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

  1. Read the passage several times to fully understand the meaning
  2. Note down key concepts
  3. Write your version of the text without looking at the original
  4. Compare your paraphrased text with the original passage and make minor adjustments to phrases that remain too similar
  5. Cite the source where you found the idea

Paraphrasing example

Original passage
“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).
Paraphrased version
According to the national statistics office, the Netherlands experienced dramatic growth in tourist numbers in 2017. More than 42 million tourists travelled to or within the Netherlands that year, representing a 9% increase – the steepest in 12 years (DutchNews.nl, 2018).
  • 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

Paraphrasing tips

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.

  1. Start your first sentence at a different point from that of the original source
  2. Use synonyms (words that mean the same thing)
  3. Change the sentence structure (e.g. from active to passive voice)
  4. Break the information into separate sentences

We have applied these four tips to the example below.

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).

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.

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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 Bibliography1. 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

Summary:
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).

Why summarize?
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.

Avoiding plagiarism

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.

Is this article helpful?
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!).

9 comments

Elena
September 16, 2019 at 6:29 AM

Thank you for a clear and clever analysis of paraphrasing and quoting that is at the root of many papers that we covered for UVOCORP, yet remained shrouded in mystery until I read this article. Although I no longer work for the company, I will continue to implement the above method in my proofreading assignments. Elena. Thank you and God Bless.....! September 16, 2019. Europe.

Reply

oscar maulidi
August 29, 2019 at 11:24 AM

is it neccary to follow the fullstop and what have you

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Ahmed Shareef
August 25, 2019 at 11:32 AM

Hello all,
First of all I thank all of Scribber's team members, specially Ms. Courtney for sharing such a valuable interesting and fruitful article. Even though your article covers the whole points about paraphrasing, it looks quite slim and fit in terms of details. So, it comes in line with nowadays students' needs and interest!

Best Regards!

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Wakuma
August 24, 2019 at 9:21 AM

An excellent article

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ST PATRICKS ACADEMY MATRICULATION SCHOOL
August 9, 2019 at 3:00 PM

Thanks a lot. Superb

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Salama
July 4, 2019 at 10:21 PM

So excellent and helpfully

Reply

saba
May 11, 2019 at 8:34 AM

I have a difficulty that when I have to paraphrase a text with et al for the first time what is the rule for that...Please discuss in detail.

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