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Study Skills

Summarising, generalising, paraphrasing and quoting

Use recognised experts' ideas and information to add credibility to your work.

At university, your writing will require reference to the ideas of recognised experts in your subject area (discipline). This will give credibility to the ideas and information in your assignment. 

You may include the ideas of an expert in your text in four ways: summarising, generalising, paraphrasing, and quoting.  

This page will help you to:  

  • understand the purpose of references in your writing

  • use four strategies for referencing experts’ ideas to support your points 

  • recognise the features of a good summary, generalisation, paraphrase or quote

  • synthesise references into your paragraphs. 

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Before you continue, reflect on your previous writing experiences and the feedback you have received. How would you rate your ability in the following essay writing skills? Rate your ability from ‘good’ to ‘needs development’. 

Reflect on your answers. Congratulations if you feel confident about your skills. You may find it helpful to review the materials on this page to confirm your knowledge and possibly learn more. Don't worry if your skills need development. All students need support at some stage and these materials will help.

 

Referring to the experts

All scholars refer to the work of other scholars in their writing. They are participating in a type of academic conversation that helps to build knowledge in their discipline. As a student, you also participate by referencing the experts you use to support your ideas.

Reasons for referencing experts

All students refer to the work of experts in their writing. These references play an important role for many reasons.  

  • How many reasons can you think of? 

  • What is not a good reason to refer to the experts? 

 

    An overview of referencing

    Read the paragraph below from an essay on football hooligans.

    • As you read, think about how the student uses the evidence of experts to support the argument in the topic sentence. 
    • Click on the hot spots for an explanation.  

    Now, watch the video to learn more about the skills used to incorporate the work of experts into your writing.

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    Check your understanding of the video.

     

    Strategies for referring to the experts

    To effectively refer to the experts in your writing, you need to master a range of skills.  

    Summarising and generalising

    When you write a summary, you give your readers only the main idea or argument of your source. A summary is always much shorter than the original. In fact, the findings of quite long research reports could be summarised in only a couple of sentences.  

    When you are reading for your essays, you may find that several sources report very similar ideas. In that case, you needn’t write a separate summary for each. Instead, you can write a generalisation, or one summary, with all sources cited. 

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    Read the steps in creating an effective summary and flip the cards for handy hints. 

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    Over to you:

    • Reread a paper that you need to summarise for one of your assignments. 

    • Follow the seven steps and apply the handy hints. 

    • Think: How useful are the steps and hints for you? What might you do differently in future?

    Paraphrasing

    Paraphrasing uses similar skills to summarising.  

    • Like a summary, you paraphrase by expressing another writer’s idea in your own words and citing the source.  

    • Unlike a summary, a paraphrase is usually about the same length as the original. This is because you are reporting on a detail from someone else’s work, not giving an overview of the work. 

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    In this task, you will see extracts from original sources, followed by a student’s attempt to paraphrase. Read them carefully and identify problems with the paraphrases. 

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    Over to you: 

    • Read an assignment that you are drafting for one of your units. 

    • Identify the paraphrases you have included. Have you avoided these pitfalls? 

    Quoting

    Quotes are used less frequently in academic writing than summaries, generalisations and paraphrases. This is because our focus is usually on the experts' ideas, not their words. You will only quote when you have a specific reason to use an expert’s words; otherwise, you should paraphrase.

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    When you quote, you must punctuate carefully. Read the three extracts in the image below and pay close attention to the punctuation.

     

    a paragraph with quote examples

    Answer these questions about punctuating quotes. Refer to the examples above if you are not sure.

     

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    Over to you: 

    Read an essay that you are drafting for one of your units. 

    • Are your quotes necessary? Would a paraphrase be appropriate?

    • Have you punctuated your quotes accurately? 

    Synthesing sources into your writing

    After you have learned to paraphrase and summarise, you must master the skill of seamlessing synthesisng the sources into your assignments.

    Controlling the argument

    Remember that: 

    • your voice—that is, your ideas—should control the arguments 

    • other voices—that is, the work of the experts—should support your arguments 

    • you should demonstrate your critical thinking by commenting on and drawing links between the sources.  

    Reread the paragraph on football hooligans at the beginning of this material. Notice that the student didn’t present the evidence from the five papers one at a time like a shopping list. Instead, they presented the evidence in two groups: four papers that show a link with alcohol and two papers that provide another perspective. 

    Using a note-taking matrix

    One way to find links between the papers you read is to make notes in a table or matrix. You can learn more about using a note-taking matrix from The Thesis Whisperer.

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    One student has researched the topic of success in post-graduate studies. They have created a Matrix for storing their notes. A matrix is organised in this way:

    • Each column is for an article that the student has read.
    • Each row is for a sub-topic or idea.

    In this matrix, the student has put notes about attrition (drop out rates) in row one. In row two, the student has put notes on peer support for students. 

    Read the notes the student has made in the row for the sub-topic, attrition rates.  

    spreadsheet

    When the student wrote about attrition, they first read along the row. They compared the information, and noted how the different sources agreed or disagreed with each other. Then, they synthesised this information into their paragraphs.

    Read the paragraph the student has created from these notes and pay attention to how the sources have been synthesised into the text. Insert the missing in-text references by cutting and pasting them into the boxes. 

    Over to you
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    1. Here is a matrix that you can download and adapt:

     

    2. Read an assignment you are drafting for one of your units. 

    • Does your voice control the arguments? 

    • Have you made clear links between the sources that you have used to support your arguments?

    • Have you commented on the evidence that you have used to support your arguments?

    Applying your learning

    Reflect on what you have learned in this material and consider how you can use it in your own work. 

    Useful strategies
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    Think about your own work now and consider how you can apply what you have learnt in this material. 

    1

    Remember that reading is the first step in summarising and paraphrasing. So, you should focus on developing your reading skills.

    • Visit the Reading and researching page to refresh your memory of the range of sub-skills you need at university.
    • Read widely, read regularly!

    Re-read an essay you have previously written focusing on how you have used the work of the experts.  

    How effectively have you used the techniques in this material?  

    Exchange drafts with a peer and give each other feedback. 

    • Are the summaries, generalisations, and paraphrases written in your own words? 

    • Do they accurately convey the original meaning? 

    • Do your ideas control the argument, and the sources support your points? 

    • Are the references synthesised into your paragraphs? 

    Be very careful with referencing. The referencing style that you use depends on the expectations of your lecturer, so always check first. 

     

    Next steps
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    Reflect on your learning. 

    Revisit the self-analysis quiz at the top of the page. How would you rate your skills now? 

    Remember that writing is a process and mistakes aren't a bad thing. They are a normal part of learning and can help you to improve. 

    If you would like more support, visit the Language and Learning Advisors page. 

    We value your opinion. Please complete this form to share your feedback on these materials.

    Did you know CDU Language and Learning Advisors offer a range of study support options?

    https://www.cdu.edu.au/library/language-and-learning-support

     

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