How and When to Paraphrase Quotations

Paraphrasing Can Be a Powerful Writing Tool

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Paraphrasing is one tool writers use to avoid plagiarism. Along with direct quotations and summaries, its a fair use of another person's work which can be incorporated into your own writing. At times, you can make more impact by paraphrasing a quotation instead of quoting it verbatim.

What Is Paraphrasing?

Paraphrasing is a restatement of a quotation using your own words. When you paraphrase, you restate the original author's ideas in your own words. It's important to differentiate paraphrasing from patchwriting; patchwriting is a form of plagiarism in which a writer directly quotes portions of a text (without attribution) and then fills in the gaps with their own words.

When Should You Paraphrase?

Quoting a source directly can be powerful, but sometimes paraphrasing is a better choice. Usually, paraphrasing makes more sense if:

  • the quotation is long and wordy
  • the quotation itself is poorly written
  • the quotation itself is technical or uses difficult-to-understand or obsolete language

An Effective Method of Paraphrasing a Quotation:

Before you begin paraphrasing, it's important to fully understand the quotation, its context, and any important cultural, political, or hidden meanings. Your job, as a paraphraser, is to accurately convey the author's meaning as well as any subtext.

  1. Carefully read the original quotation and make sure to understand its central idea.
  2. Note down anything that grabs your attention. If you feel that some element (word, phrase, thought) contributes to the central idea of the quotation, make a note of it.
  3. If there are any words, ideas, or meanings that are unclear, look them up. For example, if you're paraphrasing the work of a person from a different culture or time, you may want to look up references to people, places, events, etc. that are not familiar to you.
  4. Write a paraphrase in your own words. Meticulously avoid using the original words, phrases, and expression. At the same time, make sure that your words convey the same central idea.
  5. If you need to use an interesting word or phrase from the original text, use quotation marks to indicate that it is not your own.
  6. Cite the author, the source, and the date given in the text, to credit the owner of the quotation. Remember: Though the words of the paraphrase are your own, the thought behind it isn't. To not mention the author's name is plagiarism.

    How does a Paraphrase Differ From a Summary?

    To the untrained eye, a paraphrase and a summary may look alike. A paraphrase, however:

    • May restate just a single sentence, idea, or paragraph rather than an entire text;
    • May be shorter than or just as long as the original text;
    • May be used in the context of a wide range of written materials such as an essay, letter to the editor, article, or book;
    • describes the original text in different words without omitting details.

    A summary, by contrast:

    • is an abridged version of the entire original text.
    • must be shorter than the original text.
    • always eliminates details, examples, and supporting points.