49 Paraphrasing

The popular poster, "keep calm and carry on," next to a paraphrased version that says, "stay relaxed and keep going."

Paraphrasing is another way of presenting ideas from source material in your own words, but without the condensing that happens in a summary. Instead, paraphrases stay approximately the same length as the original source material being paraphrased.

Why Paraphrase?

To Demonstrate Understanding

Paraphrasing can demonstrate your understanding of a text, including its more complex details and connections between its main points, and can also help you double-check the depth of your understanding of a text.

To Provide Support

You might paraphrase a section from a source (unlike summary, it is unlikely that you will ever need to paraphrase an entire source) when an idea or point in that source is important to an assignment you are working on and you feel it needs to be included, but you can rephrase it in a way that fits your work without losing any key information.

Tip: Use paraphrase instead of direct quote unless you have compelling reasons to preserve the exact language of the original text. Often, the reason to preserve the original text in a direct quote is because that text uses specialized language that you can’t easily rephrase. As much of your work as possible should be in your own voice.

Look at the last paragraph of the Scientific American article (found at “Are you a Magnet for Mosquitoes?,” about why mosquitoes are more attracted to some humans than others.

The following sentence would be a good candidate for a direct quote because you might not know how to paraphrase the part about MHC genes:

“Scientists that study human odors and genetics have previously suggested scent cues associated with genetics are likely controlled via the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) genes”

The sentence that follows, though, says this:

“Those genes appear to play a role in odor production and also in mammals’ mating choices—because humans and mice alike appear to prefer mates that smell less similar to themselves, which scientists have theorized may be a natural control against inbreeding.”

Since there isn’t particularly specialized or original language in here that must be preserved, this second sentence is a good candidate for paraphrase. One way might look like this:

These same genes that might be attracting mosquitoes more to some of us than to others could also be helping us choose partners that we aren’t likely to be related to.

What Makes Something a Paraphrase?

A paraphrase

  • Is in your own words.
  • Is not condensed.
  • Avoids personal opinion.
  • Is completely rephrased from the original.
WARNING: don’t “thesaurisize” a paraphrase. This means, don’t’ take a thesaurus and find a replacement for the words in the text one by one. This is NOT writing in your own words, and it puts you at risk for plagiarism. It will also sound ridiculous.

Like summary, a paraphrase is someone else’s ideas rewritten in your own words. Unlike summary, though, paraphrase should not be condensed—the ideas as you write them should take up about the same amount of space as they do in the original text. A paraphrase should not include your own opinions about the topic, what the author of the text is saying about it, or how that author is presenting their point

It can be easy, when writing a paraphrase, to rely on some of the original author’s phrasing or direct synonyms for the author’s original words. Remember that a paraphrase must be entirely your own writing, not just phrases or words substituted in the same sentence structure, length, etc. used by the original text.

Write paraphrases in sentence structures that are natural to you and true to your own writing voice. The only job of a paraphrase is to accurately and completely represent the relevant idea presented in the text you are paraphrasing.

How Should I Organize a Paraphrase?

It is not likely that you will encounter an assignment that solely requires you to paraphrase a text. Instead, you will use paraphrase to support your own points and ideas in work with a wide range of goals. That said, there are still some guidelines for incorporating paraphrase into your work:

  • Introduce the author and original text, just as you would for a summary.
  • If there is relevant context, mention that as well.
  • Then, restate the part of the original text that you want to use into your own original language and sentence structures.
  • Include a parenthetical citation (if appropriate) at the end of the paraphrased material. (To learn how to do this correctly, see the discussion of in-text citation in “Crediting and Citing Your Sources,” part of the “Using Sources Correctly” section of this text.)
  • After delivering and citing the paraphrased material, reconnect that information to your own topic and point.

Exercise: Create a Paraphrase

Here is a brief passage from Sarah Boxer’s article in The Atlantic, “An Artist for the Instagram Age”:

The fact that some folks have managed to make the scene while others get left out in the cold is integral to the excitement of participatory art. The thrill is akin to exotic travel, or getting to see Hamilton. Because not everyone who wants the experience actually gets the experience, these works, even if their intentions and messages are democratic, tend to become exclusive affairs.

Which of the following is an appropriate paraphrase of this passage? Why is that one strong and the other one less functional as a paraphrase?

  1. The truth that many people have been able to attend these events as others have been shut out of them is key to what makes this kind of art appealing. The excitement is similar to visiting foreign countries or attending a showing of a sold-out musical. Since some people who wish to attend can’t do so, these art forms, despite not necessarily wanting to, often end up denying access to many would-be attendees.
  2. Boxer notes that this kind of art only maintains its appeal as long as there are more people clamoring to view it than can possibly actually view it. This reliance on scarcity means these artists are ultimately relying on elitist principles to find their success and remain in demand.

Text Attributions

  • This chapter was adapted from “Paraphrasing” in The Word on College Reading and Writing by Carol Burnell, Jaime Wood, Monique Babin, Susan Pesznecker, and Nicole Rosevear, which is licensed under a CC BY-NC 4.0 Licence. Adapted by Allison Kilgannon.

Media Attributions

  • “Stay Relaxed” by Carol Burnell, Jaime Wood, Monique Babin, Susan Pesznecker, and Nicole Rosevear is under a CC BY-NC 4.0 Licence.


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Advanced English Copyright © 2021 by Allison Kilgannon is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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