In this guide you will learn the essence of what paraphrasing is, why paraphrasing is important, as well as some tips and tricks for summarising and quoting. There are also activities to practise.
You have probably heard several times that paraphrasing is writing someone else’s ideas into your own words. This can be difficult when you can’t think of another way of saying it or think you can’t write it better than the original.
Paraphrasing is part of a bigger picture. The main purpose of paraphrasing in academic writing is to use evidence published by reliable sources to support your argument in your assignment. To do this effectively, this evidence needs to be written in your voice. You will improve your writing when you keep in mind your purpose for paraphrasing: to evaluate the research of others in your field and incorporate their evidence to support your argument.
The evidence you use from the findings of other researchers or authors is an integral part of academic writing. It is not something tacked on as extra; rather, it is woven throughout your writing (whether it’s a paraphrase, direct quote, synthesis or summary) into your own argument through your own voice, and appropriately referenced with an in-text citation.
Imagine you are re-telling a part of what you’ve read to another reader. In paraphrasing, you do so for one or two sentences, or at most, a paragraph from a text. In paraphrasing, you are not shortening the original as for summarising. You cannot lose any of the original meaning in a paraphrase and don’t forget, you must use the in-text referencing citation, so your reader knows the origin of the source.
Some tricks of the trade in do’s and don’ts!
Don’t just use synonyms to replace original words.
Don’t just change every word here and there from the original.
Don’t start your paraphrase with the same words as the original.
Read the original sentence or two sentences (up to a paragraph); make dot point notes; re-read it; re-tell it orally; re-write it; check that you have restated the information without distorting the meaning of the original; edit.
Read around the part you want to paraphrase to ensure you capture the complete meaning in context.
Restructure the original sentence by not starting your sentence with the same words of the original.
Restructure from active to passive or passive to active structure.
Look up synonyms after you have undertaken the previous process of restructuring the original sentence.
Plagiarism often stems inadvertently from note taking.
Even if you provide a citation, if you use the exact same or very similar words, phrasing and structure as your source material in your assignment, it is considered plagiarism (cheating).
To avoid plagiarism you therefore need to paraphrase at the note taking stage.
This requires you to read the source material and process it so you gain an understanding from it, and then note it down in your own way. Yes, it does take more work! But it also helps with your learning and thinking so will improve your writing.
If the author has written something which is really the best way or the only way to describe something, then consider quoting it instead – in which case note it down exactly and use quotation marks around it.
Work through these activities to help you with paraphrasing, and avoiding unintentional plagiarism.