Understanding the what, why, how, and when of paraphrasing can be tricky. In this post, we will discuss these points, plus the various guidelines, strategies, and steps for paraphrasing content without plagiarizing.

So, what is paraphrasing?

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the definition of paraphrasing is the restating “of a text, passage, or work giving the meaning in another form.”

Let’s say you recently watched your favorite Netflix show or encountered an interesting news story. When you tell your friends and family about the show or the article, you could just read them the description provided, or you could retell the information in your own words. The latter is the paraphrase meaning of whatever you watched or read--it’s your take on retelling the information, said in your own words, to express someone/something else’s message.

Merriam-Webster dictionary

If that paraphrase definition still doesn’t fully resonate with you, you’re not alone. The intention or usage behind each rewording of facts, information, or even a Netflix show is an important consideration for understanding the ins and outs of paraphrasing as a concept.

If the intention is to understand and communicate, then the quality of your paraphrase will showcase your comprehension of the idea and allow you to convey it to others in your own words. However, if you are restating facts/information in order to use them to elucidate an idea or hypothesis, build an argument, or even build upon the presented information, you are also paraphrasing.


Paraphrasing, in a nutshell

What does paraphrasing mean? Anytime you take an idea, fact, or any other piece of information that is not your own and reword it in your own way while still conveying the original meaning/message, you are paraphrasing. If the original idea isn’t your own, you must cite the source or author, even when paraphrasing.

Who can you paraphrase? You can paraphrase yourself or others, as long as you cite the original source or author.

What can you paraphrase? You can paraphrase a single phrase, sentence, or paragraph.

Why would you paraphrase?

-Paraphrasing is important in presenting information to different kinds of audiences. For instance, a space science expert may paraphrase new research into simpler terms to present the results to the public in a way that they could easily understand.

-You can use this skill to illustrate your understanding of the main ideas or arguments of a particular work.

-You can paraphrase to shift the emphasis of information in order to build up your points within an argument and integrate cited work into your own research framework.

-Paraphrasing can help reduce the need to include multiple direct quotations within a written work, which can seem clunky and awkward.

Why wouldn’t you paraphrase? When the original statement is clear, strong, and compelling for your use case, then quote the information directly and cite it, rather than rewording it. If your paraphrase isn’t better for your purpose, then a direct quote from the source is a better choice.


How to paraphrase

How to paraphrase manually:

  1. Read the source material until you completely understand what the author is saying and why. If you are refining your own work, have a clear idea of the meaning you wish to convey.
  2. Make a list of key terms from the original passage/work.
  3. Without looking at the actual quote, reword the information or ideas in your own words, referencing the key terms from Step 2, if needed.
  4. Compare your paraphrase with the actual quote from the source material. Ensure that your version captures the true meaning of the original work, even when expressed in different terms. If you’re refining your own work, consider mixing and matching the pieces of your original and paraphrased work to better articulate your idea or message.
  5. Don’t forget to include your in-text citations if you are working with ideas or information that are not your own.

How to paraphrase using a tool:

When using a tool, like QuillBot’s paraphraser, a couple of steps for creating paraphrases are automated. This allows for writers to spend more time crafting their arguments, refining language, and integrating cited works with their own research or writing. Paraphrasing tools are also helpful for generating new ways to articulate your own ideas, especially with respect to style, tone, word choice, and sentence structure.

  1. Read the source material until you completely understand what the author is saying and why. If you are refining your own work, have a clear idea of the meaning you wish to convey.
  2. Paste in a quote from a cited source or add in your own work to the input box of the paraphraser. Pick a writing Mode, and click the green oval ‘Paraphrase’ button.
  3. Review the paraphrase output, comparing it to the input quote to check that the meaning has been preserved. Using the writing Modes, drop-down thesaurus, and Word Flipper settings, refine and edit the paraphrase to your liking--remember to cite the paraphrase if it wasn’t originally your idea!
  4. Copy or export the paraphrase output and insert it and it’s relevant citation into your draft.

Are you worried about plagiarism when paraphrasing? You can avoid plagiarism by always citing information or ideas that were not originally your own, even if they have been paraphrased.


Examples of paraphrasing

Several paraphrasing examples with answers are below. So, whether you are writing paraphrases of your own content or citing the work of others, test your knowledge of this concept in this section! As you read through the examples, think about how you would rephrase the content. Would it be the same or different?

Examples of paraphrasing your own work or ideas

Original:

My rescue dog, Cass, is half chihuahua, a quarter pit bull, and a quarter boxer, according to her DNA test.

Paraphrase:

According to her DNA test, Cass, my rescue puppy, is half chihuahua, a quarter pit bull, and a quarter boxer.

Original:

A good disposition, excellent communication skills, and a polished appearance can go a long way in projecting you as a professional to your team, superiors, and clients.

Paraphrase:

A positive attitude, outstanding communication skills, and a refined demeanor will help your team, bosses, and clients see you as a professional.

Examples of paraphrasing the work of others, where you must cite. Lack of citations, even when paraphrasing, constitutes plagiarism.

Original:

Composed mostly of water ice with embedded dust particles, comets originally formed in the cold outer planetary system while most of the rocky asteroids formed in the warmer inner solar system between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter (NASA, Center for Near-Earth Object Studies).

Paraphrase:

Comets, which are mostly composed of water ice with incorporated dust particles, developed in the cold outer solar system, whereas the majority of rocky asteroids originated in the hotter inner solar system between Mars and Jupiter's orbits (NASA, Center for Near-Earth Object Studies).

Original:

Nearly all of the world's earthquakes and active volcanoes occur along or near the boundaries of the Earth's shifting plates (Geology.com).

Paraphrase:

Most of the world's earthquakes and volcanoes occur on or near plate boundaries (Geology.com).


When to paraphrase

When can paraphrasing be used? See below for some ideas about when the skill of paraphrasing can come in handy.

1.When editing or reviewing your own work, if you identify an awkward, unclear, or uninspired sentence or paragraph, paraphrase it with a tool like QuillBot’s so that you can see new ways to express your ideas. You can use the various features to visually build the sentence to your liking, perfectly articulating your points.

2.  When you are feeling stuck, experiencing writer’s block or procrastination, or you just can’t seem to convey the ideas that are in your head, use a paraphrasing tool to help you gain some forward momentum.

Type anything into the input box, even if it doesn't fully articulate the ideas in your head, and then work with the available tools to perfectly craft your message. The beauty of paraphrasing using an online tool is that you don’t need to worry that your work is amazing to begin with or that you are naturally a gifted writer.

Such tools allow for anyone to be able to transfer the thoughts from their mind onto the page with support and ease. A paraphraser takes the pressure off of you as a writer in many ways!

3.  When writing or researching, you will find sources to help build your argument and facilitate discussion. If a direct quote doesn’t work well for your specific purpose, use case, or intended audience, because it is unclear or too technical, consider using a paraphrase. Then, cite the information within your essay, article, or research paper.

4. When you have used several direct quotes from sources, a paraphrase can help increase the flow and fluidity of your work, helping you find a balance between the ideas you are bringing to the table and the ones you’re building off of to create your argument.

5. When you want to check your understanding of a concept, consider paraphrasing it. Does your rephrasing of the information match the intent and meaning of the original work?


Last notes on paraphrasing

Paraphrasing is all about expressing ideas in new ways to make them more compelling or clear for yourself, your network, or specific audiences or use cases.

There are very few ways to mess up a paraphrase--unless the original meaning is lost in rephrasing, a citation isn’t included (where applicable), or if a direct quote would suit the use case better.

When doing research, it is often necessary to build your argument using the work of previous authors or researchers. In those cases, it is VERY important to cite where the original information or idea came from.

Passing ideas off as your own work, even those which are paraphrased, is considered plagiarism.