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How to Paraphrase: Definition & Examples

Instructor: Diedra Taylor

Diedra has taught college English and worked as a university writing center consultant. She has a master's degree in English.

Find out what it means to paraphrase, what the benefits are, and how paraphrasing is different from other ways to cite sources. You will also see examples of the ways paraphrasing can be used.

What is Paraphrasing?

Paraphrasing sounds like a simple task, doesn't it? Rephrasing something in your own words. But, paraphrasing is more than just replacing some words with synonyms or rearranging the sentence structure. It's rephrasing information from a source with a completely new expression of that idea, using unique language, yet still retaining the specificity of the message. It is like translating. You are saying the same thing as your source, but in different words, kind of like when a translator tries to maintain the same message in a different language.

To make this clearer, let's look at a couple things that paraphrasing is not:

  • Paraphrasing is not the same as quoting. A direct quotation uses the exact phrasing of a source, word for word, indicated through quotation marks and citation of the author. Paraphrasing does not rely on repeating what someone else says; it explains someone else's ideas in different terms.
  • Paraphrasing is also different from a summary. A summary fully recaps a source you have read or a passage of information, but in a much more condensed version. Paraphrasing is more specific and restates information with the same depth of detail, but in different words.

Paraphrasing is often used when writing academic or professional papers. Paraphrasing your sources of information shows that you have done research on your topic and can interpret what your sources indicate. Information from a credible source helps you to build your argument. This use of paraphrase is effective when you need to take away specific information but the exact wording of your source is not necessary.

It is important to remember that paraphrasing is a citation method. Just because you have reworded the information does not give you license to use a source without crediting it.

Practice at Paraphrasing

Here are some tips for paraphrasing:

  • Ensure that you fully understand the information you've read that you'd like to paraphrase
  • Break up and combine ideas
  • Expand on or shorten some ideas
  • You can use common language (words that do not have a likely synonym and must be used to describe a topic, like globalization, carbon footprint, American dream, etc.)
  • Use quotations for any essential bits of information that cannot be paraphrased without losing meaning
  • Maintain the idea of the original passage as truly as possible

Here is what you should avoid when paraphrasing. Committing these errors would constitute plagiarism, or unauthorized replication of someone else's work:

  • Do not simply replace words with synonyms
  • Do not simply reorder the information/sentences
  • Do not simply remove/add some words or phrases
  • Do not use some new phrasing but retain much of the unique phrasing from the original source
  • Do not forget to cite your source

Examples

I

Passage: 'Noman would go out into the pine forests above and behind the village and whisper her name to the monkeys' (Rushdie 46).

Unacceptable paraphrase: Noman would go out behind the village into the pine forests and whisper her name to the monkeys.

Acceptable paraphrase: Noman went to the pine forests to whisper her name (Rushdie 46).

- - The unacceptable paraphrase just switches the order of the passage and removes two unnecessary words, while the acceptable paraphrase states the most essential information.

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