Paraphrasing

Learning Objective

  • Describe when and how to paraphrase

There are two ways of integrating source material into your writing other than directly quoting from it: paraphrase and summary.

Paraphrasing and summarizing are similar. When we paraphrase, we process information or ideas from another person’s text and put it in our own words. The main difference between paraphrase and summary is scope: if summarizing means rewording and condensing, then paraphrasing means rewording without drastically altering length. However, paraphrasing is also generally more faithful to the spirit of the original; whereas a summary requires you to process and invites your own perspective, a paraphrase ought to mirror back the original idea using your own language.

What is Paraphrasing?

In a paraphrase, you use your own words to explain the specific points another writer has made. If the original text refers to an idea or term discussed earlier in the text, your paraphrase may also need to explain or define that idea. You may also need to interpret specific terms made by the writer in the original text.

Be careful not to add information or commentary that isn’t part of the original passage in the midst of your paraphrase. You don’t want to add to or take away from the meaning of the passage you are paraphrasing. Save your comments and analysis until after you have finished your paraphrase.

And be careful to remember that your paraphrase still requires a citation. Even when you use someone else’s ideas but put those ideas into your own words, you still need to acknowledge the source of those ideas!

What Does Good Paraphrasing Look Like?

In our first example, the writer is using MLA style to write a research essay for a literature class.  Let’s compare two examples.

  • Example 1: While Gatsby is deeply in love with Daisy in The Great Gatsby, his love for her is indistinguishable from his love of his possessions (Callahan).
  • Example 2: John F. Callahan suggests in his article “F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Evolving American Dream” that while Gatsby is deeply in love with Daisy in The Great Gatsby, his love for her is indistinguishable from his love of his possessions (381).

In example 1, it’s hard to tell what exactly is being paraphrased. Is the entire source about the comparison between Gatsby’s love for Daisy and his love for his possessions? And, if this is the first or only reference to this particular piece of evidence in the research essay, the writer should include more information and signal phrasing about the source of this paraphrase in order to properly introduce it.  

In example 2, the writer incorporates the names of the author and the title of the source material, so the credibility of the source material is now clear to the reader.  Furthermore, because there is a page number at the end of this sentence, the reader understands that this passage is a paraphrase of a particular part of Callahan’s essay and not a summary of the entire essay. 

Here’s another example, from an essay in APA style for a criminal justice class.

  • Example 1: Computer criminals have lots of ways to get away with credit card fraud (Cameron, 2002).
  • Example 2: Cameron (2002) points out that computer criminals intent on committing credit card fraud are able to take advantage of the fact that there aren’t enough officials working to enforce computer crimes.  Criminals are also able to use technology to their advantage by communicating via email and chat rooms with other criminals.

In example 1, the main problem with this paraphrase is that it’s so vague and general that is doesn’t adequately explain to the reader what the point of the evidence really is or why that evidence matters. Remember: your readers have no way of automatically knowing why you as a research writer think that a particular piece of evidence is useful in supporting your point.  This is why it is key that you introduce and explain your evidence.

The words "Think outside of the box" written in white chalk.

Figure 1. Paraphrasing sources can sometimes be a tricky skill to develop, and often requires creative thinking. Use the practice examples below to fine-tune your paraphrasing skills.

In example 2, the writer includes additional information that introduces and explains the point of the evidence.  In this particular example, the author’s name is also incorporated into the explanation of the evidence as well.  In APA, it is preferable to weave in the author’s name into your essay, usually at the beginning of a sentence.  However, it would also have been acceptable to end the paraphrase with just the author’s last name and the date of publication in parentheses.

What are the benefits of paraphrasing? It contextualizes the information (who said it, when, and where). It restates all the key points used by the source. Most importantly, it allows the writer to maintain a strong voice while sharing important information from the source.

Paraphrasing is likely the most common way you will integrate your source information. Quoting should be minimal in most research papers.

Just remember, changing a few words here and there doesn’t count as a paraphrase. Students sometimes attempt to paraphrase by just changing a few words in the source material. The key is to understand the material put it into your own original words, but without changing the ideas. It’s tricky, but practice makes perfect!

Try it

Paraphrasing is a skill that takes time to develop. One way of becoming familiar with paraphrasing is by examining successful and unsuccessful attempts at paraphrasing. Read the quote below from page 179 of Howard Gardner’s book titled Multiple Intelligences and then examine the two attempts at paraphrasing that follow.

“America today has veered too far in the direction of formal testing without adequate consideration of the costs and limitations of an exclusive emphasis on that approach.”[1]

A critical component of successful paraphrasing includes citing your original source. The citation may be made as an in-text citation, a footnote, or an endnote, but it must be included. You want to make clear and get credit for engaging with other thinkers in your work, and a correct citation foregrounds that strength. Failure to cite your sources is a violation of intellectual integrity (plagiarism), or taking someone else’s words or ideas and presenting them as your own. Sources should be always be cited in the appropriate way. Consider the following examples.

  • Example of in-text citation:
    • According to Levy (1997), the tutor-tool framework is useful.
  • Example of footnote or endnote:
    • According to Levy, the tutor-tool framework is useful.
  • Bottom of page or chapter:
    • Michael Levy, Computer-Assisted Language Learning: Context and Conceptualization (New York: Oxford), 178.

Try It

Take a look at the following paraphrased passages and determine if it is plagiarized or not plagiarized.

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  1. Gardner, Howard. Multiple Intelligences: New Horizons in Theory and Practice. BasicBooks, 2006