Alphabetical list of Handouts & Guides
Words of Wisdom
A great outcry has been made lately, on every side, about the inability of the students admitted to Harvard College to write English clearly and correctly. The schools are to-day paying more attention to composition than they did twenty or thirty years ago; and yet, notwithstanding this increased study and practice, the writing of schoolboys has been growing steadily worse.
— "The English Question," Atlantic Monthly, May 1893
When you paraphrase, you recast someone else’s words into an entirely new form. A good paraphrase doesn’t simply substitute synonyms for the original words but substantially rewrites the passage—without changing its meaning or emphasis. Always cite anything you paraphrase; failure to cite someone else’s ideas, even if you reword them, is plagiarism.
When to Paraphrase
There are many reasons to use a paraphrase as opposed to a direct quotation. You might need to paraphrase in any of the following situations:
- The ideas in the original passage are more important than the style or authority of the author.
- The ideas are more memorable than the author’s language.
- The original language is difficult to comprehend or highly technical.
- A quotation is too long and/or wordy.
- The original passage needs to be clarified.
- The source of a quotation is unknown.
Writing a Paraphrase
First, re-read the original work to be sure you understand it. Then, set it aside and write what you think it means in your own words. Putting the original out of sight is helpful since it frees you from the temptation to merely rearrange the words or substitute a synonym or two. A successful paraphrase will typically involve several of the following: changing word order or sentence structure, combining related ideas, eliminating jargon or wordiness, simplifying the original, and using synonyms for key terms. If the original uses a very distinct term or phrase that you don’t want to eliminate (or simply can’t improve upon), use the term or phrase in quotation marks and incorporate it into your paraphrase. Finally, check to be sure you haven’t altered the meaning of the original.
Incorporating a Paraphrase
It’s important to integrate the paraphrase smoothly into the rest of your writing. A useful technique is to begin by acknowledging the source of the material. For instance, when paraphrasing a researcher named John Doe, you might say, “According to Doe . . .” or “As researcher Doe stated . . .” You can also give information about the source: “According to John Doe, a prominent statistician, the idea of . . .” You may also want to provide context to help your reader understand why you’re including the paraphrased material: “Researcher John Doe reached a similar conclusion when he stated that . . .” Finally, be sure to cite the original.
Original quotation from President Kennedy’s inaugural address: “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country. My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.”
Paraphrase: In the closing of his inaugural address, President Kennedy implored both Americans and people from other nations to put aside their personal interests in order to work for the common good.
- Does the paraphrase consist entirely of your own words?
- Did you do more than just substitute synonyms or change the sentence structure?
- Did you make it clear that you are using someone else’s thoughts?
- Did you keep the general meaning and emphasis of the original?
- Did you correctly cite the paraphrase?