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How to Paraphrase Properly: A Student's Guide

Jewel Enrile
July 8, 2021
Illustrations by Yuxuan Wu

Picture it: you receive a brand new English assignment, and it is yet another essay.

There's no other choice but to go through with it. The instructions come with reference requirements, a citation style, and the non-stop reminders from your university professor:

Don't plagiarize, paraphrase!

Paraphrasing sounds so simple, but it can be hard to execute. Best-case scenario, you somehow paraphrase successfully and pull it off. The worst-case scenario? You could unintentionally commit plagiarism anyway.

I'm here to make paraphrasing easy and give you tips for your next paper. We can't avoid academic papers forever, so let's just dive in:

Definition

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Paraphrasing is when you interpret the meaning of the original source by writing it in your own words.

The meaning of the original passage doesn't change!

All essays include other people's arguments and studies. Say you want to include so-and-so's research in your text as it's relevant material. You have to paraphrase then.

Simply put, paraphrasing is presenting someone else's ideas in your own words. And don't forget: you still attribute the ideas to the original author. Always cite the original source!

So, let's do just that. Follow these steps to paraphrase properly:

1. Read, Reread, and Understand

You can't introduce a brand new piece of information without understanding what the paper was about in the first place. You can't interpret it in your own words, either. You won't paraphrase and might just end up relying on the original text.

(We're striving to be strong and independent here, okay?! Sorry, I'm not angry. I just have to drill that in.)

So, read, and reread. Know why the author wrote that original paper, article, or paragraph and what it's all about. Even if it takes a while, you have to digest the ideas presented!

2. Be Picky With Noting Down the Key Concepts

Once you fully understand the passage, it helps if you write down the main concepts. This tip helps for a long paper or any complex material! Understand the whole first, then go through a selection process.

What ideas do you want to present? Note sentences and examples that are relevant to you as a writer.

Tip: Don't worry if you don't have fully-formed paragraphs yet! Even words, phrases and sentence fragments on what you understand from the text are enough. You can build on them later.

3. Distinguish Your Interpretation With Sentence Structure

There are to ways to approach sentence structure:

A. Look away from the original material.

Paraphrase to the best of your ability! This method for sentence structure is more natural and tests how much you know of the author's points.

B. Have the original text as reference.

Choose a jumping point to restructure a sentence (start where your key points are). Determine your own intent to change up the wording. You could be more concise or elaborate each point to clarify each sentence.

Either way, the sentence structure will change with your wording. When you paraphrase, your voice and style will also directly affect how you write each sentence down.

#4 Choose the Best Possible Words!

Don't rely on a thesaurus.

Don't paraphrase by swapping out words from the original text and replacing them with synonyms you find from a thesaurus. Wording matters, but this isn't the way to do it. Why?

This method is patchwriting - a type of plagiarism. Yup. Didn't know that at first, either. So, by doing this, you're not learning how to paraphrase. You're just plagiarizing a paper, sentence by sentence.

These synonyms have their own, unique meanings. They vary and you may be using them wrong if you just keep swapping them out. It's like that one episode of Friends:

A dictionary might help better.

Look up words you don't understand from the original source. Once you've got the words' meanings down, you have an improved vocabulary to work with as you write!

Tip: Wanna learn vocabulary on the go? Lockcard saves everything you search and makes your practice right on your phone's notifications.

5. Give the Original Author Some Love

Not giving the original author credit counts as plagiarism. Depending on your university rules, you could have a penalty as light as a scolding and as heavy as a suspension. So, remember to include a citation!

Stick to your style guide when you cite or paraphrase.

Academic styles, from MLA to APA, have their own set of rules and guidelines. A paraphrased text should have an in-text citation, and you can use said guidelines for that! Make sure you follow an up-to-date version.

No style guide? Just give the author a shout-out, academic paper style.

Mention the author as you paraphrase. Writing "According to Shakespeare," and "In a study conducted by Ariana Grande and company," are good examples!

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Exercise: Try Paraphrasing this Passage!

"We built Lockcard to be reactive. We are not a one-stop shop for learning a word, because they don't exist. What we do differently is that we never push new content to your screen; we patiently wait until you search for a word you need, to give you exactly, and only, the information you want. (The Lockcard Team, 2021)"

Becomes...

"According to a blog post by the Lockcard Team, Lockcard is a reactive, vocabulary-learning app. As a dictionary, it waits until the user looks up a needed word. It builds upon these searches to give the right number of reminders and information to the user's lock screen. (The Lockcard Team, 2021)"

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Top 3 Paraphrasing Tips For Students

1. Don't Use Paraphrasing Tools

Most of them "paraphrase" by swapping some words here and there. Remember patchwriting? If you don't look closely, those "paraphrases" can get a pass.

Most professors, however, will have an idea of what's going on. These tools may be fast and mimic natural human language, but it's nowhere near how you should actually paraphrase original research.

Here's the truth: it's a way to side-step plagiarism and for people not to put in the work. A published study on these paraphrasing tools outline how dangerous it can be.

Speaking of published, some of these tools for paraphrases are used to rewrite existing research and pass it off as original writing. Yep, it can get that serious.

2. Improve Your English Skills

In the same paraphrasing study by Rogerson and McCarthy, the people who had problems with paraphrasing were:

  • Students who had English as their 2nd language, or;
  • Students who were native English speakers but didn't have the skills to rephrase a subject with their own form, words, and voice.

(In a way, I just paraphrased right there. Yay!)

Improve your vocabulary.

You want a lot of ammo to explain a bunch of words using other words. When you read, search them up with Lockcard. The app will appear every now and then in your lock screen notifications. You practice and immerse yourself in more vocabulary!

Read more and write a lot.

Try to see how you'd explain a story in your own words. Plus, just a page of a novel or short story will generate more ideas on sentence structure.

3. Know The Difference Between Summarizing, Quoting, and Paraphrasing

So, what exactly are the differences?

Paraphrasing VS Summarizing:

Paraphrasing and making a summary can be considered the same thing! But that doesn't mean we can ignore the distinction. Briefly wording what an entire concept involves is a way to summarize a text. Paraphrasing is on more specific ideas.

Remember the Lockcard paragraph above? Let's try it again.

Paraphrase example:

According to a blog post by the Lockcard Team, Lockcard is a reactive, vocabulary-learning app. As a dictionary, it waits until the user looks up a needed word. It builds upon these searches to give the right number of reminders and information to the user's lock screen. (The Lockcard Team, 2021)

Summary example:

Lockcard is a reactive, dictionary and vocabulary app designed to give users the information they want.

Paraphrasing VS Quoting:

Well, duh. You use quotation marks.

Seriously though: aside from punctuation, however, quoting involves a direct copy of the original source. When you're presenting well-stated arguments or significant language, a quotation would work better over a paraphrased passage.

Paraphrasing example:

According to a blog post by the Lockcard Team, Lockcard is a reactive, vocabulary-learning app. As a dictionary, it waits until the user looks up a needed word. It builds upon these searches to give the right number of reminders and information to the user's lock screen. (The Lockcard Team, 2021)

Quoting a passage example #1:

"We built Lockcard to be reactive. We are not a one-stop shop for learning a word, because they don't exist," wrote the Lockard Team in 2021.

Quoting a passage example #2:

The blog post says that Lockcard is "...not a one-stop shop for learning a word..." but an app that, "... patiently wait[s] until you search for a word you need, to give you exactly, and only, the information you want."

Our Final Words

Learning how to paraphrase can be easy, and you can polish it as a skill over the years. It's crucial to paraphrase properly in any paper and do your due diligence with any citation.

I genuinely hope you learned something from my examples in this article! I hope you have a better idea how to do paraphrasing. Writing this blog kinda gave me a refresher... So I'm going back to that dreaded English essay I've got to do.

Charlotte Chen, Designer @Duolingo

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