Paraphrasing is a very useful skill in academic writing. It allows you to present the ideas of researchers and academics in your essay or paper in your own words and writing style, while providing a reference for where you found the information.
However, if you don’t master the skill correctly, you might be accused of plagiarism if you present a passage in your work that is too close to the original (i.e. if you don’t reword it sufficiently and present it as your own words rather than a direct quotation). It is essential to learn how to paraphrase a passage correctly and effectively.
Tips for correct paraphrasing:
1. Rewrite it in your own words and style.
2. Keep the length of the paraphrased section approximately the same as the original.
3. Ensure that you do not change the meaning of the original passage.
How to paraphrase:
1. Read the original passage many times until you are sure that you understand it clearly.
2. If you need to, look up synonyms for words in the passage. Be sure to also check the definition of the synonym in a dictionary to be sure you understand it correctly. You do not need to find a synonym for every word, particularly technical terms.
3. Take notes. Write down each idea presented in the passage in a few words, not in a complete sentence.
4. If you have to paraphrase a long passage, it might be helpful for you to make a brief outline.
5. Write your paraphrased section from you notes. Do not look at the original while you are writing.
6. Compare your paraphrased section with the original. Ensure that you do not copy words or sentence structures too similarly. Further, make sure that you present the original meaning accurately and that you neither add new ideas nor remove any important parts from the original.
7. Finally, add a reference at the end of the paraphrased section (an in-text reference or footnote, depending on the referencing system you are using). Do not forget to include the source in your reference list or bibliography.
Here is an example:
Prior to the formation of the Second Republic in 1931, Spanish women were not the legal equals of men. Unmarried women were in a slightly better legal position than were married women, since once they reached the age of 23, they possessed some legal rights, such as the right to sign contracts and conduct business.
In Spanish society, before the Second Republic was established in 1931, women did not have legal equality to men. Women who were over 23, if they were unmarried, had more legal rights than married women did. For example, they were legally allowed to sign contracts and to do business.
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Paraphrasing involves taking a set of facts or opinions and rewording them. When paraphrasing, it is important to keep the original meaning and to present it in a new form. Basically, you are simply writing something in your own words that expresses the original idea.
Paraphrasing Blocks of Text
Paraphrasing can be done with individual sentences or entire paragraphs. There are several examples of paraphrasing listed below for both long and short blocks of text.
Here are some sentences that have been paraphrased:
- Original: Her life spanned years of incredible change for women.
- Paraphrase: Mary lived through an era of liberating reform for women.
- Original: Giraffes like Acacia leaves and hay and they can consume 75 pounds of food a day.
- Paraphrase: A giraffe can eat up to 75 pounds of Acacia leaves and hay everyday.
- Original: Any trip to Italy should include a visit to Tuscany to sample their exquisite wines.
- Paraphrase: Be sure to include a Tuscan wine-tasting experience when visiting Italy.
Duke's online website provides many examples of paraphrasing in order to help students understand the difference between paraphrasing and plagiarism.
Here is an example of paraphrasing of a longer passage taken from the Duke website.
In The Sopranos, the mob is besieged as much by inner infidelity as it is by the federal government. Early in the series, the greatest threat to Tony's Family is his own biological family. One of his closest associates turns witness for the FBI, his mother colludes with his uncle to contract a hit on Tony, and his kids click through Web sites that track the federal crackdown in Tony's gangland.
In the first season of The Sopranos, Tony Soprano’s mobster activities are more threatened by members of his biological family than by agents of the federal government. This familial betrayal is multi-pronged. Tony’s closest friend and associate is an FBI informant, his mother and uncle are conspiring to have him killed, and his children are surfing the Web for information about his activities.
The main point of this passage is that problems within the family are as bad as or even worse than problems caused by the federal government. Details about this betrayal include one family member turning informant, a hit being put out on Tony by family members, and Tony’s kids tracking his activities.
Here is a summary of some of the changes made during the paraphrasing process:
- Early in the series = first season
- More threatened = greatest threat
- Closest friend and associate = one family member
- His mother colludes with his uncle = his mother and uncle are conspiring
- His kids click through Web sites = his children are surfing the Web
There is a fine line between plagiarism and paraphrasing. If the wording of the paraphrase is too close to the wording of the original content, then it is plagiarism. The main ideas need to come through, but the wording has to be your own.
To use another person’s writing in your own can be accomplished with quotes and citations. A quote will need to be the exact wording and the author and source will need to be identified.
Paraphrasing usually makes the passage shorter than the original. Another option is to use a summary that is much shorter than the original and is an overview of the main points.