Learning to Paraphrase: A Step-By-Step Guide

Paraphrasing is often not taken seriously both by students and teachers, while students think it is the easiest task ever, and teachers, in turn, assume that every student knows well how to do it. There is a good reason for the professors to think so. In our daily speech, each of us paraphrases several times a day, for example, various morning or talk show conversations or phrases, friends, parents, blogs, etc. We all live and communicate. Every day we render something said earlier by one person to another person or party, and we don’t do that word for word. So, paraphrasing is a natural way for all humans to convey information. Thus, if we do it so often, it’s possible to assume everyone knows well how to do it well. However, it’s crucial for students to know how to do it in order to avoid plagiarism. Besides, mastering this skill will allow you citing someone’s ideas without a need of a word for word quotation. When you are able to paraphrase properly, you have a chance to make your writing diverse and show how you mastered the material.


Paraphrase Correctly


What Is Paraphrasing?

Paraphrasing means to keep the meaning of the original text without copying its exact wording. Massachusetts Institute of Technology defines paraphrasing as taking the words of another source and using your own vocabulary to restate them. A paraphrase is actually swapping the keywords not to parrot the author and render his main idea at the same time.

Yes, it may sound really simple, however, there are so many students having troubles with it. The problem is that when paraphrasing, they misinterpret the main idea of the original text. Linguistic scholars define full paraphrase and quasi-paraphrase. According to Bhagat & Hovoy, it can cause very subtle but still very essential meaning, implication, and point of view differences. Bhagat & Hovoy define paraphrasing as phrases or sentences rendering almost the same meaning through using different words.


The Difference Between Paraphrasing and Plagiarism

The main difference between paraphrasing and plagiarizing is very simple, correct paraphrasing usually has a source attached or cited. When citing someone else’s source you show that you do not try to produce someone’s work for your own. Ideas are really valuable in academia, so if you try to pass off someone’s idea as your own, it is perceived as stealing. And there is a good reason for that, while some academics spend much time on their studies to come up with those ideas, and stealing them is a serious offense. They might be just phrases or words for you, but those ideas are the result of someone’s hard work.

When paraphrasing, you don’t only change the main words but also the sentence structure, and at the same time, you give some new life to the text. According to some experts, if a paraphrase has seven or more words from the original source and it is not acknowledged properly, it is considered to be plagiarism.

It is necessary to save the meaning and intent of the original idea as much as possible, but the words and vocabulary, in general, have to be different. It is a sort of following a recipe and at the same time, substituting each ingredient by something else and getting the same dish at the end. And don’t forget to state the original author in the reference.


The Difference Between Paraphrasing and Summarizing

When summarizing, you can gather all the main ideas of another thinker or author in their core concepts. There is a very small difference between a summarized paragraph and a paraphrased one.

A paraphrased paragraph, as a rule, is aimed to give the main idea of what it is referring to. A summarized paragraph is intended to show the main points and ideas of the initial source. Both of them must have citation and references to the original source.

It is very possible to make a properly paraphrased summaries and even plagiarized summaries. A summary that is paraphrased properly should restate a written summary via new vocabulary and structure. It also requires correct in-text citation.

A plagiarized summary will restate the same original summary’s ideas using many the same keywords. And it is not referred to the original author.


How to Paraphrase

It requires some skills and practice to paraphrase a point, argument, or idea of another person. The following tips will help you master this skill the soonest.

  • The order of the words and sentence has to be adjusted.

Before thinking of new words for your sentence, you should change the whole structure of the sentence. A new sentence should start at a different place than the original one. This way, you will have to make wording changes.

For example: The meeting was rescheduled while the deputy had to go to the head office. The deputy head to go to the head office, so the meeting was rescheduled.

So, you just restructure your sentence and can start substituting the words to paraphrase your own sentence. Such restructuring impacts the tone, too, it brings freshness to the original idea. Sometimes paraphrasing allows making the ideas of an academic more understandable and readable, especially if you make the sentence structure easier.

When restructuring, you are free to change the length of the sentence. You can make too long sentences shorter, and vice versa, combine few short sentences into a longer one. The writing manner of some academics requires the readers to read the sentence over again in order to understand it, so you can restructure it and make it easier and accessible to your reader.

  • Substitute new words.

This step is one of the most crucial to write a proper paraphrase. When using new vocabulary, you show your ability to understand everything that was said by the author and at the same time, choose the synonyms conveying the same meaning. Too complicated and esoteric words can be replaced with easier ones. And vice versa, too generic words can be replaced with those that express the main idea better.

If you want to use some set phrases, you can still do it. If you want to refer later to the original turn of the author’s phrase, you can also keep it.

  • If necessary, add the definition of terms.

One of the best paraphrasing benefits is the opportunity to improve the original work. If the author didn’t provide any illumination, you can do it.

  • Review the paraphrased sentence and check if you didn’t change the meaning drastically. It is crucial for paraphrasing. Sometimes, it is necessary to simplify the tone of the original expert to show your understanding of the material and ensure that you didn’t just alter the original meaning.

Some synonyms may alter the original meaning of the text, so make sure to choose the proper ones.


Paraphrase Example


“The world has a great writer in Erich Maria Remarque. He is a craftsman of unquestionably first rank, a man who can bend language to his will. Whether he writes of men or of inanimate nature, his touch is sensitive, firm, and sure.” (The New York Times, 2007).


Erich Maria Remarque is a great writer of the world. He is a first rank mater who is able to make the language obey his will. His touch is always sensitive, confident, and sure, no matter what he writes about. – (The New York Times, 2007).


How to Cite a Paraphrase

MLA Format

The MLA format requires to state the name of the author and the number of the page within parenthetical.

For example: (Dickens, 25).

However, if you mention the name of the author in the paraphrase, you have to use only the page number at the end.

For example: According to Dickens, …(25).

APA Format

This format requires you to use the name of the author and the date within a parenthetical.

For example: (Dickens, 1843).

In case the author is cited within the paraphrase, just state the data at the end.

For example: According to Dickens, … (1843).

Chicago Format

This format requires you to use the footnotes for referring to a citation within the text. It’s necessary to state the full name of the author, the work title, the date of publishing, the year published, and the page numbers.

For example: Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol, (London, 1843), 25.

If you refer to the work for the second or more times, then use the abbreviation of the citation

For example: Dickens, Christmas, 25.


Paraphrasing Tools

Fortunately, modern technologies develop fast and make students’ life even easier. Such tools help not only finds variants for their writing but also check it for various spelling and punctuation mistakes. You can also use various plagiarism checking programs to make sure your work is unique.



Anyone possesses the ability to paraphrase. It will be very helpful for you to master these skills to improve your writing abilities and make them more diverse. With the help of paraphrasing, you don’t seem to be dependent on the expertise research. The more you practice, the easier it will be for you to paraphrase.


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