Paraphrase and Summary

Paraphrase and summary are different writing strategies that ask you to put another author’s argument in your own words. This can help you better understand what the writer of the source is saying, so that you can communicate that message to your own reader without relying only on direct quotes.
Paraphrases are used for short passages and specific claims in an argument, while summaries are used for entire pieces and focus on capturing the big picture of an argument. Both should be cited using the appropriate format (MLA, APA, etc.).  See KU Writing Center guides on APA Formatting, Chicago Formatting, and MLA Formatting for more information. 


When you paraphrase, you are using your own words to explain one of the claims of your source's argument, following its line of reasoning and its sequence of ideas. The purpose of a paraphrase is to convey the meaning of the original message and, in doing so, to prove that you understand the passage well enough to restate it. The paraphrase should give the reader an accurate understanding of the author's position on the topic. Your job is to uncover and explain all the facts and arguments involved in your subject. A paraphrase tends to be about the same length or a little shorter than the thing being paraphrased.

To paraphrase:

  • Alter the wording of the passage without changing its meaning. Key words, such as names and field terminology, may stay the same (i.e. you do not need to rename Milwaukee or osteoporosis), but all other words must be rephrased. 
  • Retain the basic logic of the argument, sequence of ideas, and examples used in the passage. 
  • Accurately convey the author's meaning and opinion. 
  • Keep the length approximately the same as the original passage. 
  • Do not forget to cite where the information came from. Even though it is in your own words, the idea belongs to someone else, and that source must be acknowledged. 


A summary covers the main points of the writer’s argument in your own words. Summaries are generally much shorter than the original source, since they do not contain any specific examples or pieces of evidence. The goal of a summary is to give the reader a clear idea of what the source is arguing, without going into any specifics about what they are using to argue their point.

To summarize: 

  • Identify what reading or speech is being summarized. 
  • State the author’s thesis and main claims of their argument in your own words. Just like paraphrasing, make sure everything but key terms is reworded. 
  • Avoid specific details or examples. 
  • Avoid your personal opinions about the topic. 
  • Include the conclusion of the original material. 
  • Cite summarized information as well. 

In both the paraphrase and summary, the author's meaning and opinion are retained. However, in the case of the summary, examples and illustrations are omitted. Summaries can be tremendously helpful because they can be used to encapsulate everything from a long narrative passage of an essay, to a chapter in a book, to an entire book.

When to Use Paraphrasing vs. Summarizing 

To get a specific point or example across To get the general ideas of a source across
To use a short selection from the source To use a long selection from the source 
To avoid excessive quotingTo introduce a source for the first time 

Updated June 2022