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What is paraphrasing?

When your professor asks you to paraphrase a text, they are asking you to use your own words to rewrite a passage from another text. Paraphrased material is usually the same length or shorter than the original source material, and it is important to maintain the original meaning of the passage. In other words, we don’t want to change the author’s ideas when we rewrite the passage.

When should I paraphrase?

It’s best to paraphrase when you’re referencing source material where the meaning of the passage is not tied to the specific language in the original text. Basically, the wording

  • Maintain your style and voice within your paper while referencing credible support
  • Reorganize the ideas within the passage to emphasize or underscore particularly important points for your paper
  • Simplify and clarify any complicated language, structure, or claims for your audience
  • Demonstrate clear understanding of the original source material

How do I paraphrase?

To approach paraphrasing a passage from another source, try the following steps:

  1. Carefully read the original source material; it’s important that you understand the material, so ask questions and discuss it with your classmates, teacher, or a tutor if you need some support with this
  2. Identify all the main ideas from the passage
  3. Consider how you might express these ideas in your own words; if it helps, try covering up the original or setting it aside to just focus on how you would explain these ideas to a friend—sometimes talking aloud helps for this! 😊
  4. Review your paraphrase and make sure you have not altered the meaning of the original passage—does it accurately reflect the text’s main ideas? Is it written in your own writing style?
  5. Always remember to cite!
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Examples of paraphrasing

Here’s an example of paraphrasing in a student’s literature review about the end of current-traditional rhetoric and the beginning of “expressivism” as a student-centered pedagogy. This student paraphrases an idea from James Berlin’s article “Rhetoric and Ideology in the Writing Class.”

Whatley, on the other hand, while also agreeing that discovery and invention in writing cannot be taught, believes that rhetoric is finding suitable arguments to prove a given point and the skillful arrangement of that argument (Berlin 2).

Note: This student still includes an in-text citation for the original source even though they’ve put the idea into their own words. Even when we don’t directly quote, we must always use in-text citations at the end of a sentence where we reference another’s ideas.

Things to keep in mind when paraphrasing

Some important things to remain mindful of while paraphrasing in your assignments are:

  • Not every single word in the paraphrase needs to be different; if you keep a specialized term or unique word from the original passage but paraphrase the rest of the text, you can use quotation marks around the specialized words or phrases
  • Use synonyms when you can to help simplify and clarify meaning within your paraphrase
  • Make sure you do not change the relationship or connections between any main ideas and supporting ideas within the passage
  • You can change the order of ideas within your paraphrase—this is actually one of the best reasons to paraphrase! You get to emphasize the parts of the passage you find most interesting or important to your own writing