When you want to use specific materials from an argument to support a point you are making in your paper but want to avoid too many quotes, you should paraphrase.
What is a paraphrase?
To paraphrase is to restate someone else’s writing in your own words at the same level of detail and often the same overall length of the original work. In a paraphrase, you use your own words to explain the specific points another writer has made. If the original text refers to an idea or term discussed earlier in the text, your paraphrase may also need to explain or define that idea. You may also need to interpret specific terms made by the writer in the original text.
Be careful not to add information or commentary that isn’t part of the original passage in the midst of your paraphrase. You don’t want to add to or take away from the meaning of the passage you are paraphrasing. Save your comments and analysis until after you have finished your paraphrased and cited it appropriately.
What does paraphrasing look like?
Paraphrases should begin by making it clear that the information to come is from your source. If you are using APA format, a year citation should follow your mention of the author.
For example, using the Thoreau passage as an example, you might begin a paraphrase like this:
Paraphrases may sometimes include brief quotations, but most of the paraphrase should be in your own words.
What might a paraphrase of this passage from Thoreau look like?
“Most men, even in this comparatively free country, through mere ignorance and mistake, are so occupied with the factitious cares and superfluously coarse labors of life that its finer fruits cannot be plucked by them. Their fingers, from excessive toil, are too clumsy and tremble too much for that. Actually, the laboring man has not leisure for a true integrity day by day; he cannot afford to sustain the manliest relations to men; his labor would be depreciated in the market.”
In his text, Walden; or, Life in the Woods, Henry David Thoreau (1854) points to the incongruity of free men becoming enslaved and limited by constant labor and worry. Using the metaphor of a fruit to represent the pleasures of a thoughtful life, Thoreau suggests that men have become so traumatized by constant labor that their hands—as representative of their minds—have become unable to pick the fruits available to a less burdened life even when that fruit becomes available to them (p. 110).
Note that the passage above is almost exactly the same length as the original. It’s also important to note that the paraphrased passage has a different structure and significant changes in wording. The main ideas are the same, but the student has paraphrased effectively by putting the information into their own words.
What are the benefits of paraphrasing?
The paraphrase accomplishes three goals:
- Like the summary, it contextualizes the information (who said it, when, and where).
- It restates all the supporting points used by Thoreau to develop the idea that man is hurt by focusing too much on labor.
- The writer uses their own words for most of the paraphrase, allowing the writer to maintain a strong voice while sharing important information form the source.
Paraphrasing is likely the most common way you will integrate your source information. Quoting should be minimal in most research papers. Paraphrasing allows you to integrate sources without losing your voice as a writer to those sources. Paraphrasing can be tricky, however. You really have to make changes to the wording. Changing a few words here and there doesn’t count as a paraphrase, and, if you don’t quote those words, can get you into trouble with plagiarism.
The next page will allow you to see more examples of effective paraphrasing before you practice with the Paraphrasing Activity.