the passage stays intact, but the sentence structures are different: essentially, you’re rewriting someone else’s sentences as your own. Paraphrasing is most commonly used in academic and business writing so that it’s clear that the writer isn’t plagiarizing. In this case, the idea is that you’re writing in your own words what someone else wrote in theirs.

What is Summarizing?

Summarizing is different from paraphrasing in that you don’t use any of the original sentence structures. You should only use your own words to write a summary, which means that the writing style is completely different from the original piece of work. A summary condenses an idea or text so that only the most important points are included. When writing a summary, it’s important to not just list what happens but to also explain the concept.

How to Paraphrase

You should always reread the material that you’re going to paraphrase several times so that you understand it well and remember it. Then, you can start rebuilding your thoughts using similar sentence structures and terms. Be sure to alter the sentence so that you’re sure that it’s your unique phrasing. This is especially important if you’re paraphrasing using a Thesaurus so that you’re not accused of plagiarism. After writing the first draft of your paraphrase, read through it several times to ensure that it’s an accurate representation of the work you’re paraphrasing and that you haven’t changed the meaning of the writing in a way that distorts the author’s original message.

How to Summarize

When summarizing a passage, you want to focus on the most important parts. Start by rereading the material several times and then determine which are the most important ideas. Once you’ve determined this, write a sentence that briefly explains this main idea and include any other sentences that are related to it but not completely necessary to the main point. Be sure to only keep sentences that are related to the main idea of your summary. Each sentence should have a purpose.

When Should I Use It?

Now that you know what paraphrasing and summarizing are, you’re probably wondering how to use each one properly. While knowing when to paraphrase and when to summarize isn’t an exact science, there are some guidelines that can help you choose which is appropriate. Your best bet is to use a combination of your common sense and these guidelines to help you decide.

Summarize when:

  • When the original passage or article is long (3 sentences or more)
  • When the original passage or article has a fairly “dummy-proof” format (lists, bullet points, tables, etc. – something easy to skim over quickly)
  • When you want to provide a reader with the most information possible in the least amount of space
  • When you want to provide a sense of the original passage’s “flow” without including any of the original passage’s “flourish” when writing it out
  • When you’re in a rush and just want the main points of the passage or article
  • When you’re writing a report for school or work
  • When you’re writing an evaluation of someone’s ideas, written material, etc.
  • When you want to re-use some original material’s facts or arguments in your own writing (if you’re writing an essay, article, book, etc. on the same topic)

Often, when you’re doing some basic summarizing, you’re also at the same time doing some basic analysis of the material (this is a good thing for students).

Paraphrase when:

  • When the original passage or article is fairly short (a sentence or less)
  • When you want to save some time
  • When the material is primarily narrative rather than informational
  • When your main goal is to convey an impression of the original material rather than provide a basic overview of it (this is more for creative writing assignments, but even in non-creative writing assignments, a well-placed and nicely-done paraphrase can be more powerful and elegant than a super-brief summary)

You have to be careful when paraphrasing, though. Just because you’re not lifting material word-for-word, doesn’t mean that you’re allowed to change the original meaning. If the original sentence or paragraph has a fairly discernible “moral” or “lesson,” be sure to keep it that way when you reword it.

Other Things to Consider

Paraphrasing is a great way for you to both familiarize yourself with a passage and then test your memory of it. You can use it to both read and review material. Summarizing is most useful when you have a narrow scope and limited time, such as a small reading section on a test. In this case, you would want to quickly read the passage beforehand and then write a short summary focused on the most important details.

Paraphrasing is good for building comprehension and recalls while summarizing can help the reader quickly grasp the most important parts of the information without becoming overwhelmed. It’s common to use both when reading and when taking notes. For example, if you’re taking notes on an article, you might first read it all the way through and create a cursory outline. Then, you might go back and create subheadings that each correspond to one of those points in your outline. Finally, you might read through the article again and underline important facts that you want to include in your notes, and then rewrite each subheading as a sentence. This allows you to both quickly skim the article and then create detailed notes so that you don’t miss anything important.

So there you have it…a quick breakdown of the difference between paraphrasing and summarizing. We hope this has helped you out.

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