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Learn to Paraphrase

In this handout, we’ll look at how to paraphrase your sources. A paraphrase is a detailed restatement in your own words of a written or sometimes spoken passage. Apart from the changes in organization, wording, and sentence structure, the paraphrase should be nearly identical in meaning to the original passage.

When do I Paraphrase?

You should consider paraphrasing in the following instances:

How do I Paraphrase?

When paraphrasing, follow the guidelines listed below:

You may find it helpful to use the following five steps when paraphrasing:

  1. Understand the meaning of the passage thoroughly. You may have to read the passage several times and consult a dictionary.
  2. Outline the passage or subdivide the information into smaller sections. Remember that the paraphrase must include all the important ideas mentioned in the original passage.
  3. Restate the information remembering the following:

    1. Replace as many of the words as possible with appropriate synonyms. Sometimes you may have to substitute a phrase in place of a word, or a word in place of a phrase. When changing words, keep in mind that most words have more than one meaning and association. You must consider the context in which the word is used. Using an inappropriate synonym may change the entire meaning of the passage. (Dictionaries are frequently better for this step than thesauruses.)
    2. Change the order and structure of the ideas or argument.
    3. Change the structure of the sentences. All of us have our own writing style. Change the sentences to reflect yours. Be careful not to change the meaning by adding or leaving out any important information.

  4. Make sure that you are faithful to the meaning of the source and that you have accurately represented the main ideas.
  5. Cite appropriately and integrate the paraphrase into the text effectively. Consult the APA or MLA manual for information on how to cite and the Academic Center handout “Signal Your Sources” for ideas on how to integrate paraphrased information.

Example Paraphrases

Let’s look at an example of paraphrased material. In the paraphrase samples, you’ll notice that we’ve documented by including the author/year at the end of the passage. Other documentation styles may employ a different technique. Additionally, you’ll probably want to vary how you incorporate source material into your paper. The handout “Signal Your Sources” can give you some ideas on integrating source material.

Original passage:

Statements that seem complimentary in one context may be inappropriate in another. For example, women in business are usually uncomfortable if male colleagues or superiors compliment them on their appearance: the comments suggest that the women are being treated as visual decoration rather than as contributing workers. (p. 323)

---Locker, K. O. (2003). Business and administrative communication (6th ed.). St. Louis, MO: Irwin/McGraw-Hill.

Let’s first identify the important ideas in this passage:

Read the sample paraphrases below. For each of the paraphrases, determine if both wording and sentence structure were changed. Also check to see if all of the original points were included and if the original meaning was retained.

Paraphrase A:

Words or expressions which appear favorable in one situation might be improper in a different situation. For instance, employed females are often uneasy when they are given positive comments on their looks. These remarks imply that the females are being viewed as adornment instead of as productive employees (Locker, 2003).

[Although this paraphrase does a good job of changing the wording, it is not effective for two main reasons. First, it follows the sentence structure of the original passage too closely. Second, it fails to mention anything about "male colleagues or superiors." It also follows the same order or structure of ideas.]

Paraphrase B:

Some statements may be inappropriate in one context, even though they are complimentary in another. Compliments by male colleagues or superiors regarding a female coworker’s appearance, for example, often make the woman feel uncomfortable. Instead of treating the women as contributing workers, men obviously think of them as visual decoration (Locker, 2003).

[While this paraphrase does a better job of changing the sentence structure, it also is uneffective. It uses too many of the words from the original passage. Further, it changes the meaning when it declares that "men obviously think of them as visual decoration." It also follows the same order or structure of ideas]

Paraphrase C:

Women may feel uneasy upon receiving ordinarily positive comments on their appearance from male coworkers or supervisors. To these women, the remarks carry an implied meaning: instead of being thought of as productive employees, they are actually being viewed as just a pretty part of the atmosphere. Depending on the situation, words or expressions which appear favorable may actually be unsuitable in a conversation (Locker, 2003).

[This paraphrase is the most effective. In addition to changing both the wording and sentence structure, it includes all points and retains the meaning of the original passage. It also changes the order of ideas.]

Next, you can test your understanding of paraphrasing by completing the exercises.