ESL: Source Use & Synthesis Skills

From the ESL Student Handbook, by Young-Kyung Min, PhD

 

In order to develop source use and synthesis skills, you must be actively engaged in your reading process. Reading and writing are fundamentally interconnected: the more in-depth reading you do, the more in-depth writing you can do. The depth of your understanding of the topic is reflected in the way you use sources in your paper.

As explained in the section “Reading Strategies”, there are certain strategies you can use before reading, during reading, and after reading in order to enhance your reading comprehension ability. Annotating while you read can be very helpful to cultivate your ability to write an effective summary. The annotation process can help you become actively engaged in your reading process and improve your ability to integrate the readings into your writing. You can also use the annotation notes you’ve made during the reading as the basis for class participation as well.

There are three ways to engage the work of others into your writing: summarizing, paraphrasing, and quoting. You must make a concerted effort to improve your ability to summarize, paraphrase, and quote sources for your college career and beyond.

Summarizing
Summary writing is always an essential skill to develop for your college education. There are many occasions you are required to summarize the readings you’ve done for both writing and speaking assignments. In order to develop effective summary skills, it is crucial to improve your reading comprehension ability.

The main function of a summary is to present the main points of the reading. A summary does not include your personal opinion. Thus, you should decide the focus of your summary in relation to the main argument of your own paper. In other words, when you summarize the reading, you should think about which aspect of the reading you want to highlight in your paper. Think about what to include and what not to include and how much detail you want to include in your summary in the context of your own paper. In order to write an effective summary, you must develop good paraphrasing and quoting skills.

Paraphrasing
A paraphrase basically means a “parallel” + “phrase.” As the very word “parallel” signifies, paraphrasing means that you restate the original wording in the source in your own words while keeping the author’s ideas. You can paraphrase not only a phrase but also a word or a sentence.

A good paraphrase strongly depends on the depth of your understanding of the material. The more solid understanding you have on the topic of discussion in the reading, the more effective paraphrase you can write. Remember that the more active you are in your reading process, the more active writer you will become.

In order to develop your paraphrasing ability, you should have solid English vocabulary knowledge. It will be easier to paraphrase a particular expression in the original text if you know the synonyms and antonyms of the words. A solid foundation of vocabulary knowledge is essential at every stage of your second language literacy development. Regardless of the degree of your competency in English grammar, you cannot develop effective paraphrasing ability without sufficient vocabulary knowledge. Thus, learning words in a systematic manner is very important in order to become successful in your academic endeavors. Please check out the section “Vocabulary Building” for further information about effective vocabulary acquisition strategies. (Hyper Link to the Vocabulary Building)

An important point to remember in paraphrasing is that you should not simply change a few words of the original text. If you simply replace a few words while keeping the same sentence structure, or if you simply change the sentence structure while keeping too many words of the original text, it constitutes an act of plagiarism. Please take a look at the way a student used the original source in his/her paper below:

[Original Source]
“The encoding dictionary can promote a deeper level of processing words and can help learners increase their knowledge of collocational partnerships more effectively by comparing differences in word usages based on the specific examples. As the title of this dictionary suggests, it can help learners develop receptive (reading) vocabulary into productive (writing) vocabulary.”  [Min, Y.K. (2013). Vocabulary acquisition: Practical strategies for ESL students, Journal of International Students, 3(1), p. 65.]

[Student’s Text]
I spent a lot of time memorizing the English grammar rules, but I always have difficulties when I apply the rules to my writing assignments. A tutor at the Writing Center introduced an encoding dictionary to me and explained that I could improve my knowledge of English grammar more effectively through the dictionary. As the title of the dictionary indicates, it can help learner develop receptive (reading) vocabulary into productive (writing) vocabulary (Min, 2013).  I started to use an encoding dictionary for my English writing assignments, and I can see how such a dictionary can help ESL students’ writing abilities.

Some of you may wonder what is wrong with the student’s text as the source is clearly acknowledged. The problem is that although the writer acknowledged the source, his/her paraphrase is too close to the original wording “As the title of this dictionary suggests, it can help learners develop receptive (reading) vocabulary into productive (writing) vocabulary.” The student just changed the word “suggests” to “indicates”; however, the rest of the wording is identical to the original sentence.

If the student had difficulty paraphrasing the expression “receptive (reading) vocabulary into productive (writing) vocabulary,” the student should have quoted the expression. Thus, the key point to remember is that although the source is acknowledged, if the paraphrase is too close to the original wording, it constitutes an act of plagiarism. Remember that when it is difficult for you to restate the original idea in your own words, you should quote the particular expression rather than attempting to paraphrase the wording.

Please note a main difference between a summary and a paraphrase. A summary is made at the whole paper level (whether it is an article or a book chapter), and a paraphrase is made at the sentence level. Here is a good example that can help you remember a main difference between a summary and a paraphrase.

Imagine that you did not have time to read an assigned article for your class. When you meet with your classmate who read the article, would you ask the classmate to summarize the article or paraphrase the article? You would, of course, ask him/her to summarize the main points of the article, right? How about when you come across an expression you don’t quite understand while reading the article? Would you ask your classmate to paraphrase the particular expression or summarize the particular expression? You would ask him/her to paraphrase the particular expression for you, right?  That is why a summary is usually longer than a paraphrase. However, remember that you must use your own words for both a summary and a paraphrase. 

Quoting
Quoting means you use a particular word, phrase, sentence, or paragraph as it appears in the original source with the acknowledgement of the source in your paper. A quotation must be identical to the original wording: you must not make any changes to the original wording. The double quotation marks (“   ”) must be used for a quotation. A quotation can be very useful to convey the nuance of the particular wording directly to the readers. You should use quotations judiciously: select the word(s), phrase(s), sentence(s), or paragraph(s) that can strengthen your argument in your paper.  If used effectively, a quotation can greatly enhance the point of your argument. However, if used ineffectively, it can interrupt the flow of your argument. Make sure you do not have too many quotations in your paper.

In order to develop quoting skills, while reading, you should pay attention to particular statements, data, evidence, or examples that you want to cite in your paper. The depth of your understanding of the topic is reflected in the way you integrate the particular statements, data, evidence, or examples into your own writing. During reading, when you come across the word(s), phrase(s), sentence(s), or paragraph(s) you want to quote in your paper, you should make annotations in the margins or on sticky notes. The way you use quotations in your paper reveals the depth of your understanding of the material. The more solid understanding you have on the topic of discussion in the reading, the more effective quotation you can use. Annotating while you read can be very helpful for cultivating your ability to use quotations effectively in your writing. The annotation process can help you become actively engaged in your reading process and develop your ability to use quotations effectively in your paper. Thus, a writing process begins with a reading process.

Whenever you use a quotation, you must always indicate the page number of the source text. It is optional to provide a page number for a paraphrase; however, you must always provide the page number whenever you use a quote for your readers. It will be easier for your readers when they want to check out the quotation in the original text. A crucial point to remember in quoting sources is that a quotation should not stand by itself in a single sentence. A quotation that is left alone without being fully integrated into the paper is called a “dropped quotation.” For further information, please check out the section “Dropped Quotation.”