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Paraphrasing Books: A How-To Guide for Retelling Key Concepts

Updated on April 1, 2024StudentsWriting Tips

Most academic writing draws on information from other sources—especially books. But filling a paper with too many quotes can confuse the reader, so the best alternative is paraphrasing book content: rewriting book excerpts in your own words without losing the original meaning.

Paraphrasing book passages isn’t as easy as it sounds. It can be a chore to think up new wording for what’s already written, not to mention avoiding plagiarism by citing it properly. Below, we explain how to paraphrase a book, pointing out when to do it and sharing some simple steps. We’ll even look at some book paraphrasing examples and how to cite your paraphases.

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How to paraphrase a book

When you paraphrase anything, books included, you take someone else’s writing or speech and reword it to make it new. We paraphrase to add originality (and avoid overusing direct quotes). But paraphrases still require a proper citation in addition to changing the words in order not to be considered plagiarism.

Keep in mind that paraphrases do not use quotation marks because the wording is different and therefore not a quote.

Paraphrase a book vs. summarize a book

In our guide on paraphrasing vs. summarizing, we explain that paraphrasing is when you rewrite small excerpts, whereas summarizing is when you explain something long or complex in a concise way.

Both involve using different words than the original, but the scope is different. Paraphrases are around the same length as the source, whereas summaries are always much shorter than the original. For example, summarizing a chapter, book, or series in a few sentences makes more sense than paraphrasing them in an equally lengthy text.

When to paraphrase a book

Basically, you should paraphrase a book passage if you want to share the details of another source in your own work. If you want to share a broad idea or theory rather than specific details, a summary might work better.

To avoid plagiarism when using another person’s ideas, you must either paraphrase or quote directly (both require a citation). Quotes work best when the original source is already worded perfectly, but be careful of putting too many direct quotes into your writing, as it can get confusing for the reader. Paraphrases work best alongside quotations so that you don’t overuse either.

Paraphrasing book content examples

Original Book Passage Book Paraphrase
Whatever is my right as a man is also the right of another; and it becomes my duty to guarantee as well as to possess.

—Thomas Paine, The Rights of Man

Our rights as people are the same as every other person’s rights. We have to ensure them for all people to keep them ourselves.

I think it inevitably follows that as new species in the course of time are formed through natural selection, others will become rarer and rarer, and finally extinct. The forms which stand in closest competition with those undergoing modification and improvement will naturally suffer most.

—Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species

The more new species that evolve, the more that will go extinct. The species most similar to the evolving ones have the most risk of being replaced.

I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.

—Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Walden’s experiences taught him that following one’s ambitions with self-assurance generally leads to success.

Paraphrasing book passages in 3 steps

1 Identify which passages you want to paraphrase

The advantage of citing other sources is that you don’t need to repeat everything, only the parts relevant to your own topic. So before you begin paraphrasing, the first step is choosing which passages you want to include.

Typically, you’re looking for details that support your own argument. These details could be hard data or eloquent opinions—anything that bolsters your own idea. But don’t only consider passages that agree with your argument; sometimes including opposing points of view can help you better explain your argument and convince the reader.

2 Rewrite the text in your own words

Once you’ve selected your passages, you can begin the actual paraphrasing. Rewriting book excerpts involves changing the original wording without changing the meaning. This isn’t always easy, so take advantage of these reliable paraphrasing techniques:

  • Sentence structure—You can rearrange the structure of a sentence to make it new and different, such as replacing the subject or changing the order of the clauses.
  • Editing—You only need the parts of the book that relate to your idea, so feel free to remove unnecessary details or add in new parts for context.
  • Synonyms—Synonyms are different words with the same meaning, making them a viable strategy for paraphrasing book content.
  • Parts of speech—If you can’t find synonyms, you can sometimes change the part of speech (also known as word class), such as turning a verb into a noun.
  • Paraphrasing tool—Online resources like our free paraphrasing tool can generate a few AI rewrites to help you paraphrase a book and come up with different wording.

These strategies are not mutually exclusive, so you can combine them to distinguish your paraphrase from the original source.

3 Add a citation

Most of the time when citing paraphrases we use a parenthetical citation, usually with the author’s surname in parentheses and a full citation in the bibliography at the end. However, details about what information and in what format depends on the style. Review the guidelines for how to cite books in APA, MLA, or Chicago to ensure that you’re following the right rules.

If you’re having trouble, try our free citation generator, which automatically creates a citation after you enter a source.

How to paraphrase a book FAQ

Do you need quotations when paraphrasing book content?

No, if you’re paraphrasing, you don’t need quotation marks. You’re using your own words, which means it’s not a direct quote. You do, however, still need a citation.

Where do you put the citation when paraphrasing book passages?

Generally, you place parenthetical citations at the end of the paraphrase, before any conclusive punctuation like a period or comma. APA, MLA, and Chicago all have very particular rules about how to cite a book, so review the guidelines for the format you’re using if you are unsure.

What are some tips on how to paraphrase a book?

Only paraphrase the parts of the book related to your topic—you don’t want to rewrite the entire book. Using synonyms and changing the parts of speech can help differentiate your paraphrase from the original, but you can also rearrange the sentence structure and remove some parts entirely.

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