A paraphrase is…
writing the same information in your own words. This is an important academic skill because American universities value the ownership of both ideas and style. You will often paraphrase when you use sources in a research paper, especially when summarizing. Sometimes your version will be longer or shorter than the original, but the most important thing is that the source’s ideas are clearly explained and the language is authentic to you.
Good paraphrases should:
- change the sentence structure and grammar
- uses synonyms and other forms of words with similar meaning
- include the same idea
- explain where the idea came from (unless the information is common knowledge)
Common paraphrase mistakes are:
- changing only the words or grammar, but staying too close to the original
- misunderstanding or changing the meaning of the original
- adding opinions or personal commentary
- not showing clearly which ideas are from a source and which are from the writer
Usually, a computer program or teacher will consider plagiarism as more than 4 words together from the original. Even so, you should not copy key words: verbs, nouns, adjectives, or expressions that are unique.
Still, some fields have words and phrases that are common and all experts should know and use. Paraphrases may include these, even if they are more than 4 words long.
Strategies for paraphrasing
You can only write a good paraphrase if you understand the meaning of the original sentence. Most importantly, the paraphrase should never change the meaning, and someone who reads your paraphrase should understand the general idea of the original. For summarizing a large article, it’s tempting to copy phrases or impressive words, but these are the source’s words, not yours. When you take notes on the original, mark when you have copied key words.
There are many ways to write a good paraphrase. If you don’t know where to start, practice a combination of these:
- connect two sentences or change the connecting words/transition
- switch the order of ideas
- change the sentence to negative or positive
- change a part of speech
- use synonyms
- change a sentence from active to passive
- give a definition inside a sentence
- use a reporting signal to introduce the author
Hirvela, A., & Du, Q. (2013). “Why am I paraphrasing?”: Undergraduate ESL writers’ engagement with source-based academic writing and reading. Journal of English for Academic Purposes, 12(2), 87-98.