A paraphrase (or paraphrasing) is a restatement of another piece of writing with new words or phrases while keeping the same meaning, usually to modify the language or simply avoid plagiarism. For example, Shakespeare’s famous line, “To be or not to be,” could be paraphrased as, “Is it better to exist or not exist at all?”
Paraphrasing is an important communication technique, especially in research papers, to avoid copying an original source verbatim. However, learning how to paraphrase can take some practice, so below we explain what you need to know, starting with a simple paraphrase definition.
When to paraphrase?
Paraphrasing takes an original passage and uses different words or phrases to express the same meaning. Essentially, a paraphrase just rewrites the original text in its own way.
A paraphrase always uses unique wording, something you come up with that’s different from the original source. Because they’re unique, paraphrases do not require quotation marks as direct quotes do. But paraphrasing still requires citations to ensure you’re not plagiarizing someone else’s ideas, research, or theories.
How to paraphrase, with examples
Paraphrasing is one of the five most effective methods for avoiding plagiarism, but how do you say the same thing without using the same words? Here are some simple strategies that we suggest in combination for effective paraphrasing:
1 Use synonyms
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. Combine this strategy with some of the others below to make your writing appear fresh.
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.
2 Change the parts of speech
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; we also suggest using this in combination with other strategies here for more original writing.
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.
3 Rearrange the structure
You can switch around the order of certain phrases and clauses—or mix and match them from other sentences—to create brand new sentences. Although it may be tempting to use the passive voice when paraphrasing, try to avoid it unless there’s no other option.
The observable universe consists of 50,000,000,000 galaxies.
Fifty billion galaxies comprise the known universe.
4 Add or remove pieces
If a part of a quote isn’t relevant to what you’re writing about, you can remove it and paraphrase the remainder in your own words. Likewise, you can add your own personal take to an existing quote to help contextualize it or adapt it to your topic. In either case, make sure you still reword whatever comes from the original source.
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—but be careful when you turn on the light again!
Avoid plagiarism when you paraphrase
Rewriting someone’s text without changing the words is plagiarism. If you want to repeat a sentiment or cite another person’s research, you have to at least put it into your own words or quote it directly. But even when you paraphrase, you still have to cite the source you are rewording.
What is the purpose of paraphrasing?
Why bother paraphrasing when you can just quote the primary or secondary source? With a variety of benefits, paraphrasing comes in handy in quite a few different situations. In particular, here are six common reasons to paraphrase:
1 Improve word choice
Sometimes you just want to rewrite the original text in your own words—maybe you want to fit it to your personal writing style, or perhaps you just prefer your own word choice. In any case, paraphrasing gives you the chance to pick your own words or phrases while keeping the core of the message the same.
2 Change subject matter
Paraphrasing is very useful if you like the wording of the original passage but want to change the subject to apply to something else. For example, Will Rogers’s famous quote, “I never met a man I didn’t like,” is often paraphrased, sometimes humorously, as in comedian Jim Gaffigan saying, “I never met a cheeseburger I didn’t like.”
3 Avoid overusing quotes
Quotations are great when the author said it best themselves, but use too many quotes and you’re essentially just copying someone else’s work. If you’re constantly referencing others’ works, it’s best to switch between paraphrasing and direct quotes to make a piece of writing your own.
4 Avoid problematic language
Other times, it could be insensitive or outdated language. For example, the famous (albeit antiquated) line “a good man is hard to find” can be paraphrased more modernly as “a good partner is hard to find.”
5 Shorten lengthy quotes
Last, paraphrasing works wonders when you need to condense a long, verbose quote to make it more digestible. Some writers get paid by the word, so to speak, but if you’re writing something meant to be concise, you can paraphrase their original text more succinctly.
Paraphrasing vs. summarizing
Paraphrasing and summarizing are two similar and related ideas, so it makes sense that they’re often confused with each other.
To tell them apart, think of them like this: Paraphrasing is putting an individual passage into your own words while summarizing is putting a text or passage’s main idea, theme, or story into your own words.
Summarizing deals with the big picture, such as an entire body of work or a complete chapter, while paraphrasing deals with specific passages, from a few words to a few paragraphs, but nothing terribly lengthy. Summaries are always shorter than their original source, but paraphrases are typically around the same length as, if not slightly shorter than, their source.
Another distinction is that summaries tend to gloss over the details, as we mentioned when explaining how to write a summary, whereas paraphrases can still incorporate everything, as long as it’s reworded.
Have specific questions about paraphrasing and how to paraphrase? You’re not alone! Here are some frequently asked questions about paraphrasing by others just like you.
What is an example of paraphrasing?
The original passage from the US Declaration of Independence, “All men are created equal,” can be paraphrased in a more progressive way as “All people are created equal.”
How do you paraphrase a sentence?
Some common techniques for paraphrasing involve using synonyms, changing the parts of speech, rearranging the sentence structure, and adding/removing specific sections.
What makes a good paraphrase?
A good paraphrase has the same meaning as the original source, but with new words or phrases. It’s best for taking another author’s sentiments and expressing them in your own personal style.
Ensure your writing is original
When writing essays, research papers, and other academic writing assignments, you’re expected to turn in documents that are wholly original and in your own words. However, unintentional plagiarism is a risk many students face. Enter Grammarly’s plagiarism detector, which checks your writing against billions of online texts to flag any instances of unoriginal wording. Writing with Grammarly helps you avoid plagiarism and get better grades in the process.