Paraphrasing Effectively

In academic writing, paraphrasing another author’s ideas is common particularly in research papers. Paraphrasing takes an author’s ideas and rephrases them using your own words. To do this effectively, you should avoid similar word phrases and sentence structures the source used. However, paraphrasing effectively is often a challenge—as a writer, you must balance between conveying the author’s message accurately and preventing plagiarism by citing the source the ideas are coming from. Below are some steps for how to paraphrase effectively and some examples of inappropriate and appropriate paraphrases.

Tip: Check the Assignment Prompt. For some assignments, professors may prefer that you use paraphrases only. If it says “no direct quotes” then you must paraphrase everything from outside sources.

How to Paraphrase

  • When paraphrasing, be sure to represent the source accurately. As a writer, you should avoid imposing your own meaning onto the paraphrase.
  • After you have selected a section you are interested in paraphrasing, reread it a few times to ensure you are understanding the author’s words accurately.
  • Once you are confident in your understanding of the author’s words, set aside the passage and try writing the paraphrase without looking at the source. By doing this, you are more likely to use your own words and structures rather than mirroring the author’s.
  • Review the source to ensure the ideas are portrayed accurately and you are using original words and sentence structures.
  • Even though the words are written by you, paraphrases must include a citation because you are conveying information from a particular source. Be sure to look at your assignment to verify which citation style you need to use.

When to Paraphrase

  • Paraphrases are used when communicating ideas from a source may be clearer than directly quoting.
  • When wording from the source is not unique or specific enough, paraphrases are preferred. A direct quotation should only be used when it is the absolute best way to express an idea.
  • When explaining general ideas from a source rather than a specific passage, paraphrases are preferred.
  • When your source material has a long quotation you’d like to use information from, sometimes it’s better to use a paraphrase so you are able to cut and highlight the important parts of that passage.
  • Generally, papers written in APA format will prefer paraphrases over direct quotations. Papers written in MLA format are more likely to have exact quotes that need to be referenced from the source (like quotes from a film or novel).

Below, we have some examples of appropriate and inappropriate paraphrases to better help you distinguish how to paraphrase effectively in your writing.

In these examples, we have included one quote from an outside source and three different paraphrase examples. These paraphrases include explanations for why it is an inappropriate or appropriate paraphrase.

Original Passage

“Whether the hero be ridiculous or sublime, Greek or barbarian, gentile or Jew, his journey varies little in essential plan. Popular tales represent the heroic action as physical; the higher religions show the deed to be moral; nevertheless, there will be found astonishingly little variation in the morphology of the adventure, the character roles involved, the victories gained. If one or another of the basic elements of the archetypal pattern is omitted from a given fairy tale, legend, ritual, or myth, it is bound to be somehow or other implied—and the omission itself can speak volumes for the history and pathology of the example as we shall presently see” (Campbell, p. 30).

Campbell, J. (2008). The Hero with a Thousand Faces (3rd ed.). Novato: New World Library.

Inappropriate Paraphrase

Campbell (2008) argues that the hero’s journey is essentially the same whether it is a popular tale or a story from the higher religions; in fact, there is astonishingly little variation in the adventures, character roles, and victories with all stories (p. 30).

This is an inappropriate paraphrase because the writer has used words and phrases (such as “popular tale,” “the higher religions,” “astonishingly little variation,” and “in the adventures, character roles, and victories”) that are directly worded from the source. Not only has the writer used the same words, but they also placed them in the same order and structure as the original source. Even though they placed a citation at the end, they are still expected to place quotation marks around those phrases to show which words belong to the writer and which words are the author’s.

Inappropriate Paraphrase

Essentially, a hero’s journey follows the same basic structure in terms of how the tale unfolds with the exception of religious stories because the heroic actions tend to be morally rather than physically based.

This is an inappropriate paraphrase because the writer did not accurately portray Campbell’s meaning. Originally, Campbell argued that religious and popular stories have the same structure even if the conflicts at the first glance appeared different. This is not reflected in the above passage when the writer states “a hero’s journey follows the same basic structure in terms of how the tale unfolds with the exception of religious stories.” Additionally, the writer failed to include an in-text citation when they used Campbell’s ideas.

Appropriate Paraphrase

Campbell argues that all stories, from fairy tales to religious stories, have the same basic elements and structure for a hero’s journey even if one or two elements may not be explicitly represented (p. 30).

This is an appropriate paraphrase because the writer uses new sentence structures and phrases to convey the author’s ideas accurately and effectively. Additionally, the writer includes a citation to indicate where the information is from.