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Understanding paraphrasing


What is a paraphrase?

A paraphrase is a restatement. It is the information or idea from a text in your own words.  

To paraphrase, convey the original meaning but change the words and the sentence structure, and add a reference (i.e. the author name and the year of publication). 

The aim of a paraphrase is to integrate the idea into a paragraph of your own writing. This is referred to as a citation.  

It is common for paragraphs to contain more than one citation. If you want to cite an idea from another text in your paragraph, you need to ensure that you paraphrase and reference that idea separately. There are examples of this on the synthesising page of this tutorial.  

To paraphrase: 

  1. start the sentence at a different point from the original (e.g. object to subject) 
  2. change words where appropriate: use synonyms 
  3. change the sentence structure (e.g. from active to passive voice) 
  4. separate ideas into shorter sentences or statements. 

Avoiding plagiarism

You can avoid plagiarism by paraphrasing correctly. Plagiarism is the direct copying of published work without acknowledging (citing) it. It appears that you take credit for the ideas of another author. In academia, this is considered academic misconduct or cheating. Learning how to paraphrase correctly will help to avoid penalties due to plagiarism.   

Sometimes you will use direct quotes to emphasise a point or argument however, these should be used sparingly to demonstrate you have understood the content.  

Changing the words

To paraphrase a text, follow these steps. 

  1. Read the text you want to cite; locate the idea that is relevant for your purpose.  
  2. If you do not understand the idea, do not attempt to paraphrase it. There is a risk that you will just copy it.  
  3. Circle the specialised words, i.e. the words that the text is actually about. These words or terms need to be included in your paraphrase.  
  4. Underline the words that can be changed.  
  5. Replace these words with words or phrases of similar meaning. Use a thesaurus or dictionary for synonyms, or the academic word lists for different word forms. 

You now have a starting point to construct your paraphrase. Write the sentence in your own words when you are confident you understand it. 

Changing the structure

The other way to paraphrase is to change the structure of the original.  

  1. Read the text and make sure you understand the main idea. Do not copy  it. 
  2. Start at a different point from the original. This means that you do not copy the text word for word. Write the idea from memory. 
  3. Write short sentences and change the order of the words. 

Check what you have written against the original text to avoid accidental plagiarism. You should ensure that your version is different but that you have retained the original idea. 

Example of paraphrasing where key words are circled and words that can be replaced are underlined.

The [circled: United States, Germany and Japan] and other [underlined: industrial powers] are being [underlined: transformed] from industrial [circled: economies] to [circled: knowledge] and [circled: information] based service economies, [underlined: whilst] manufacturing [underlined: has been moving] to [underlined: low wage] countries. In a [circled: knowledge] and [circled: information] based economy, [circled: knowledge] and [circled: information] are the [underlined: key ingredients] in [underlined: creating wealth]. From: Laudon & Laudon (2000), Management information systems: managing the digital firm, p 31.