How to paraphrase sources
Paraphrasing means formulating someone else’s ideas in your own words. To paraphrase a source, you have to rewrite a passage without changing the meaning of the original text.
Paraphrasing is an alternative to quoting, where you copy someone’s exact words and put them in quotation marks. In academic writing, it’s usually better to paraphrase instead of quoting, because it shows that you have understood the source and makes your work more original.
Every time you paraphrase, it’s important to cite the source. You also have to be careful not to use wording that is too similar to the original. Otherwise, you could be at risk of committing plagiarism.
How to paraphrase in five steps
- Read the passage several times to fully understand the meaning
- Note down key concepts
- Write your version of the text without looking at the original
- Compare your paraphrased text with the original passage and make minor adjustments to phrases that remain too similar
- Cite the source where you found the idea
- The text is rewritten in your own words
- The meaning of the text did not change
- The source is cited correctly according to APA in-text citation rules
The five steps to paraphrasing may seem straightforward, but writing an idea in a different way than the published version can be difficult. These are four tricks you can apply to help you do so.
- Start your first sentence at a different point from that of the original source
- Use synonyms (words that mean the same thing)
- Change the sentence structure (e.g. from active to passive voice)
- Break the information into separate sentences
We have applied these four tips to the example below.
1. 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.
2. Use as many synonyms as possible
Synonyms are words or phrases that means the same thing. Our example uses several synonyms:
- “exposed a critical turning point” → “made it apparent”
- “outpaces” → “rapidly eclipsed”
- “power” → “immense influence”
If you’re struggling to think of synonyms, a thesaurus can be a useful tool. However, don’t overdo it! It’s perfectly acceptable and often necessary to use some of the same words as the original text. In this example, it would be unnecessarily confusing to use synonyms for words like “technology”.
3. Change the sentence structure
For example, 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.
- “technology outpaces what users, regulators or even its creators expected” → “the expectations of creators, regulators and users have been rapidly eclipsed by technology“
In this example, technology is the subject; the expectations of creators, regulators and users are the object. The original quote was written in the active voice, while the paraphrase uses the passive voice.
4. 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 you credit the original author. No matter what citation style you use, you always paraphrase in the same way. The only thing that is different is the in-text citation.
|APA format||(Roose & Kang, 2018, para. 11)|
|MLA format||(Roose and Kang)|
|Chicago Notes and Bibliography||1. Kevin Roose and Cecilia Kang, “Mark Zuckerberg Testifies on Facebook Before Skeptical Lawmakers,” The New York Times, April 10, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/10/us/politics/zuckerberg-facebook-senate-hearing.html|
Paraphrasing vs. quoting
If you complete thorough research and take notes on the sources you read, 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 because:
- Paraphrasing shows that you clearly understand the meaning of a text
- Your own voice will remain dominant throughout your paper
- Quotes reduce the readability of your text
Quotes are appropriate when:
- Giving a precise definition
- Saying something about the author’s language or style
- Providing evidence in support of an argument
- Critiquing or analyzing a specific claim
Paraphrasing vs. summarizing
A paraphrase is a rewriting of a specific passage from someone else, so 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
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).
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.
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 of the paraphrase.
To make sure you’ve properly paraphrased and cited all your sources, you could elect to run a plagiarism check before submitting your paper. Scribbr’s plagiarism checker scans your paper and compares it to a vast database of sources. It highlights any passages that are too similar to another source, even when the structure has been changed or synonyms used.
Read more about the best plagiarism checkers for students in our in-depth comparison.
Frequently asked questions
- 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.
- Can plagiarism be accidental?
Accidental plagiarism is one of the most common types of plagiarism. Perhaps you forgot to cite a source, or paraphrased something a bit too closely. Maybe you can’t remember where you got an idea from, and aren’t totally sure if it’s original or not.
These all count as plagiarism, even though you didn’t do it on purpose. When in doubt, make sure you’re citing your sources. Also consider running your work through a plagiarism checker tool prior to submission.
- How can I summarize a source without plagiarizing?