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What it is and how to avoid it

What is paraphrasing?

Paraphrasing involves a detailed rewriting of a passage from source material into your own words.  Essentially, a writer will paraphrase when they want to incorporate someone else's idea into a paper without directly quoting (using quotation marks) them.  A paraphrase will typically be of similar length to the original source.  A paraphrase must be credited to the original source.

When should I paraphrase?

Paraphrasing is, perhaps, the most common way to legitimately incorporate someone else's material into your writing.  You should consider paraphrasing when the wording of the original source is less important than the source.  This will allow you to maintain a smooth continuity in your writing.  Paraphrases are typically more detailed than a summary (discussed below).

Consider paraphrasing to:

  • change the organization of ideas presented in the original source
  • simplify material
  • clarify technical or specialized information into language that is appropriate for your reading audience
  • avoid the temptation to quote too much

Note:  When paraphrasing, avoid keeping the same structure of the original material or merely just changing some of the words.  e faithful to stay true to the meaning of the original material and avoid adding your own ideas into a paraphrase.

This material has been adapted from the University of Houston Victoria: Decide When to Quote, Paraphrase, and Summarize (page no longer available as of 03/15/2024).

What does paraphrasing look like?

Example of Paraphrasing:

Original Material

In The Sopranos, the mob is besieged as much by inner infidelity as it is by the federal government. Early in the series, the greatest threat to Tony's Family is his own biological family. One of his closest associates turns witness for the FBI, his mother colludes with his uncle to contract a hit on Tony, and his kids click through Web sites that track the federal crackdown in Tony's gangland.


Fields, Ingrid Walker. “Family Values and Feudal Codes: The Social Politics of

America’s Twenty-First Century Gangster.” Journal of Popular Culture 37.4

(2004). Academic Search Complete. Web. 13 Mar. 2012.


In the first season of The Sopranos, Tony Soprano's mobster activities are more threatened by members of his biological family than by agents of the federal government. This familial betrayal is multi-pronged. Tony's closest friend and associate is an FBI informant, his mother and uncle are conspiring to have him killed, and his children are surfing the Web for information about his activities (Fields).

This example is from Duke Libraries'Paraphrasing. (page no longer available; redirects to "Citing Sources" 7/26/13).

How do I paraphrase?

Step 1: Read over what you want to paraphrase carefully until you understand its full meaning.

Step 2: Set the original passage aside where you won't look at it.

Step 3: Write the meaning of the passage in your own words (i.e., explain it to yourself).  Be sure to give proper credit to the source. 

Step 4: Check the paraphrase against the original to ensure you haven't accidentally used the same words or phrases and verify that the information you wrote is accurate.

Step 5: Set the material aside and work on something else for a few minutes.

Step 6: When you return to your work, reread your paraphrase and modify as necessary.  Setting yourself apart from a paraphrase will allow you to return with a fresh perspective and the words of the original source will have faded.  This will allow you to revise and polish your own sentence choices.

Note:  The materials presented in this section have been adapted from Purdue OWL's: Paraphrase: Write it in Your Own Words (opens in a new window), Colorado State University's: How to Paraphrase Without Plagiarizing, (page no longer available; redirects to "Writing Guides" 7/7/14) and Duke Libraries' Paraphrasing. (page no longer available; redirects to "Citing Sources" 7/26/13).