Spontaneous Paraphrase Exercise

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Professor Porcher Taylor, chair of the Paralegal Studies program, shared this exercise that he uses with students in his classes to help them improve their paraphrasing and summarizing skills. Summary is an especially challenging concept, since it requires evaluation of what’s most and least important in order to eliminate superfluous detail and identify (and describe) the main idea being communicated in a passage.

  1. Distribute the following paragraph at any time during the class
  2. Give students 20 minutes to paraphrase and/or summarize the paragraph
  3. Have students read aloud their paraphrase/summary

Despite the current legal system hampering most typical forms of entrepreneurship, there are plenty of Egyptians putting their ingenuity to work. In a restrictive society such as Egypt, creating a business takes lots of time and significant capital which can be serious hurdles for fledgling entrepreneurs. Clever entrepreneurs have decided to innovate through an untapped and potential high growth market: the Internet.

It may be worth noting the difference between paraphrase and summary. A paraphrase uses a similar number of words as the original to convey the information; it’s often called putting it in your own words. A summary dramatically shortens the original, and necessarily omits detail. In research writing, we generally prefer that students summarize rather than paraphrase or quote content; the goal is to have students internalize content (which is a product of summarizing) rather than parrot content (which is often a product of direct quotation). In this exercise, the goal might be to start with a paraphrase but end with summary during an iterative revision process.

For more on direct quotation, summary, and paraphrase, check out the Purdue OWL’s Summarizing, Paraphrasing, and Quoting tutorial.

Daniel Hocutt

Web Manager and Adjunct Professor of English for the University of Richmond School of Professional & Continuing Studies.