Monday, December 05, 2016
You have probably heard some rule that no more than X% of your paper should be quoted. You've probably heard that readers often skip long quotations--or you've done it yourself.
But paraphrasing just so you're not quoting doesn't seem to serve much useful purpose for your audience. In fact, a less-than-precise and strained paraphrase can even obscure the original meaning. That's just from the reader's perspective. As a writer, if you're like me, you find paraphrasing difficult to do well, so paraphrasing better be worth your time.
Summaries, however, are really useful. I have a relative who works for NASA and is familiar with science and engineering writing. He says the ability to summarize well is really a gift. I agree!
I think the best audience-oriented use for paraphrase is to build understanding. I don't mean "dumb it down"; I mean talk with or write to your audience in a way that matches the need. You paraphrase in speech frequently, I'll bet. For instance, this morning my six-year-old was looking for his jacket. I said to check the entryway closet. There was a pause, followed by a question like, "What's that?" I had to think of how to describe the entryway. I thought of its location to other rooms. I thought of the color of the lighting. Then I hit on a feature I was sure he would know: the double doors on the front of the house. He got it then.
What do you think of paraphrasing? Is it painful, to be pitied, to be prized, or what?