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How to Paraphrase (Without Plagiarizing a Thing)

Updated on April 8, 2024StudentsWriting Tips

How can you include another writer’s ideas in your work without plagiarizing?

Paraphrasing, or rewriting information in your own words, is an essential tool in a writer’s toolbox. It comes in handy when you want to demonstrate understanding, transform dense text into plain language, adjust the tone, or build on another person’s work.

But just because you’re not using the writer’s actual words, it doesn’t mean you don’t have to provide credit where it’s due. Proper attribution when paraphrasing is essential in order to avoid plagiarizing and potentially running into academic or legal trouble.

Knowing how to paraphrase without plagiarizing is a valuable skill to hone in order to craft blog posts, research papers, marketing copy, social media posts, and more. This guide explains how to paraphrase without compromising copyright laws or your integrity. Read on for paraphrasing rules, techniques, key strategies, and examples.

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What is paraphrasing, and why is it important to do correctly? Paraphrasing refers to restating another piece of writing in new words while retaining the original passage’s meaning. Unlike summarizing, in paraphrasing you include roughly the same amount of detail as the original work but adjust the language to demonstrate comprehension or make the text more understandable.

Paraphrasing is essential in academic writing as a way to use other people’s ideas in your own work. Mixing in paraphrasing alongside direct quotes works well and can help your paper flow more naturally. Paraphrasing is also widely used on social media and in marketing copy or other business writing contexts, where it helps pass on information to various audiences.

Use Grammarly’s free paraphrasing tool to quickly paraphrase text with the help of generative AI. Paste text into Grammarly to get options for how to paraphrase it instantly—then use our citations generator to automatically include proper attribution.

Paraphrasing examples

Original Text Paraphrase
Some plants release certain aromas to alert their plant neighbors that they’re under attack. Some vegetation emits special scents to warn other plants that there’s danger nearby (Daniels, 1982).
Polar bears are almost undetectable by infrared cameras because of how they conserve heat. Polar bears cannot be detected easily by infrared cameras due to their unique heat conservation (Rodriguez, 2002).
The observable universe consists of more than 100,000,000,000 galaxies. More than a hundred billion galaxies comprise the known universe (Livio, 2022).
Human eyes get used to darkness after an hour, but by then they’ll be 100,000 times more sensitive to light. If you sit in a dark room, your eyes will eventually adjust and become 100,000 times more sensitive to light (Martin, 1992)—but be careful when you turn on the light again!

Ethical paraphrasing vs. plagiarism

Plagiarism is passing off someone else’s ideas as your own. Some people think that changing a few words from the original is enough to avoid plagiarism, but that’s not true—test it with our free plagiarism checker to see for yourself.

Plagiarism isn’t just about words; it’s also about ideas.To avoid plagiarism completely, you must rewrite the idea(s) with new words and credit the source material with a citation.

When writing online in more casual contexts, you can provide proper attribution by linking to the original source and nodding to the author with phrases like “To paraphrase the work of . . .” or “As [writer’s name] shares in their work titled . . .” or “Research from [name] reveals . . .”

Academic and some business contexts require that you follow additional specific citation guidelines, such as APA, MLA, and Chicago-style citation formats.

Paraphrasing rules and proper paraphrasing citations

Change every word you can and adjust the sentence structure to paraphrase without plagiarizing. Some passages require you to use a few of the same words as the original. For example, if you’re paraphrasing a passage that uses the word photosynthesis, there’s really no other synonym to use. However, there are other paraphrasing techniques that can help, such as rearranging the sentence structure or changing a part of speech. We discuss these tools below, in the section on how to paraphrase without plagiarizing.

Cite your sources within your text. Citations in academic writing generally use parenthetical citations, which place the author’s surname, or last name, in parentheses after the passage, along with either the year of publication or the page number (or both), depending on which style you’re using. Parenthetical citations are placed at the end of the passage, before any conclusive punctuation like periods or commas.

You’re free to paraphrase from as many different sources as you need, as long as you cite each one individually. You can even use paraphrases from two different sources in the same sentence—as long as you cite each, like in this example:

The meteor shower was seen not only in New Zealand (Williamson, 2018) but also in parts of Eastern Australia (Marsh, 2018).

Include source information in your reference lists. In addition to the in-text citation, you also need the source’s full citation in a bibliography at the end of your research paper. The rules of what to include in a full citation and how to format the bibliography depend on the style. If you’re having trouble citing sources, you can always use Grammarly’s free citation generator to help.

Link and tag to provide attribution online. Paraphrasing work online, such as in blogs or social media posts, also requires attribution, even though it’s often harder to regulate. Most social networks have community guidelines in place to protect against plagiarism, and in some cases, intellectual property posted to social media is protected by copyright law. Providing attribution through links, tags, and mentions is best practice for building community and reaching a larger audience with your work.

When should you paraphrase versus quote?

While you use your own phrasing in paraphrasing, when you quote something, you transcribe someone else’s words exactly, placing the text in quotation marks so the reader knows they are someone else’s words. Both paraphrasing and direct quotes require citations.

Generally, you want to alternate between paraphrasing and direct quotes to avoid overusing either. Direct quotes work best when you’re dealing with controversial or striking statements or when you want the tone of the original work to shine.

Like quoting, paraphrasing has its advantages:

  • It can help you improve word choice and tone. You can paraphrase to use terminology or tone consistent with the rest of your writing.
  • It can allow you to broaden the subject matter. Apply an idea to a new topic through paraphrasing to showcase commonalities between seemingly separate arguments.
  • Paraphrasing avoids inconsistencies and errors in writing. Placing a direct quote in your work may create problems with subject-verb agreement, pronoun agreement, etc., but with paraphrasing, you can adapt the language to avoid those mistakes.
  • Paraphrasing updates antiquated language. Modernize old-fashioned language in a passage, such as using salesperson in place of salesman.

Steps to paraphrasing without plagiarizing

1 Read the source articles thoroughly.

The first step in rewriting articles is to thoroughly understand the source material. Choose which passages you want to paraphrase. Look closely for points that support the topic you’re writing your own paper about.

2 Try rewriting passages by memory.

Rewriting from memory forces you to come up with new ways to say the same message. You can then go back to your notes and the source material to make sure that all of your information is accurate and add anything you forgot.

3 Thoroughly rewrite by changing language and sentence structure.

Use synonyms to replace the essential words of an original passage with other words that mean the same thing, such as using scientist for researcher or seniors for the elderly. This is a common approach to paraphrasing, but it’s not sufficient on its own.

Editing the sentence structure by rearranging the order of certain phrases and clauses or combining or breaking apart sentences is another strategy for paraphrasing. Be careful that doing so doesn’t cause you to overuse the passive voice. Sometimes, you can rephrase a sentence by changing the parts of speech, such as converting a gerund into the operative verb or turning an adjective into an adverb. This strategy depends on the wording of the original passage, so you may not always have the opportunity.

4 Check that your article rewording is different enough.

After writing a rough draft, review the original source to check that you changed enough. You want to avoid what’s called “patchwriting,” where the paraphrased text is too close to the original and the reader might recognize “patches” of it. This is also a good opportunity to verify that you have all the information correct.

The easiest way to ensure your work is original is to use Grammarly’s free plagiarism checker. If your article rewording can pass a plagiarism test, it’s good to move on.

5 Review your content for accuracy and proofread your prose.

Paraphrasing is a ripe opportunity for introducing errors and inaccuracies. Make sure you haven’t changed the meaning of the original work as you’ve adjusted its style and structure. Then use Grammarly to proofread your content for clarity, conciseness, and grammatical correctness.

6 Add the citations.

Last but not least, be sure to include the citation. Make sure you’re using the correct citation format for your style, whether APA, MLA, or Chicago. If you’re paraphrasing an article, most of the time you will use a parenthetical citation after the passage.

Paraphrasing best practices

1 Target key information only.

One advantage of paraphrasing over quoting is that you can amplify certain ideas to support your point rather than include everything. Highlight relevant aspects of your source material to help outline your own work and target the most important information.

2 Break down complex sentences.

Another advantage of paraphrasing is that you can make complex ideas and jargon easier to understand for a wider audience. Trade long, complicated sentences for shorter, simpler points. Similarly, you can combine sentences or ideas that are less important to your central point by summarizing aspects of the source material.

3 Use narrative citations and transition phrasing.

Narrative citations explicitly tell the reader you’re referencing another writer’s work and help provide attribution in your content. The following transitional phrases are examples of ways you can let your reader know you’re about to paraphrase an existing work. Narrative citations have the added benefit of helping you to rewrite key findings by recasting the sentence structure with a new subject.

  • Research shows that . . .
  • A recent study found that . . .
  • According to [author]’s analysis . . .
  • Thanks to [source], we now know that . . .

You still need to reword the rest of the sentence, but using one of these openings further separates your paraphrase from the original and helps you avoid plagiarizing.

Keep in mind that if you mention the author’s name, the date of publication, or the page number within the text, you can omit that information from the parenthetical citation.

4 Focus on meaning, not just vocabulary.

Paraphrasing is more than just swapping out words for their synonyms; you need to completely rewrite a sentence in your own style. Pay close attention to what the original author is trying to say as a whole, rather than focusing on the individual words. You may be able to restate the idea in a clearer or more concise way. Similarly, changing entire phrases or clauses may improve clarity more than just changing individual words.

5 Avoid patchwriting.

Patchwriting is when someone tries to paraphrase but doesn’t change enough, leaving obvious patches of the original in the new version. Even when paraphrasing gets difficult, you still have to alter the original text completely so that your version is distinct enough to differentiate itself. If you’re stuck and don’t know what else to change, you can use Grammarly’s generative AI assistance to help inspire your rewrite.

6 Always cite, even when citations are optional.

In informal writing, such as on the internet, as well as in speech, citations are usually less regulated. However, it’s still best to mention where you got your ideas from, even if it’s just as a courtesy. Remember that plagiarism isn’t only about the words; it’s about the ideas. Avoid passing off someone else’s ideas as your own at all costs.

Common paraphrasing mistakes

Writers risk plagiarism and clarity when they commit the following common paraphrasing mistakes:

  • Changing only individual words and not full phrasing
  • Altering original meanings accidentally
  • Forgetting to add citations afterward
  • Citing but rewriting too close to source text

Paraphrasing FAQs

When should I paraphrase versus directly quote source material in my paper?

Your paper should include a balance of both paraphrases and direct quotes. Paraphrases work best when the original wording is flawed, outdated, or inconsistent with the rest of your writing. Direct quotes work best when you want to include a striking statement, distance yourself from an opinion, or let the tone of the original work shine.

Do I have to change every single word when paraphrasing?

No, you don’t have to change every word, although that would be best if it’s possible. Not all words have synonyms, especially scientific words, so you may need to copy some words from the original passage. In this scenario, you should change the paraphrase in other ways, such as by rearranging the sentence structure, adding/removing parts, or changing the part of speech for certain words.

Can I paraphrase information from multiple sources together?

Yes, one advantage of paraphrasing is that you can combine ideas from different sources or different sections of the same source into the same sentence. However, you still need to cite each new source or location, so you may end up having two or more citations in the same sentence.

Is paraphrasing the same thing as summarizing?

Unlike summarizing, paraphrasing generally uses the same level of detail as the original work. Summarizing shortens longer work by highlighting only the key points.

What percentage of my paper should be paraphrased from external sources?

The percentage of your paper that paraphrases external sources depends on the policies at your academic institution or the purpose of your paper. If you’re paraphrasing to demonstrate an understanding of source material, your work will heavily rely on the external source. If the task is to present new ideas, most of your paper should be analysis and original writing.

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