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How to Paraphrase in an Essay

Updated on March 11, 2017
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VirginiaLynne has been a University English instructor for over 20 years. She specializes in helping people write essays faster and easier.

Paraphrase

Taking 1-3 sentences from a source and putting it into your own words using your own language and sentence structure but keeping the same meaning.

Difference from Quotation and Summary

Quotation: You use the actual words that someone else wrote or said. You put quotation marks around what you take from that source.

Summary: You are saying the main idea of the source in your own words, but not giving the details. A summary is much shorter than the original material.

Paraphrase: You give all the information from a small part of a source, but you do it in your own words rather than quoting. Often, your re-writing of the original may actually be longer because you need to make sure it is clear and not in technical terms or difficult language.

You take the words or perspective of someone else and explain it clearly.
You take the words or perspective of someone else and explain it clearly. | Source

When to Use

Most of the time, a paraphrase is better than a quotation. Only quote when:

  • The information can't really be re-phrased accurately.
  • The person who said the information is an important authority.
  • The exact phrase is well known, like Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech.

Sometimes, students want to quote when the information is complicated or scientific. However, that is exactly when you want to paraphrase. If the information is difficult for you to understand, it will be hard for your reader too. You need to carefully unpack the meaning of that information in your paraphrase so that the reader understands how that research supports your claims.

How to Paraphrase

Steps to Follow

  1. Read the original a couple of times carefully and think about what it means.
  2. Without looking at the original, write re-wite the passage in your own words.
  3. Look back at the original and see if you have used any of the same words, phrases or sentence order. If you have, change them.
  4. Note: sometimes you do need to use a few of the same words if there is no other way to say it that wouldn’t change the meaning (although it can also help to ask someone else if they have an idea how to say that phrase differently).
  5. If you do find a phrase or longer idea you can’t re-write, then enclose it in quotation marks. It is ok to combine paraphrasing with quoting.
  6. Don’t forget to mention the source at the beginning of your paraphrase, and don’t forget parenthetical citation at the end.

Tips

  1. Length: Unlike a summary which is usually a lot shorter than the original text, a paraphrase will often be longer than the original quotation because you often need more words to make the concepts understood.
  2. Citing: Like both a summary and a quotation, you will often want to cite the source inside your sentence (According to Raul Castro...) along with using a parenthetical citation (Castro 12).

Examples and Practice

Rules for Quoting

Sometimes you need to quote but many of my students use quoting rather than really understanding the sources they use. When you paraphrase and summarize, you need to read more closely to understand what you are reading. By putting things in your own words, your paper will be smoother and also have a stronger argument. However, sometimes really do need to quote the exact words. For example, you need to quote when:

  • The authority of your source is important to your argument.
  • You can't re-word and keep the same meaning.
  • The words are written in a memorable way.
  • The quote is famous.

Quote a famous saying.
Quote a famous saying. | Source

Student Samples

To help you understand how the rules work in student papers, I've included some samples below. I give student sentences along with my editing comments and re-writes.

1. Student Sentence: When I asked Connie Cocanougher why she is so dedicated to Happy Endings Dog Rescue she put it bluntly, “Dogs are better than people.” I couldn't agree with her more.

My Response: This is a good use of a quote because it expresses the person's attitude in a way that it would be hard to paraphrase in your own words. It is also well-written with the second sentence emphasizing the quote.

2. Student Sentence: Animal Control focuses on three areas of animal control management, “administration, the use of management tools, and delivery of services,” (Aronson X).

My Response: This is also probably a time when quoting might work better than paraphrase because some specific words are used to characterize this criterion and you may want to use those exact words in your discussion of this issue so you may not want to paraphrase them. In addition, you are citing an authoritative source which you may want to quote to add authority. However, this is not written quite correctly. It is probably better to write the author's name (although the book title in italics would also be all right) and since this is a list you need to use a colon. Again, no comma before the parenthetical reference:

My Rewrite: Stephen Aronson explains that the three areas of animal control management are: "administration, the use of management tools, and delivery of services" (Aronson X).

3. Student Sentence: Another disturbing fact is that “More than 20 percent of people who leave dogs in shelters adopted them from a shelter” (ASPCA).

My Response: The above sentence does quote correctly but I really don't think you need to quote this information because it doesn't fit into any of the rules of when you need to quote. Instead, put this fact into your own words in a paraphrase.

My Rewrite: Another disturbing fact is that twenty percent of dogs left at a shelter are adopted dogs which are being returned (ASPCA).

Source

Practice Exercises

Here are some more sentences from students that contain errors. Can you rewrite these into sentences which paraphrase the material carefully using your own words and sentence structure. Don't forget to cite correctly too.

  1. Overpopulation concerns are supported by the state that only “10 percent of animals received by shelters have been spayed or neutered,” (ASPCA).
  2. “It is estimated that between six and eight million cats and dogs enter animal shelters every year in the United States,”(IDUSA.org).
  3. Many other reasons are grouped under the category of “social attitudes”. “One out of every five animal companions becomes lost at some point of their lives,” (IDUSA.org). Also, “over 30% of the animals who wind up in shelters are surrendered by their guardians who are unable to care for them,” (IDUSA.org).
  4. In 1990, Friends for Life was asked to "serve as legal guardian for a man who was found unconscious. He was unable to make medical decisions and he had no family who could intervene on his behalf. Friends for Life now offers guardianship service in 39 Texas counties and serves as guardian when the judge determines a person lacks capacity and there is no family member qualified and willing to serve" (Friends for Life 33).
  5. "Friends for Life serves the elderly and people with disabilities through five different program areas:
  • Guardianship
  • Money Management
  • Independent Living and Quality of Life Programs
  • Intergenerational Programs
  • Adult Day Care" (Friends for Life 2).

More Practice Exercises

Pick up a textbook, newspaper or magazine. Choose 1-2 sentences which contain important information. Using the format above, read and paraphrase them. Be sure to check them word for word with the source afterward.

  1. Did you say everything in the source?
  2. Did you use any of the same words, sentence structure or phrasing (outside of technical terms you can't change).
  3. Read the sentence out loud. Does it read smoothly? Does it sound like you wrote it?


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