What Does Paraphrasing Mean? Answered With Examples

Are you curious about what does paraphrasing mean? Learn about the definition of paraphrasing and how you can use it to create strong writing from your sources.

When writing an essay or non-fiction, figuring out what to say often involves researching primary and secondary sources. It involves taking research and transforming it into your own written words, without copying the original work word-for-word.

Effective writers of all types, especially those who write academic papers and essays, master the art of paraphrasing. Without paraphrasing, a piece of writing can become a bunch of quotations pieced together.

So what does paraphrasing mean, and how can you use it in your writing? This guide will take a closer look at this writing tool and how you can use it to transform your source materials into writing you can feel proud of. 

What Does Paraphrasing Mean?

What Does Paraphrasing Mean

Paraphrasing describes rephrasing someone’s idea and putting it in your own words. Even with paraphrasing, you must still use proper citations using APA or MLA format to avoid the consequences of plagiarism.

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a paraphrase is “a restatement of a text, passage, or work giving the meaning in another form.” When used as a verb, the definition of paraphrasing is “to make a paraphrase.” This word comes from the Latin word “paraphrasis” and from the Greek word “paraphrazein.”

Paraphrasing is putting source material in one’s own words. When paraphrasing, you use different words and synonyms to replace the author’s words. It involves creating a unique sentence structure, exhibiting your writing style, or using another form of rewording to ensure sentences differ from the original author’s exact words. Plagiarism, on the other hand, describes taking another writer’s work, either verbatim or without a citation, and passing it off as your own.

Learn more about the differences between paraphrasing vs plagiarism

Types of Paraphrasing

Writers can use several types of paraphrasing to change the phrasing of their works. Some common ways to paraphrase include:

  • Changing verb tenses: Changing from present tense to past tense can be a sufficient paraphrase.
  • Using synonyms: Swapping out most words for a word with a similar meaning can create a paraphrase.
  • Changing sentence structure: If the sentence follows the noun-verb-object format, you could switch it up to follow a different structure to create your paraphrase.

You can paraphrase in other ways, too, but these are three common ways that writers will transform a piece of research material and make it their own words for their paper.

Writers Use Paraphrasing to Avoid Plagiarism 

Paraphrasing helps you avoid falling victim to plagiarism, a mistake that could put your grade in jeopardy. Directly pulling a quote from an original work is a serious infraction, especially without quotation marks and proper citation. Even pulling just a few phrases from the original work and not paraphrasing those bits unless those phrases are common knowledge facts, is plagiarism.

Writers often paraphrase to use works from an original source without pulling a direct quote. Paraphrasing is a common tool used in academic papers, but it also shows up in other writing types.

In order to successfully paraphrase, none of the wording can be the same as the original source material. Here is an example:

  • Original source: The warm air rises over the ocean, then cools quickly. This cycle creates regular storms that can put ships at risk.
  • Plagiarism: The warm air rises over the water, where it cools quickly. This cyclic nature of this process creates regular storms, which are not safe for ships.
  • Paraphrase: The air from land is warm, but the temperature drops as it heads out to sea. This causes a cycle that can cause high winds and rain, which are not safe for ships.

In the second sentence, the phrases “warm air rises over” and “cools quickly” are repeated, which means it still shows plagiarism. The correct paraphrase changes the wording enough to be the new author’s words.

Citation and Paraphrasing

What does paraphrasing mean?
Paraphrased information still requires a citation

Paraphrasing does not eliminate the need to cite sources in your paper properly. Changing the wording or rephrasing the original passage still takes the original author’s ideas, and you cannot claim those as your own without proper credit.

Paraphrased ideas still need in-text citations according to the publication manual used for the research paper. The exception would be items considered common knowledge in the field. Examples of common knowledge information include:

  • Things the reader would already know, including industry-specific information if you are writing for a particular audience.
  • Facts most people know and accept, such as that the sky is blue.
  • Information readers can find in common informational sources.
  • Items from folklore that most people have heard.

Outside of examples like these, paraphrased information still requires a citation. Otherwise, you indicate the idea is your own when, in fact, it came from another author.

Paraphrasing Versus Summarizing

Paraphrasing vs summarizing
Summarizing means taking a long work and boiling it down into a shortened, concise version

Paraphrasing may feel similar to summarizing, but these are not the same processes. When paraphrasing, take a passage and put it in your own words. The overall word count of what you write and what the original author said is usually the same.

Summarizing means taking a long work and boiling it down into a shortened, concise version. This process also involves rewording and using your own words, but the goal is to present the main points of the source material in a shorter form. Summarized information also should have a citation to show where the source came from.

Learn more about how to write a summary

Tips to Learn to Paraphrase

Paraphrasing seems easy, but you may find it a bit more challenging than you thought when you start to work on the process. Transforming written works to make them uniquely yours is not as easy as you might think.

Here are some tips that might help:

  • Gain a thorough understanding of the source materials because this makes paraphrasing easier.
  • Re-read the passage from the original work several times to get its meaning into your mind.
  • Close the book or article, and write the paraphrased sentences without referencing the original.
  • After writing, check for phrases taken verbatim from the source material, and put them in quotes if you absolutely need them, or rephrase them more if you do not.
  • Use the thesaurus to help if you need synonyms for words in the source material.
  • Make sure the meaning is still what the original author intended, as sometimes you can pull words into the paraphrase that are not synonyms or have a completely different meaning than the original source.
  • Use verbatim information only when completely necessary, and always use proper quotation marks and citations to show it is a direct quotation.
  • Document all source material, even if it is for paraphrases.

Remember, if you doubt, cite the source material. It’s better to paraphrase and cite too often than to get caught plagiarizing. 

Identifying Paraphrasing with Examples 

Looking at examples of paraphrasing can help you understand how proper paraphrases might look in your paper or essay. After studying these examples, you will be ready to start using this tool in your writing.

  • Original Source: His abrupt manner when he ended our dinner date made me angry.
  • Paraphrase: I felt angry when he suddenly stopped the conversation and called for the check at the end of our date.
  • Original Source: The elephant is known for its large size and excellent intelligence.
  • Paraphrase: People know that elephants are big and have quite a bit of intelligence.
  • Original Source: Many people adopted kittens at the “Clear the shelter” event.
  • Paraphrase: Kittens found homes when kind-hearted adopters visited the shelter, as part of “Clear the shelter” day.
  • Original Source: Hamlet is the most popular of Shakespeare’s plays among modern enthusiasts.
  • Paraphrase: Though Shakespeare has several famous plays still performed today, Hamlet remains the one people like most.

Finally, if you’re concerned that you have incorrectly paraphrased a piece of writing, consider running it through the best plagiarism checker you can afford. These tools will usually identify missing citations and text taken verbatim without attribution.

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  • Bryan Collins is the owner of Become a Writer Today. He's an author from Ireland who helps writers build authority and earn a living from their creative work. He's also a former Forbes columnist and his work has appeared in publications like Lifehacker and Fast Company.