Monday, December 05, 2016

Poohing Poohing and Praising Paraphrasing

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?


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