How to Paraphrase
Published September 2, 2020. Updated November 10, 2020.
When you’re writing a paper, it’s often helpful to bring in information from outside sources. That way, you can back up your claims or provide context.
Sometimes a source is too wordy and quoting it would break up the flow of your paper. In that case, it’s probably a good idea to paraphrase.
So what is paraphrasing? Paraphrasing is a technique that allows you to add information from another source to your paper but in your own words.
This strategy can also help if you’ve already used too many quotes in your paper. Wouldn’t want the reader to lose interest while you’re trying to make your point!
There’s a lot to think about when deciding how to paraphrase another writer. For example, even though you are not quoting the source, you still need to cite it.
In this guide, you’ll discover the best practices for how to paraphrase a source. You’ll also find step-by-step instructions, along with paraphrasing examples.
Step 1: Decide what you’ll paraphrase
Unlike a summary, where you discuss an entire book or article, a paraphrase focuses on a specific statement made by the original source. That means you need to find the exact point the other writer made that you think will strengthen your paper.
Reread the original page or paragraph. What exactly did the writer say that your reader needs to know? Highlight the important text, so you can start thinking about how best to paraphrase it.
For example, let’s say you’re writing a persuasive paper arguing that cupcakes are the best dessert. The information below would be a great way to back that claim up:
Source A—When surveyed, 65% said they preferred cupcakes over cake. A majority of these people liked that cupcakes already come as individual servings. Plus, those who do not like icing found it easier to avoid on cupcakes rather than cake.
Nothing exists in a bubble. Is there anything else about the original source that your reader should keep in mind? This will influence how you paraphrase the source.
In the example above, Source A may have a reason to advocate for cupcakes over cake. The writer could own a cupcake store or be trying to sell a cupcake holder to their readers.
Include this useful context either before or after your paraphrasing, whichever feels the most appropriate. That way, your reader has a better idea of what the original source said and why they said it.
Step 2: Rewrite in your own words
At this point, you have great information from a source that will make your paper more comprehensive. Now, it’s time to think about how to paraphrase it for your specific needs.
What purpose will this information serve in your paper? Sometimes, you only need the source to confirm a claim you made. In that case, your paraphrasing should be about a sentence in length.
Here’s an example of how to paraphrase in this short form, using Source A from the previous section:
Some studies show cupcakes to be even more popular than cakes. Source A found that 65% of people would rather dig into a cupcake than the other dessert.
Other times, you’ll want to include more detailed information that supports your paper. That means your paraphrasing will be longer than the example you saw above. Make sure to stay on topic, though, and only include the information you need.
Let’s see how to paraphrase the cupcake example in this longer style:
Source A found that many people prefer a treat that they can grab and go with, unlike a cake that needs to be cut. Plus, for people who find icing too sweet, they can simply scoop it off the top of a cupcake. These are key reasons why Source A discovered 65% of people like cupcakes better.
The most important part of paraphrasing is ensuring that it is done in your own words. Think about your personal writing style. Then, adapt the main points from the original source using your regular vocabulary and phrasing.
It may be intimidating at first to figure out how to paraphrase a source. Really, though, it comes down to writing the same way you would normally.
Step 3: Check the original
Plagiarism is the worst-case scenario for you as a writer. You’ll lose all credibility for this paper and any written before or after. Plus, you’d be stealing from another writer.
Compare your paraphrasing with the original source. Are any words identical, besides important proper nouns? Are there phrases that a reader would consider too similar?
If you said “yes” to either of these questions, then go back and change the wording. Try again to translate the original source’s message into your own words.
Here’s an example of how not to paraphrase:
Original source: Residents expressed concern that there are too many fun things to do in town. With so many activities and first-class restaurants, they worried they would never be able to focus on work.
Paraphrase: Numerous residents in town were concerned that the number of fun things to do would keep their focus off work.
In this example, the writer attempted to change the wording. However, phrases such as “fun things to do” and “focus off work” are either identical or nearly identical to the original source.
Let’s see a better example of how to paraphrase the source above:
Not everyone wants their city filled with recreational options. When Original Source asked residents for their thoughts, some people said these weekend and nighttime offerings were too much of a distraction.
This paraphrasing uses almost none of the words from the original source. The only exception is “residents,” which the paraphraser thought was necessary to include. It is okay to do this on occasion. However, use as few duplicate words as possible. That’s how you avoid plagiarism while paraphrasing.
Even after multiple rounds of paraphrasing, you may still feel like your wording is too close to the original source. At that point, you should consider directly quoting the writer instead of including a paraphrased version. This protects both you and the original source.
Step 4: Cite your source
Citing the source is an important part of how you paraphrase another writer. After all, you are taking their ideas and putting them in your paper.
Every citation style, from AP to MLA to Chicago, has a different way to give proper credit to a writer you’re paraphrasing. Your teacher should let you know in the instructions which style they prefer.
Find a handbook or a credible online source for the style your teacher requested. Then, follow the citation instructions to a T.
It’s best to do this a few days before the assignment is due. That way, if you have any questions about how to cite a paraphrased source, you can ask your teacher.
How to paraphrase a source: Key takeaways
- Paraphrasing allows you to add information from another source into your paper but in your own words.
- Rewrite the information in a way that feels natural to the rest of your paper.
- Make sure there is no identical or close to identical wording.
- You must cite your source.
Published October 28, 2020.
By James Ardis. James is a writer who earned his MFA in Poetry from the University of Mississippi. He’s also taught English as a Second Language in South Korea, Thailand, and to refugees living in America.
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