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Writing in your own words activity

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Exercise 3: Write your own

Paraphrasing often involves producing an abbreviation of your source material - a highly condensed version of it. However, there aren't any hard and fast rules about this. Sometimes it can actually be necessary to focus down on a single point.

Alternatively you might need to provide an overview of the full range of arguments.

Sometimes you may even need to expand on a point in the original extract, perhaps when it's written in such a condensed fashion that you need to unpack its meaning further. In this instance, however, what we want you to do is concentrate on the abbreviated kind of paraphrasing.

The final exercise in "Writing in your own words" is doing just that.

Read through this final extract from "Jamie's Italy" and then have a go at writing a paraphrase of it, focusing on the central issue it raises: the possibility that Italians have retained a stronger sense of what's important in life and why this might be so. You paraphrase should be around 100 words.

Ciao! Tutto bene?

I've witnessed so many young people and teenagers in Italy living a 'modern-day life' which we would have seen in Britain seventy years ago - yes, they have mobile phones and computers but they're not seen as an essential part of everyday life and not as many people have them as here. There is also a massive working-class population and a very small proportion of wealthy people.

So I think Italy has managed to retain a lot of its brilliant things because there hasn't been a lot of choice available. . and for me it creates a profound emotion because sometimes when you have too much choice you can lose sight of the things that really matter - your family, your kids and your health. With Italians being the third longest-living nation in the world behind the Japanese and Icelanders, you can see that they're not doing much wrong, even with a lack of choice!

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

Suggested version

Jamie Oliver (2005, p.xiv) argues that Italians continue to have a strong, if fairly traditional, sense of what is important in life. This is, he suggests, due to the fact that, compared with some other countries, they are faced with fewer consumer and lifestyle choices.

As a result, he argues, even those young people who have consumer goods are less likely to view these as central to a full and vibrant existence than would be the case in Britain. The benefits can, Oliver agues, be judged by the fact that life-expectancy is longer in Italy than in most other countries.

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

Commentary

Don't worry if your paraphrase looks rather different from the one we have written. There are a lot of ways in which the original could have been changed.

This is how we went about it.

  • One: We tried to change both the language and the sentence structure. For instance, the original phrase - 'Italy has managed to retain a lot of its brilliant things' we reworked as - 'Italians continue to have a strong if fairly traditional sense of what is important in life'.
  • Two: We made sure that Jamie Oliver was credited as the originator of the ideas, first by providing a reference to his book, but also by noting throughout that the argument is his and not ours by writing 'Oliver argues', 'he suggests' and so on.
  • Three: We selected and highlighted the central argument - Jamie Oliver's, perhaps disputable claim, that, faced with fewer consumer and lifestyle choices, Italians have retained a stronger sense of what is important in life. In doing that, our aim was not only to demonstrate our understanding of Jamie Oliver's argument, we also actively shaped the material to the demands of the assignment. You may find it useful to go back and have another look at your own version, bearing these points in mind. Click Compare versions, to go back.

Summary

Writing in your own words is important because it is one very good way of understanding other people's arguments and ideas. And, because you understand the ideas better, you can see their strengths and weaknesses better.

This is process to keep in mind when putting other people's ideas and arguments into your words.

  • Make sure you change the language. Not every single word and phrase of course but make your version substantially different from the original.
  • Change the sentence structure and, where appropriate, the structure of the argument.
  • Always use references. Make sure your readers know where the ideas you're putting forward come from.
  • Above all, writing in your own words means selecting the material most relevant to your needs and, using your own language, actively shaping this to the task in hand.