The One-Sentence Paraphrase Rule

Break up long areas of source use.  Interpret them.  The citation counts only for the sentence it’s in, not for the sentence before that, or the sentence before that, etc.

Telling Yours from Theirs

Use sources as a form of backup for what you write.  They support the writer’s claims, creating the sense that the writer owns her paper.

Now, too many students think that they are supposed to write a bunch of papers that list quotes.  Sometimes, they even paraphrase entire paragraphs.  This results in failing arguments and failing grades, because they have done so little work.  It’s easy to find a bunch of quotes.  It’s easy to paraphrase those quotes.  This is where the one-sentence rule for paraphrase comes about.

As a reader, I need to be able to distinguish between “what’s yours” in the essay and “what’s theirs.”  Ideally, the distinction between sources and you should be easy.  In practice, though, it is not.


The Rule

At the college level, instructors will only consider your citation to be “good” for the sentence in which it occurs.  That is, when I read a paragraph and it has a citation at the end, that citation only counts for the sentence it is in. 

Consequences Big Blocks of Uninterpreted Paraphrases

What I often see are blocks of source information that aren’t quoted, but which are cited.  The writer basically attempted to reword an entire block of text from the source.  The writer thought they’d be okay with just plopping a parenthetical citation near/at the paragraph’s end.

If this happens, you need to know how I will read things.

I will read it as follows:

The Paraphrase Counts only for the Sentence it is in.

The paraphrase counts only for the sentence it is in.  Therefore, anything in the several sentences before you cited is not covered by that ending parenthetical citation.  Let me show you an example from a student essay.   You’ll see how easy it is to throw in some details, and how tempting it is to leave them all alone.  This comes from a student paper about Alzheimer’s disease:

Experiments have been done on mice to determine which of two Beta secretases in the brain could be mainly responsible for the development of destructive plaques.  An enzyme has been recently discovered called BACE 1.  This enzyme snips a protein in the brain that forms a beta amyloid fragment.  These fragments come together to form the plaque.  Researchers are looking for a way to develop a drug that will inactivate BACE 1 and prevent the buildup of beta amyloid in the brain.  Beta amyloid forms plaques that interfere with communication among neurons.  There could possibly be another enzyme that they are calling BACE 2 as of now.  The abnormal accumulation of chromosome 21 in cells could also be a main cause of Alzheimer’s (Travis 1).

Aside from the fact that these are unquoted quotes, what’s the problem with stringing together eight sentences like this?  Do you see what I’m talking about with the one-sentence rule?  For the example above, the parenthetical citation (Travis 1) at paragraph’s end would count only for the sentence it’s in.  That is why we put the period only after the parentheses.  The period encloses that citation within its sentence.

The paragraph above shows serious plagiarism problems.


The Solution: Break Up Long Areas of Source Use

. . .and Interpret

Paraphrasing problems like the one above can be easy to fix.  You break up the long areas of source use and interpret their meaning.  The breaking up will force you to include only the source information that’s most valuable.  The interpretation will get you to stick in more of your own ideas.  Interpreting enough will tend to make it so you can’t just string together source information without writing anything about it.

Do you recall how much of a percentage of an average body paragraph should come from the source?

Answers vary, of course, depending on your purpose and the sophistication of your topic.  However, if you consistently let the sources take over more than 1/3 of your body paragraphs, you will not be a successful arguer, thinker, or writer.