Paraphrasing in Academic Writing

Paraphrasing is one of the three ways (also quoting and summarizing) to include another authors’ ideas in your own writing.

In paraphrasing, the original passage is rewritten in your own words. The rewritten passage should contain most of the information from the original passage. It should maintain the meaning of the original but change the words and language which are used to convey the information.

When you include a rewrite of an original passage the original must be cited in the text and the full reference added to the reference section.

Paraphrasing is an important skill to understand.

Paraphrasing is better than quoting as you've to change the original. This means that you'll gain a greater understanding of the original as you've to read it in enough detail to be able to rewrite it. When rewriting the original you should keep any specialized terms (electron, DNA, protein), proper nouns (names of people, places or organizations), numbers and formulae, the same.

The rest of the words should be changed so that they match the style of your own writing. This'll often mean changing the grammar of the original and you might need to use subordinate and adverbial or participle phrases when reducing the overall number of sentences.

A paraphrase will normally be slightly shorter than the original but not by a lot as you're keeping most of the same information.

Example of a Paraphrase

Using the original passage, from ‘The Origin of Species’ 6th Ed. by Charles Darwin, below:

  • It is, no doubt, extremely difficult even to conjecture by what gradations many structures have been perfected, more especially among broken and failing groups of organic beings, which have suffered much extinction; but we see so many strange gradations in nature, that we ought to be extremely cautious in saying that any organ or instinct, or any whole structure, could not have arrived at its present state by many graduated steps. There are, it must be admitted, cases of special difficulty opposed to the theory of natural selection; and one of the most curious of these is the existence in the same community of two or three defined castes of workers or sterile female ants; but I have attempted to show how these difficulties can be mastered. Darwin, C (1872), On the Origin of Species, 6th Ed.

A correctly paraphrased version could be:

  • It is, understandably, difficult to comprehend the small changes to structures which have perfected them, especially when so many species with them have still gone extinct. But there are so many different small changes visible in nature that we should be careful when saying it is impossible for a structure not to have arisen from evolutionary processes. However one of the most difficult things to explain with the theory of natural selection is the evolution of social insects, such as ants; but, even for these, explanations have been suggested (Darwin, 1872).

Here the passage contains most of the same information; it is stated in different language except for technical terms (such as ‘the theory of natural selection’) which need to be kept the same. The passage is slightly shorter and the citation has been included at the end, as part of the last sentence.

An incorrect version, a plagiarised version could be:

  • It is extremely difficult to conjecture by what graduations many structures could have been perfected, even in the failed and broken groups of natural beings, but we see many strange changes in nature. So we should not say that any organ or instinct, or structure, could not have become to its present state. There are difficult cases where natural selection might not be the right explanation with the most curious of these being the existence in the same community of two or three defined castes of workers or sterile female ants.

In the incorrect version most of the words have been copied from the original, with only a few words changed. Also the final part about ants has been changed so that it now reads that they might not be due to natural selection where in the original Darwin said they were difficult to explain by natural selection but he had still tried. Also there's no citation at the end of the passage.

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