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Paraphrasing for Better Research Papers: A Step-by-Step Guide

Updated on April 8, 2024StudentsWriting Tips

Research papers rely on other people’s writing as a foundation to create new ideas, but you can’t just use someone else’s words. That’s why paraphrasing is an essential writing technique for academic writing.

Paraphrasing rewrites another person’s ideas, evidence, or opinions in your own words. With proper attribution, paraphrasing helps you expand on another’s work and back up your own ideas with information from other sources while retaining your own writing style and tone.

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In this guide to paraphrasing, we explain how to strengthen your research papers through the art and craft of paraphrasing. We discuss the rules of ethical paraphrasing and share paraphrasing tips to help you get started. We even provide a few paraphrasing examples to illustrate how to do it yourself.

Why should you paraphrase in a research paper?

There are a few reasons research writers rely on paraphrasing in their papers:

  • It shows comprehension. Paraphrasing requires you to understand ideas well enough to write them in your own words, so it not only helps you pass on information but also can help you learn and retain it.
  • Paraphrasing other research or another writer’s work allows you to make valuable connections between ideas. Crediting your sources ethically and according to standards shows professional collaboration and respect.
  • Paraphrasing can transform dense academic language into clearer or more modern text. Research writers employ it to make important information more understandable to a wider audience.
  • Paraphrasing can increase the readability of your paper and make impactful direct quotes stand out.

When should paraphrasing be used in a research paper?

Paraphrasing is best used in concert with other research writing techniques, such as direct quotes and summaries. Here are instances when paraphrasing is appropriate for your research paper:

  • Opt for paraphrasing when you can explain the same concept in plainer language or with less jargon.
  • Paraphrasing works best when you need to share background information. Save direct quotes for striking statements and opinions. Rely on your own words to set the stage or provide context.
  • Similarly, methodology from published studies generally doesn’t require direct quotes. Consider rewriting this contextual information in your own words.
  • Paraphrasing also works well when you’re reporting key results from other research. You might restate the results by paraphrasing the main findings and then use a direct quote to share opinions about the value gleaned from the research.

Paraphrasing vs. quoting and summarizing

Unlike summarizing, paraphrasing uses roughly the same amount of detail as the original work but adjusts the language to demonstrate comprehension or make the text more understandable. Summarizing, in contrast, shortens the information to only the most important points.

While paraphrasing uses your own phrasing, quoting transcribes someone else’s words exactly, placing them in quotation marks so the reader knows someone else said them.

Direct quotes work best when you’re dealing with striking statements or opinions or when you want the tone of the original work to shine. Opt for paraphrasing when you can convey the same information in plain language. Sometimes, placing a direct quote in a sentence would lead to an error in subject-verb agreement or pronoun agreement, so paraphrasing works better in that case. Paraphrasing can also help modernize outdated wording, such as gendered language.

Generally, your writing will have the most readability and engagement if you strike a balance between paraphrasing and direct quotes.

Common paraphrasing mistakes

Writers risk committing plagiarism or losing clarity when they commit the following common paraphrasing mistakes:

  • Substituting synonyms but not otherwise changing the phrasing
  • Altering the original meaning
  • Failing to add citations within the text and in the bibliography

Tips for paraphrasing successfully in your research paper

Try to rewrite from memory

It can be difficult to reword a passage when you’re staring at it. Sometimes it can help to jot down notes about a passage and then try to rewrite the same sentiment from scratch. This forces your brain to think creatively because you can’t just copy the passage verbatim.

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 find yourself changing phrases or clauses. You may even come up with a way to restate the whole idea in a clearer or more concise way.

Change or update the language

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.” You can also pay special attention to modernizing and broadening the language, such as for more gender inclusivity. This is a common approach to paraphrasing, although it’s not sufficient on its own.

Edit the sentence structure

Editing the sentence structure by rearranging the order of certain phrases and clauses or combining or breaking apart sentences is another strategy for paraphrasing. But if you do this, be careful not to overuse the passive voice.

Sometimes, you can rephrase a sentence by changing the parts of speech, such as converting a gerund into an 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.

Often, using only one of these techniques is not enough to differentiate your paraphrase from the source material. Try combining a few of these techniques on the same passage to set it apart.

Use transition phrasing

Some introductory and transitional phrases let your reader know you’re about to paraphrase an existing work. This tactic has the added benefit of helping you rewrite key findings by recasting the sentence structure with a new subject. Here are a few examples:

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

Avoid patchwriting

If you don’t change enough of the original, it leaves “patches” of the source text that are easily identifiable to anyone who’s read it. This is known as patchwriting, and it’s a big problem with paraphrasing. Double-check to see if your paraphrase is unique enough with our free plagiarism checker.

Use ethical paraphrasing tools

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

Learn about other aspects of research paper writing by browsing Grammarly’s research paper guides and resources.

Paraphrasing examples

Original Text Paraphrasing for Research Papers
The northern elephant seal only sleeps for two hours a day, matching the African elephant for the mammals who sleep the least. African elephants were thought to sleep less than any other mammal, but new research found the northern elephant seal also requires just two hours of sleep in one day (Kendall-Bar et al., 2023).
He Jiankui, who illegally gene-edited babies using CRISPR, was sentenced to 3 years in prison for illegal medical practices. The court sentenced He Jiankui to imprisonment for three years after the controversial researcher genetically altered human embryos with CRISPR (Normile, 2019).
The newly discovered Perucetus colossus was an ancient, 300-ton whale that might be the heaviest animal to ever exist, weighing more than the 200-ton blue whale. Weighing a hundred tons more than the blue whale, an extinct whale species known as Perucetus colossus is now thought to be the largest animal in history (Bianucci et al., 2023).

Paraphrasing a research paper to avoid plagiarism

Plagiarism refers to claiming another person’s ideas or words as your own. Paraphrasing alone is not enough to avoid plagiarism—if the words are different but the ideas are the same, you have to do more. That’s why citing paraphrases is not just morally right, it’s also a mandatory part of how to write a research paper, regardless of the research paper topic.

In academic writing, paraphrases typically use parenthetical citations, a type of in-text citation that places the author’s last name in parentheses, along with the year of publication or page number. Parenthetical citations are placed at the end of a passage, before the ending punctuation.

Additionally, you need to include a full citation for any source you use in the bibliography section at the end of the research paper. A full citation includes all the necessary details the reader needs to track down the source, such as the full title, the publication year, and the name of the publisher.

The information to include in both parenthetical and full citations depends on which formatting style you’re using: APA, MLA, or Chicago. Refer to our guides to learn more about how to properly cite your paraphrasing in whatever style you prefer.

If you’re still having trouble citing paraphrases, you can use our free citation generator to save time.

How to paraphrase for a research paper FAQs

When should you use paraphrasing in research writing?

If you want to use someone else’s ideas in your research paper, you can either paraphrase or quote them. Paraphrasing works best when the original wording has room for improvement or doesn’t fit in with the rest of your paper. Quoting is best when the original wording is already perfect.

What techniques can you use for paraphrasing practice?

The most common paraphrasing technique is using synonyms to replace some of the original words. That only gets you so far, though; also consider rearranging the sentence structure, adding/removing parts of the original, or changing some of the parts of speech (like turning a verb into a noun).

Do research paper paraphrasing rules change for different citation styles?

The rules for paraphrasing are always the same—but the rules for citations change a lot between styles. Review the citation guidelines for the formatting style you’re using, whether APA, MLA, or Chicago.

Can I paraphrase sources with no named author, like websites?

Yes, you can paraphrase websites, but ensure they are reputable. And you still need to cite the source according to the citation guidelines.

What’s the best way to integrate paraphrased information smoothly in my paper’s flow?

Transitional phrases can help you introduce paraphrased information. Try using language such as:

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

Use paraphrasing alongside other writing devices, such as direct quotes or summaries, to help your paper flow naturally.

Is it acceptable to paraphrase content from my own previous papers?

Yes, you can paraphrase your other content, unless your academic institution has a policy against it. You should still cite the original source material, even though it is your own work.

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