Paraphrasing Generic Engineering Concepts related to Safety – Introduction

If you are trained as an engineer you will already understand the importance of health and safety in your field. At work, you may be called upon to read, interpret and implement health and safety documentation.

Level of language
Health and safety documents are written at different levels of language. Some organizations or government ministries provide information that all workers must understand in plain language. An example is WHMIS – Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System. To learn more information on WHMIS you could try looking up In some cases, material is translated into languages other than English or French.

As a professional, you will be expected to read material that is written at a high level of language. You may also be expected to communicate with your peers or supervisors at the same high level. This will not pose a problem for some of you and yet may be intimidating for others.

Reading vs. speaking
Different people may acquire a second or third language in different ways but, as a rule, we understand before we speak and we read before we write. Many internationally-trained professionals who received their training in countries in which English is not an official language had to read textbooks in English. As a result, their reading comprehension skills are very good. Their ability to use the terms in spoken language may not be at the same level.

To paraphrase a statement is to restate it using different words and/or grammar while keeping the same meaning. You can paraphrase a statement at the same level of language or at a different level, e.g. make the sentence harder or easier than the original. This requires a solid understanding of the concepts and a good range of vocabulary. Being able to express difficult concepts more simply can help your listener. It can also help you to discuss subjects that you understand but cannot yet talk about at a high level of language.

Paraphrasing exercises can be done in writing or orally.

An example
Let’s take the following as a sample statement that can be found in literature on generic engineering safety concepts:
Epidemiological analysis is the examination of studies of the incidence and distribution of diseases, and of their control and prevention.

The first step in paraphrasing this statement is to make sure you understand it. You may already know what it means. If not, take a moment to think about the meaning. Do you have to check any words in a dictionary or a thesaurus? Do you have anyone you can ask?

The second step is to brainstorm possible substitutes for the words contained in the statement, for example:
examination -investigation, study
incidence – occurrence
distribution – spread

The third step is to construct a sentence containing new words which is grammatically accurate and conveys the same meaning as the original. There may be a number of suitable possibilities. It helps to read the sentence out loud to see if it “makes sense”.

The following is the result of one attempt at paraphrasing our example:
Epidemiological analysis: the assessment of reports on the occurrence and spread of illnesses, and of how to manage and prevent them.
Note that the term which we are working to define has not been changed.

The fourth and final step is to have someone else verify that you have in fact been able to keep the same meaning and that your spelling and grammar are accurate.

Improving this skill
Doing crossword puzzles and reading a wide range of material are two excellent ways to improve your paraphrasing skills.