How to Paraphrase | Step-by-Step Guide & Examples
Paraphrasing means putting someone else’s ideas into your own words. Paraphrasing a source involves changing the wording while preserving the original meaning.
Paraphrasing is an alternative to quoting (copying someone’s exact words and putting them in quotation marks). In academic writing, it’s usually better to integrate sources by paraphrasing instead of quoting. It shows that you have understood the source, reads more smoothly, and keeps your own voice front and center.
How to paraphrase in five easy steps
If you’re struggling to get to grips with the process of paraphrasing, check out our easy step-by-step guide in the video below.
How to paraphrase correctly
Putting an idea into your own words can be easier said than done. Let’s say you want to paraphrase the text below, about population decline in a particular species of sea snails.
You might make a first attempt to paraphrase it by swapping out a few words for synonyms.
This attempt at paraphrasing doesn’t change the sentence structure or order of information, only some of the word choices. And the synonyms chosen are poor:
- “Advancement and contamination” doesn’t really convey the same meaning as “development and pollution.”
- Sometimes the changes make the tone less academic: “home” for “habitat” and “sea creatures” for “marine animals.”
- Adding phrases like “inhabiting the vicinity of” and “puts pressure on” makes the text needlessly long-winded.
- Global warming is related to climate change, but they don’t mean exactly the same thing.
Because of this, the text reads awkwardly, is longer than it needs to be, and remains too close to the original phrasing. This means you risk being accused of plagiarism.
Let’s look at a more effective way of paraphrasing the same text.
- Only included the information that’s relevant to our argument (note that the paraphrase is shorter than the original)
- Introduced the information with the signal phrase “Scientists believe that …”
- Retained key terms like “development and pollution,” since changing them could alter the meaning
- Structured sentences in our own way instead of copying the structure of the original
- Started from a different point, presenting information in a different order
Because of this, we’re able to clearly convey the relevant information from the source without sticking too close to the original phrasing.
Examples of paraphrasing
Explore the tabs below to see examples of paraphrasing in action.
How to cite a paraphrase
Once you have your perfectly paraphrased text, you need to ensure you credit the original author. You’ll always paraphrase sources in the same way, but you’ll have to use a different type of in-text citation depending on what citation style you follow.
|APA in-text citation
|(Brouwer, 2019, p. 874)
|MLA in-text citation
|1. Susanne Brouwer, “The Auditory Foreign-Language Effect of Moral Decision Making in Highly Proficient Bilinguals,” Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development 40, no. 10 (2019): 874. https://doi.org/10.1080/01434632.2019.1585863.
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Paraphrasing vs. quoting
It’s a good idea to paraphrase instead of quoting in most cases because:
- Paraphrasing shows that you fully understand the meaning of a text
- Your own voice remains dominant throughout your paper
- Quotes reduce the readability of your text
But that doesn’t mean you should never quote. Quotes are appropriate when:
- Giving a precise definition
- Saying something about the author’s language or style (e.g., in a literary analysis paper)
- Providing evidence in support of an argument
- Critiquing or analyzing a specific claim
Paraphrasing vs. summarizing
A paraphrase puts a specific passage into your own words. It’s typically a similar length to the original text, or slightly shorter.
When you boil a longer piece of writing down to the key points, so that the result is a lot shorter than the original, this is called summarizing.
Paraphrasing and quoting are important tools for presenting specific information from sources. But if the information you want to include is more general (e.g., the overarching argument of a whole article), summarizing is more appropriate.
Avoiding plagiarism when you paraphrase
When paraphrasing, you have to be careful to avoid accidental plagiarism.
This can happen if the paraphrase is too similar to the original quote, with phrases or whole sentences that are identical (and should therefore be in quotation marks). It can also happen if you fail to properly cite the source.
Paraphrasing tools are widely used by students, and can be especially useful for non-native speakers who may find academic writing particularly challenging. While these can be helpful for a bit of extra inspiration, use these tools sparingly, keeping academic integrity in mind.
To make sure you’ve properly paraphrased and cited all your sources, you could elect to run a plagiarism check before submitting your paper. And of course, always be sure to read your source material yourself and take the first stab at paraphrasing on your own.
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Frequently asked questions about paraphrasing
- How do I paraphrase effectively?
To paraphrase effectively, don’t just take the original sentence and swap out some of the words for synonyms. Instead, try:
- Reformulating the sentence (e.g., change active to passive, or start from a different point)
- Combining information from multiple sentences into one
- Leaving out information from the original that isn’t relevant to your point
- Using synonyms where they don’t distort the meaning
The main point is to ensure you don’t just copy the structure of the original text, but instead reformulate the idea in your own words.
- Is paraphrasing considered plagiarism?
As well as citing, make sure that any paraphrased text is completely rewritten in your own words.
- What is the difference between plagiarism and paraphrasing?
So when does paraphrasing count as plagiarism?
- Paraphrasing is plagiarism if you don’t properly credit the original author.
- Paraphrasing is plagiarism if your text is too close to the original wording (even if you cite the source). If you directly copy a sentence or phrase, you should quote it instead.
- Paraphrasing is not plagiarism if you put the author’s ideas completely in your own words and properly cite the source.
- When should I quote instead of paraphrasing?
To present information from other sources in academic writing, it’s best to paraphrase in most cases. This shows that you’ve understood the ideas you’re discussing and incorporates them into your text smoothly.
It’s appropriate to quote when:
- Changing the phrasing would distort the meaning of the original text
- You want to discuss the author’s language choices (e.g., in literary analysis)
- You’re presenting a precise definition
- You’re looking in depth at a specific claim
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