How to Paraphrase a text

Paraphrasing is part of the writing process. If you want to use a sentence or a passage from one source, you can do it in two ways. You can either keep it the same in quotation marks or can change the words and structure. In other words, paraphrase it. It is important that the general meaning of that sentence/passage remains the same. It goes without saying that you should add citations showing information about the original author, book, page, or anything available. Otherwise, you may have to deal with plagiarism.

When should you paraphrase? What can you do to paraphrase successfully?

1. Too good to paraphrase?

You are reading something as part of your writing job and stumble upon a passage that you like. You are thinking of using it in your writing, but you are unable to find the right words because, in your opinion, this passage is perfect as it is. In this situation, you may just quote it. Again, quotation marks are a must.  However, direct quotes are sometimes discouraged in social sciences.

2.    Reread the text until you have a clear idea about what it says

As a writer or researcher, you should understand the full meaning of the text before paraphrasing. Context is crucial, and if you miss key elements, the paraphrased sentence will result in a completely different idea than the one intended in the original text.  

3. Don’t change just a few words

Changing one or two words is not paraphrasing. It is a common mistake people make. Of course, you can use a thesaurus to look for synonyms, but you will also need to make some grammatical structure changes. For instance, if you change active voice to passive voice and use the synonyms you found, you will have a paraphrased sentence. Changing word forms (for example, the verb to the noun) can also help when you are not sure the word you found is a proper synonym. You may change the entire meaning of the sentence if you use the wrong synonyms. However, you may simplify the source sentence if it is something not familiar to your readers.

4. Compound sentences

In case a sentence consists of two or more simple sentences and looks difficult to paraphrase, you may consider dividing it into a few simple sentences and paraphrasing each one separately. Alternatively, you can do the opposite and join a few independent clauses with coordinating conjunctions and paraphrase the sentence as a compound sentence.

5. Limit paraphrasing

It may be fair to use some content from previously written work by paraphrasing and citing the source, but you can’t avoid copyright infringement if you use too much of it. There isn’t a general rule stating how much you may paraphrase, but less is better. Better safe than sorry.  

6. Keep the sentence length close to the original

As mentioned in the introduction part of the article, you should keep the general idea of the source sentence the same and the length of the sentence close. If you shorten the text substantially, it will result in a summary rather than a paraphrase.