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The Research Process: Paraphrasing

A tutorial on doing research that gets the results you want.

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What is paraphrasing?

Paraphrasing is using your own words to express someone else's ideas.

  • Any time you paraphrase, you need to cite the source from which you got the idea being expressed
  • Some forms of paraphrasing count as plagiarism
    • Usually, this is in the form of changing a few of the words for synonyms and not altering the sentence structure. When in doubt, figure out the key ideas within the source, then explain that idea in your own words and writing style.

Steps for Paraphrasing

To paraphrase, follow the steps below:

  1. Read the original text until you grasp its meaning; then set it aside.
  2. Using your memory, write down the main points or concepts. Do not copy the text verbatim.
  3. Change the structure of the text by varying the opening, changing the order of sentences, lengthening or shortening sentences, etc.
  4. Replace keywords within the sentences with synonyms or phrases with similar meanings.
  5. Check your notes against the original to ensure you have not accidentally plagiarized. 

Examples: Good Paraphrasing vs. Bad Paraphrasing

From College Board:

What constitutes proper and improper use of the paraphrase? Here is an example of an original text:

The lost-wax casting process (also called cire perdue, the French term) has been used for many centuries. It probably started in Egypt. By 200 BCE the technique was known in China and ancient Mesopotamia and was soon after used by the Benin peoples in Africa. It spread to ancient Greece sometime in the sixth century BCE and was widespread in Europe until the eighteenth century, when a piece-mold process came to predominate.

—Marilyn Stokstad, Art History, Volume Two (New York, Prentice Hall, Inc. and Harry Abrams, Inc., 1995), 31.

And here is a paraphrase:

The lost-wax casting process is an ancient method for making metal sculpture. While the ancient Egyptians appear to have been its first practitioners, other cultures around the world also developed or imported the technique. Probably, introduced to Europe by the ancient Greeks in the sixth century BCE, lost-wax casting remained an important artistic method up to the eighteenth century (Stokstad, 31).

Rather than simply restating the text, the author of the paraphrase changes the text to draw out a particular idea and leaves out the details that aren't relevant to the point being made. Moreover, the author adds some clarity by including a short definition of the lost-wax method in the opening sentence.

Most importantly, the source is cited by author and page number. The rest of the information about Marilyn Stokstad’s book — its title, publisher and date of publication — would be found in the bibliography at the end of the paper.