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How to Paraphrase in an Essay

When you learn how to paraphrase correctly, you become a more proficient writer. This is especially true if you’re referencing outside information and using supporting evidence for your claims. Paraphrasing is useful because it shows that you understand the key, underlying concepts behind a passage. By putting these ideas in your own words, you can show your instructor that you’re capable of more than just copying and pasting quotes.

Learning how to paraphrase is also useful when you want to clarify a concept and make it easier for the reader to understand. For example, perhaps you know that you’re writing to an audience with only a cursory understanding of the topic at hand. You may want to phrase complex concepts in simpler terms so that your writing is more accessible.

It’s always a good idea to paraphrase throughout your writing instead of relying on direct quotes. Quotes are only meant to be used sparingly throughout your text. When you learn how to paraphrase properly, you can reference other people’s work without your entire essay devolving into one long string of endless quotes.

What is paraphrasing?

Paraphrasing is when you rewrite another author’s text into your own words.  A paraphrased passage can be shorter, longer, or the same length as the original text. After you learn how to paraphrase, you can help the reader understand a passage more clearly. This is especially true if you think the subject matter is too antiquated or complex for your readers.


How to paraphrase

In an academic setting, there are a number of specific rules and guidelines when it comes to paraphrasing. You can’t simply put someone else’s ideas in your own words and call it a day. For example, you must properly attribute the source material when paraphrasing. Although this process might seem daunting at first, it’s quite easy to learn how to paraphrase when you follow a few easy steps:

1.    Read the text

First, you need to thoroughly read the text. The key to paraphrasing is developing a strong understanding of the ideas at play. Once you develop a firm grasp on the meaning behind the passage, you’ll find it much easier to paraphrase it effectively. Don’t be afraid to read the source material over three or four times and really think about what it all means.

2.    Put the original text away and try to paraphrase by memory

Although it might seem tempting to constantly refer back to the original text while paraphrasing, it’s best to close the book or document and start from scratch. This ensures that you’re using your own unique language instead of being influenced too much by the source material. Remember, to paraphrase correctly you need to do more than simply change one or two words.

Once you’ve put the original text away, try to convey the same general message by memory alone. As you write, you’ll naturally express the passage in words that seem more familiar to you. You’ll likely end up with a paraphrase that seems clearer than the source material, and this is one of the main goals of paraphrasing.

3.    Think about how you’re going to use your paraphrase

Context is important when paraphrasing. While you’re constructing your paraphrase, it’s always a good idea to think about how you’re going to use it in your own writing. Is there a specific point you want to make with this paraphrase? If you’re using the paraphrase as evidence of something, what purpose does the evidence need to serve?

If you keep these ideas in the back of your mind, you can create an effective paraphrase that fits with your writing. That being said, you can’t pick and choose certain parts of a passage when paraphrasing. Instead, you have to refer to all of the ideas in the passage without leaving anything out.

4.    Check the original text

Once you’ve finished writing your paraphrase from memory alone, it’s time to check the original text to make sure that you’ve presented the ideas in an accurate manner. At this point, you should also make sure that your paraphrase is not too similar to the source material.

Unlike summaries, paraphrases are specific instead of selective. In other words, you need to say exactly the same thing as the original author when paraphrasing. This means that all of their key ideas must also be present in your paraphrase.

5.    Acknowledge your source

Even though you’re not using a direct quote, you still need to attribute your source when paraphrasing. Essentially, you’re using other people’s ideas to make a point, so you need to give people credit for the concepts that you’re borrowing.

The exact format for source attribution will depend on your course, subject, or instructor. For example, MLA and Chicago style formats both have different paraphrasing requirements. If you’re not sure what format you need to adhere to, check with your instructor and ask how they’d like you to cite sources when paraphrasing.

If you’re looking for help creating a citation, check out www.CitationMachine.net!

When creating your paraphrase, you may decide that you want to keep one or two words from the source material. If you do this, it’s important to use quotation marks. This is helpful when you want to make use of powerful words in the original text. Alternatively, specific words may be important when using paraphrases as evidence.


Avoiding plagiarism

Even when you diligently follow all the steps for proper paraphrasing, it can be easy to accidentally plagiarize another work. The most common mistake is to unintentionally create paraphrases that are too similar to the source material. Sometimes, students do this on a subconscious level.

This is why it’s so important to rely on your memory when writing paraphrases. Not only that, but it’s also crucial to check the source material for overt similarities after you’ve written your paraphrase.

Another obvious tip for avoiding plagiarism is to cite your sources. It’s important to note that only 10% of your writing should contain other people’s work in the form of direct quotes. This is why paraphrases and summaries are so useful in academic writing.


Key takeaways

  • Paraphrasing is useful because it shows that you understand the source material
  • The goal of paraphrasing is to make ideas easier to understand
  • Paraphrases can be longer, shorter, or the same length as the original passage
  • Read the source material thoroughly
  • Close the book or document and paraphrase from memory
  • Check for similarities between your paraphrase and the source material
  • Think about context
  • Cite your sources properly
  • You can’t just change one or two words and claim that you’re paraphrasing

Published October 29, 2020.

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