How to paraphrase sources in your paper

Paraphrasing is the most important tool for sharing the research of others as relevant to your own study. When you paraphrase, you state someone else’s idea in your own words.

Along with paraphrasing, there are two other ways to share the ideas of others in your essay: quoting and summarizing.

What is paraphrasing?

The definition of paraphrasing is when you state someone else’s idea in your own words. The goal is to keep the same meaning as the original text without copying it word-for-word.

In general, you will paraphrase more than you quote throughout your paper.

This is due to three main reasons:

  • Paraphrasing shows that you clearly understand the relevant sources
  • Rewriting text in your own words ensures you do not copy the research of others and plagiarize their work
  • Paraphrasing an idea means your own voice will remain dominant throughout the paper

Example of paraphrasing

We begin with a direct quote:
“The number of foreign and domestic tourists in the Netherlands rose above 42 million in 2017, an increase of 9% and the sharpest growth rate since 2006, the national statistics office CBS reported on Wednesday” (DutchNews.nl, 2018).

Next, we rewrite the quote in our own words.

Example: paragraph of paraphrased text
The national statistics office, CBS, stated that the Netherlands experienced dramatic growth in the number of tourists visiting in 2017. More than 42 million tourists travelled to the Netherlands that year, representing a 9% increase – the sharpest growth in 12 years (DutchNews.nl, 2018).

Even though paraphrasing is very different, you must always cite the source using the correct citation style for the idea just as you would with a direct quote.

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When to quote and when to paraphrase

If you complete thorough research and notetaking of the extant literature, you will naturally end up paraphrasing most of the important information you find, rather than using direct quotes.

It is wise to limit the number of direct quotes in your paper, as heavy use can make it appear as though you do not properly understand the sources or are too lazy to write in your own words. Quotes also reduce the readability of your thesis.

In general, you should prefer to paraphrase or summarize the authoritative (primary) sources and studies you find.

Quotes should be limited to only when:

  • You wish to use an exact definition
  • The original wording is so perfect you cannot hope to write it better
  • You need to provide evidence or support an argument

Examples of when to quote and when to paraphrase

For this example, let us take a look at an article published on DutchNews.nl, “One in three Dutch children rarely or never play outside,” where the author interviewed a source and elected to quote them on some occasions, while paraphrasing other information.

 Quoted text:Why quote?
‘This research shows the enormous changes between the generations,’ spokeswoman Pauline van der Loo told broadcaster NOS (DutchNews.nl, 2018).This quote was used early in the article, directly above the paraphrased text in the table row below. The author likely chose to quote van der Loo here, rather than paraphrase, as a way to show that they gathered the information from a primary source, to introduce the subject that van der Loo would discuss, and to introduce the interviewee herself. The quote also supports the key problem addressed by the article.
Paraphrased text:Why paraphrase?
While 70% of the current generation of children’s grandparents played more outside than at home, today just 10% of Dutch children are more likely to be outside than play indoors, Van der Loo said (DutchNews.nl, 2018).After the author introduced the subject of the interview and the interviewee with a quote, the next paragraph was paraphrased from the original source (i.e. the interview). They probably decided to paraphrase here to concisely convey the information, and also provide some variety and interest in the text for the reader. Note that when you read the paraphrased text, you become aware that the author understood the information clearly and also took it from a reputable source.

Paraphrasing versus summarizing

As a paraphrase is an explanation of a certain quote from someone else, put into your own words, it will be approximately the same length as the source’s original quote.

When you completely or partially describe the outcome of a more substantial part of the research, it is called a summary.

There is a distinct difference between paraphrasing and summarizing. However, in general (as is the case in many universities), both are often referred to as paraphrasing.

Example of summarized text

 Summary:Why summarize?
An article published in April 2018 highlighted clear differences between generations of children in the Netherlands, stating that 70% of the grandparents of the current generation spent more time outside than at home, compared to 10% today. Since 2013, the percentage of children who play outside every day has decreased from 20% to just 14%. There are several negative outcomes for children that have resulted from lack of outdoor play, including increasing problems with short-sightedness due to a preference for time on computers, shortages of Vitamin D, problems with weight, and limited development of social skills (DutchNews.nl, 2018).Here we have summarized the entire article from the example above, condensing it to just four sentences, the same way you might do with a study or relevant research during the writing of your dissertation. While paraphrasing and quoting are ideal if you wish to focus on one section of a research article, summarizing is a useful tool if you find the entire source relevant and interesting in the context of your own dissertation.

Step-by-step guide to paraphrasing

1Read the passage several times so you fully understand the idea.
2Note the key concepts if you need to.
3Write your version of the text without looking at the original (see the tools listed below if you’re stuck at this stage).
4Read your own version of the paraphrased text against the original version, and note any phrases that remain too similar.
5Make minor adjustments as needed. You may not be able to change all phrases. For instance, in the above example, synonyms cannot be used to describe the “national statistics office.”
6Note the source from where you took the idea, with all the information you will need to properly write the citation.

Paraphrasing tips (with examples)

These steps may seem straightforward enough to follow, but it can be hard to see where to begin when it comes to actually writing an idea in a different way than the published version. There are a few tricks you can apply to help you do so.

Let’s start with a new example.

Original quote:
“But the hearing was about more than Facebook; it exposed a critical turning point as the power, sophistication and potential exploitation of technology outpaces what users, regulators or even its creators expected or seem prepared to handle” (Roose & Kang, 2018, para. 11).
Paraphrased version:
The hearing made it apparent that the expectations of creators, regulators and users have been rapidly eclipsed by technology in general, not only Facebook. Such technologies now extend beyond what these parties are able to manage, due to their immense influence, potential for exploitation and sophistication (Roose & Kang, 2018, para. 11).

Start your first sentence at a different point from that of the original source.

In the example, you can see that we started by introducing the context (the hearing) followed by the last part of the original sentence: the expectations of creators, regulators and users. In fact, the key pieces of information are mentioned in a completely different order.

Use as many synonyms as possible

While there are certain parts of the original quote that cannot be changed because there is no ideal synonym (e.g. the hearing; creators, regulators and users; technology), other words or phrases have been replaced with synonyms. E.g. exposed a critical turning point → made it apparent, outpaces → rapidly eclipsed, power → immense influence.

Change the sentence structure. E.g. if the sentence was originally in the active voice, change it to passive.

The active voice is when a sentence is led by the subject (the thing doing the action). When the object (the thing receiving the action) leads the sentence, that sentence is written in the passive voice.

In this example, technology is the subject; the expectations of creators, regulators and users are the object. Therefore, the original quote was written in the active voice, while the paraphrased example favours the passive voice.

Break the information into separate sentences.

Although paraphrasing will usually result in a word count roughly the same as an original quote, you may be able to play with the number of sentences to make the text different.

In this example, one long sentence was broken into two. The opposite could also be the case, i.e. if the original quote is comprised of two sentences, you may be able to combine the information into one.

How to cite a paraphrase

Once you have your perfectly paraphrased text, you need to ensure your in-text citations are correct. The most important factor is the citation style, as each requires a different citation format.

Examples of citations in the most common citation styles

Original quote (APA Style):
“Nearly 70 percent of the U.S. adult population meets the definition of overweight or obese, but a new study by University of Arkansas researchers shows the problem isn’t randomly distributed across the country. Instead, obesity is concentrated in areas with social and demographic factors that create what researchers term an “ecology of disadvantage.”” (Whitby, 2018, para. 1)
Paraphrased text:
APA in-text citation
In a study published in April 2018, University of Arkansas researchers found that the issue of obesity in the US was focused in pockets of so-called “ecology of disadvantage,” where social and demographic circumstances play a significant role. Almost 70% of the nation’s adult population were defined as overweight or obese at the time of the research (Whitby, 2018, para. 1).
Harvard in-text citation
In a study published in April 2018, University of Arkansas researchers found that the issue of obesity in the US was focused in pockets of so-called “ecology of disadvantage,” where social and demographic circumstances play a significant role. Almost 70% of the nation’s adult population were defined as overweight or obese at the time of the research (Whitby 2018).
Chicago A in-text citation
In a study published in April 2018, University of Arkansas researchers found that the issue of obesity in the US was focused in pockets of so-called “ecology of disadvantage,” where social and demographic circumstances play a significant role. Almost 70% of the nation’s adult population were defined as overweight or obese at the time of the research.1

Completing a plagiarism check

After you have finished writing your paper, featuring perfect paraphrasing and correct citations, you could elect to run a plagiarism check to avoid all plagiarism and set your mind at ease.

This comprehensive scan of your paper will show you if any of your text is too similar to that of the original sources.

You can use the plagiarism checker of Scribbr or compare the best plagiarism checkers for students in out in-depth comparison.

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Courtney Gahan

Courtney has a Bachelor in Communication and a Master in Editing and Publishing. She has worked as a freelance writer and editor since 2013, and joined the Scribbr team as an editor in June 2017. She loves helping students and academics all over the world improve their writing (and learning about their research while doing so!).

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