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Writing in your own words activity

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Exercise 1: What makes a good paraphrase?

Read through this extract and imagine that you have to write a brief assignment on Italian food. You will have to describe what antipasti are, but you do not need to talk about eating out.

And there is no need to go into detail, as antipasti are merely a small part of the answer. Have a go at writing a paraphrase of around 100 words.

Antipasti

Antipasti are served throughout Italy, but the content differs totally from region to region. In the north you'll get an incredible selection of cured meats, like bresaola, prosciutto, coppa di parma and salamis of all shapes and sizes. But in the south you're more likely to be served marinated octopus or sardines or raw anchovies. Like pasta and bread, antipasti are a real signpost for regionality in Italy. Generally they are always served at room temperature. In restaurants and trattorias your drinks will arrive at the table followed first by some olives, then maybe by some sliced meats. As a chef you have to be extremely organised to get everything on the table at once, but in Italy it's tranquillo and you can take your time, as it's expected that little bowls and plates will arrive in flurries.

Probably more than any other menu course in Italy, antipasti can change and adapt to whatever's in season. Take broad beans, for example. They might be boiled and dressed with a little oil and lemon, or mashed up with a little pecorino, mint, lemon juice and good oil… as long as it tastes nice and reflects the season it's an antipasto.

[An extract from Jamie Oliver's book, Jamie's Italy]

Good paraphrase

As Jamie Oliver (2005, p.2) points out, although antipasti are ubiquitous in Italy, they, nevertheless, vary considerably throughout the country and from season to season. Antipasti can consist either of meats, fish or vegetables and will be dressed in a variety of different ways depending both upon the season and upon the region you are in.

[Reference at end of assignment]

Oliver, J. (2005) 'Antipasti' in Jamie's Italy, Penguin, p.2.

When you've finished your version, you can compare it to one we prepared earlier and read our commentary, by clicking 'Show answer'.

Commentary

This is a really successful example of paraphrasing. The authors have taken Jamie Oliver's original, rewritten it in their own words and made it their own. But what makes it so effective?

The authors have selected the most relevant material (regional and seasonal variations in antipasti). They haven't simply repeated the original in revised language. They haven't cut and pasted material from the extract like re-arranging the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.

When writing something in your own words, you need to select the material that is most relevant to your needs (for example, an assignment question). You then need to shape this material to best meet those needs.

For example, in this paraphrase the authors have left out the ingredients and the specifics of what dishes get served where.

They've also left out extra details such as serving temperature and how the different parts of the menu will get served (drinks first, olives, then meats).

The authors haven't changed every single word and phrase. Since Jamie Oliver was writing about antipasti, it would be rather odd if the word 'antipasti' didn't appear in the paraphrased version. But overall, the language used in the paraphrased version is substantially different from the original.

To make something your own, you need to change more than just the language. You also need to change the structure of individual sentences and sometimes the structure of the overall argument.

So in this paraphrase, the authors have introduced the point about seasonal variations of antipasti far earlier than in the original.

Equally importantly, in this paraphrase, the authors have credited Jamie Oliver as the originator of the ideas and the passag e gives a full academic reference to Jamie Oliver's book. By writing in the third person - 'Jamie Oliver points out .' - they leave no doubt in the reader's mind that the ideas are Jamie Oliver's and not the authors'.

Click Next to see a less successful attempt at paraphrasing this extract.