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 paraphrase instead of quoting. It shows that you have understood the source, reads more smoothly, and keeps your own voice front and center.

Every time you paraphrase, it’s important to cite the source. Also take care 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 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.

Example: Source text
“Like other marine animals living near heavily populated coasts, horse conchs have lost considerable habitat to development and pollution, including favorite breeding grounds along mud flats and seagrass beds. Their Gulf habitat is also warming due to climate change, which scientists think further pressures the animals, based on the negative effects extra heat has on other big mollusks” (Barnett, 2022).

Incorrect paraphrasing

You might make a first attempt to paraphrase it by swapping out a few words for synonyms.

Example: Incorrect paraphrasing

Like other sea creatures inhabiting the vicinity of highly populated coasts, horse conchs have lost substantial territory to advancement and contamination, including preferred breeding grounds along mud flats and seagrass beds. Their Gulf home is also heating up due to global warming, which scientists think further puts pressure on the creatures, predicated upon the harmful effects extra warmth has on other large mollusks (Barnett, 2022).

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.

Correct paraphrasing

Let’s look at a more effective way of paraphrasing the same text.

Example: Correct paraphrasing
Scientists believe that temperature rises resulting from climate change are negatively impacting horse conchs living in the Gulf of Mexico. Development and pollution have also deprived them of important breeding grounds (Barnett, 2022).

Here, we’ve:

  • 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.

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Examples of paraphrasing

Explore the tabs below to see examples of paraphrasing in action.

Source text Paraphrase
“The current research extends the previous work by revealing that listening to moral dilemmas could elicit a FLE [foreign-language effect] in highly proficient bilinguals. … Here, it has been demonstrated that hearing a foreign language can even influence moral decision making, and namely promote more utilitarian-type decisions” (Brouwer, 2019, p. 874). The research of Brouwer (2019, p. 874) suggests that the foreign-language effect can occur even among highly proficient bilinguals, influencing their moral decision making, when auditory (rather than written) prompting is given.
Source text Paraphrase
“The Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday proposed to ban chrysotile asbestos, the most common form of the toxic mineral still used in the United States. … Chlorine manufacturers and companies that make vehicle braking systems and sheet gaskets still import chrysotile asbestos and use it to manufacture new products.

“The proposed rule would ban all manufacturing, processing, importation and commercial distribution of six categories of products containing chrysotile asbestos, which agency officials said would cover all of its current uses in the United States” (Phillips, 2022).

Chrysotile asbestos, which is used to manufacture chlorine, sheet gaskets, and braking systems, may soon be banned by the Environmental Protection Agency. The proposed ban would prevent it from being imported into, manufactured in, or processed in the United States (Phillips, 2022).
Source text Paraphrase
“The concept of secrecy might evoke an image of two people in conversation, with one person actively concealing from the other. Yet, such concealment is actually uncommon. It is far more common to ruminate on our secrets. It is our tendency to mind-wander to our secrets that seems most harmful to well-being. Simply thinking about a secret can make us feel inauthentic. Having a secret return to mind, time and time again, can be tiring. When we think of a secret, it can make us feel isolated and alone” (Slepian, 2019). Research suggests that, while keeping secrets from others is indeed stressful, this may have little to do with the act of hiding information itself. Rather, the act of ruminating on one’s secrets is what leads to feelings of fatigue, inauthenticity, and isolation (Slepian, 2019).

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 (Brouwer 874)
Chicago footnote 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.

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.

Example: Summarizing
Martin (2016) argues it is important to consider the impact of human architecture on the evolution of other species. Stating that the indoor biome—the realm of species that live and reproduce largely inside human-built structures—represents an understudied area for ecologists, Martin makes the case for studying this biome as an essential way of understanding the world of the Anthropocene.

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.

Read more about the best plagiarism checkers for students in our in-depth comparison, or check out the Scribbr Plagiarism Checker now.

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?

Paraphrasing without crediting the original author is a form of plagiarism, because you’re presenting someone else’s ideas as if they were your own.

However, paraphrasing is not plagiarism if you correctly cite the source. This means including an in-text citation and a full reference, formatted according to your required citation style.

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?

Plagiarism means using someone else’s words or ideas and passing them off as your own. Paraphrasing means putting someone else’s ideas in your own words.

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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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!).

6 comments

Alex
March 14, 2021 at 9:27 AM

Hey there!

My case "Author1" cite "Author2" by just 2 words. May I paraphrase "Author1" but cite "author2", why?

Is there useful cases? Or this type citations is restricted? I can't find "author2" original text to cite him straightly.

Best, Alex

Paragraph: https://pasteboard.co/JSxCkcOu.png

Reply

Jack Caulfield
Jack Caulfield (Scribbr Team)
March 15, 2021 at 2:11 PM

Hi Alex,

If you can't find the original source, it's acceptable to cite it indirectly, listing the main source "as cited in" the source you found it in. See this FAQ for how to do so in APA Style.

Reply

Joey Cuevas
February 8, 2021 at 10:10 PM

So, what is the difference between paraphrasing and summarizing? Do I have to include the page number for both citations? Also, I am just going through and writing academic literature review papers. If I talk about an overall generalization of the literature and what the literature is about do I need to cite that?

Reply

Jack Caulfield
Jack Caulfield (Scribbr Team)
February 9, 2021 at 3:40 PM

Hi Joey,

Paraphrasing and summarizing are similar; summarizing is just on a larger scale. You'd paraphrase a specific sentence or two, whereas you'd summarize a whole text or long passage. You always need a page number for paraphrasing. When you summarize a whole text, there's no need to include a particular page number, but when it's a specific section or passage from the text, it's still useful to include a page range showing where to find the relevant information in the text.

If you're making a broad generalization about the literature as a whole, it may not make sense to include a citation, since what you're saying applies to everything you're covering. If you're speaking slightly less broadly, for example about the studies that cover a particular topic, it would then make sense to include citations to show which studies you're referring to. E.g.:

Several studies investigate the effects of Facebook use on self-esteem (Smith, 2015; Jones, 2012; Dane et al., 2019).

Reply

Ariel Aguilar
November 26, 2020 at 4:57 AM

(Roose & Kang, 2018, para. 11).
I am not clear on this part of the paraphrasing part in APA.

para.11...... does it depend on the sequence of paraphrasing on the reserach?

Thanks!!

Reply

Shona McCombes
Shona McCombes (Scribbr Team)
November 27, 2020 at 7:01 PM

Hi Ariel,

The "para." in this citation refers to a paragraph number. It's because the source is a website with no page numbers – paragraph numbers are used as an alternative locator to show which part of the text is being paraphrased. You can learn more in our guide to APA in-text citations. Hope that helps!

Reply

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