Paraphrasing in MLA

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Paraphrasing is a valuable skill. It allows you to seamlessly integrate another person’s ideas into your work and it is the preferred way to integrate most research information into a paper.

In addition to writing a good paraphrase, you must also include a citation with the paraphrase. One effective way to do this is by following the MLA style of citing sources.

But first, let’s define paraphrasing.

What is a paraphrase? Why is it beneficial?

  • A paraphrase is a piece of information written in a new way after reading and analyzing a source.
  • A paraphrase translates the main ideas of a passage into a new passage that uses your own words and perspective.
  • A paraphrase lets you control what point or information is highlighted.
  • A paraphrase allows you turn a long passage into a condensed, focused passage.
  • Direct quotes are helpful, but paraphrasing allows you show that you truly understand a work. Think about it: Is it easier to quote a source or paraphrase?

What does MLA have to do with it?

Academic integrity is extremely important, and a paraphrase allows you to use someone’s ideas efficiently in your work…but that is only part of the work. In order to stay ethical, you’ll also need include an in-text citation. That’s where MLA style comes in.

An MLA in-text citation gives appropriate credit to the original source. By following the guidelines of the MLA style and including an accurate citation, you can avoid accusations of plagiarism.

MLA stands for the Modern Language Association, which is a scholarly association dedicated to the study and advancement of languages. The MLA style comes from their published MLA Handbook, which provides rules and guidelines on research and writing. The latest update to the MLA style occurred in 2016, and careful consideration needs to be paid to these guidelines.

Although there are other styles of research and writing, MLA is the primary style guide for humanities, language, and literature in the United States.

How to paraphrase

Steps in paraphrasing

  1. Read the original source material carefully. It is always a good idea to read it more than once so you can paraphrase carefully.
  2. Consider why the source was written, when it was written, who it was written by, and who the target audience was.
  3. Think about what you just read and answer these questions without looking at the source:
    1. What were the key ideas or points communicated?
    2. What is the key point you want to highlight from the source?
    3. What other contextual facts about the source do you think is important to include?
  4. Based on your notes, put together a paraphrase.
  5. Next, take a minute to double check your paraphrase against the original to ensure that you have used your own writing style.
  6. Finally, add an MLA in-text citation.

How to add an MLA in-text citation

In order to give credit for ideas that are not yours, citing is key. According the MLA, after you create a paraphrase, you should include an in-text citation with the paraphrase. In addition to the short, in-text citation, a full reference should be included in your Works Cited page. This will focus only on the in-text citation, but seen this guide for more information on MLA works cited citations.

An MLA in-text citation can be done in two ways:

  • Parenthetical
  • Narrative

Both approaches require you to know the following:

  • Last name of the author
  • Page number

Parenthetical citation

One way to cite in the text is to use a parenthetical citation after the paraphrase. This includes putting the author’s name and page number where you found the information at the end of the sentence and before the final period.

Using a website as a source? Note that is a source does not have page numbers, you do not have to include the page number.

Parenthetical in-text citation structure:

Paraphrase (Author Last Name Page #)

Parenthetical example:

I kept pounding on the doors ‘till my hands hurt and I woke up the dogs (Bronte 12).

Place that end punctuation carefully! Note that there is no period at the end of the sentence, but the period is outside the parentheses. Also, there is no comma between the author’s last name and the page number.

Narrative citation

A narrative citation means that you include the author’s last name within the page text and the page number at the end of the sentence in parentheses. A narrative citation would look like this:

Narrative in-text citation structure:

Paraphrase with Author Last Name (Page #)

Narrative example:

Bronte explains how Lockwood kept pounding on the doors until his hands began to hurt and he woke up the dogs (12).

Example of how to paraphrase

Here is a piece of text taken from the novel Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen:

“In vain I have struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.”

Elizabeth’s astonishment was beyond expression. She stared, coloured, doubted, and was silent. This he considered sufficient encouragement; and the avowal of all that he felt, and had long felt for her, immediately followed. He spoke well; but there were feelings besides those of the heart to be detailed; and he was not more eloquent on the subject of tenderness than of pride. His sense of her inferiority—of its being a degradation—of the family obstacles which had always opposed to inclination, were dwelt on with a warmth which seemed due to the consequence he was wounding, but was very unlikely to recommend his suit.”

A paraphrase of the above would go something like this:

Mr. Darcy had meant to communicate that he loved Elizabeth, but in the end all he managed to do was communicate all the reasons he had fought against his feelings for her (Austen 390).

Notice the benefits of paraphrasing here?

  • The paraphrase is (thankfully) much shorter than the full excerpt.
  • The paraphrase writer could have mentioned several different ideas and points. Instead, paraphrasing allowed the writer to focus on the main point they wanted to highlight.
  • The paraphrase demonstrates the writer’s deep understanding of what was communicated in the original passage.

Also, as mentioned previously, every in-text citation needs to have a matching, full citation in the Works cited page. Here is the full citation for the above example:

Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. 1813. Project Gutenberg, 2008. www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/42671.

How NOT to paraphrase

When you paraphrase, do not do the follow:

  • Use most of the same word and switch out synonyms for a few words.
  • Use most of the same words and change up sentence order a little.
  • Take key phrases from the sentences and put them into a new paragraph without quoting them.
  • Creating a good paraphrase, but forgetting to include an in-text citation.
  • Creating a good paraphrase, but citing the wrong source.

Other MLA considerations

The Modern Language Association advises that summaries, paraphrases, and direct quotations can all be used to back up your argument. However, direct quotations should be used infrequently, and save them for experts who are speaking on the topic.

Although you are putting a paraphrase into your own words, you still need to cite it because the ideas are not your own. MLA style asks for the author’s last name and the page number where you found the information.

Key takeaways

  • The ability to paraphrase is of the utmost importance in regard to academic integrity.
  • To paraphrase well, read the original a few times, consider the context, jot down the key ideas, compose your paraphrase, compare your paraphrase to the original, and add an in-text citation.
  • The MLA advises using in-text citations in order to give proper credit to a paraphrase’s original source.

Published October 28, 2020.

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