On this page:
“A fundamental part of academic study is reading the work of other people and using their ideas to develop your own.”
Paraphrasing is expressing the written thoughts of published authors in your own words. Instead of using a direct quotation (the author's exact words - see the previous page), you rewrite what they have said in your own style.
Paraphrasing is expressing the written thoughts of published authors in your own words. Instead of using a direct quotation (the author's exact words - see previous section), you rewrite what they have said in your own style. At university, there are generally two contexts in which you will do this:
- during notetaking whilst reading a source of information (book, journal article etc)
- during the writing of an assignment - when you will still cite the author(s) of the original text.
It is an essential process to learn – indeed one which your tutors expect you to perform so that you can provide evidence of appropriate reading and of your understanding of that knowledge. The risk, of course, is that of plagiarism – if your version of a published text bears too close a resemblance to the original wording. Simply altering one or two words in the original is not enough; your version should be distinct from the original.
So how can a piece of text be changed into a completely new form of words but one which at the same time conveys the same message or idea as the original? This page will hopefully help you.
There are two main reasons why you should paraphrase:
- It shows you have understood the meaning of the text fully.
- It makes your writing flow more smoothly as it keeps the text in your own writing style.
The strategy to employ is to aim for understanding. This means you should not have your source of information (book, journal, web page etc.) open in front of you when you are writing. If you write as you read you are more likely to plagiarise accidentally; you must have open either your source of information OR your writing - never both at the same time. (The exception is if you are quoting directly, when you must ensure you read carefully so that the quotation is accurate).
This strategy forces you to assimilate properly what you are reading before then exchanging the source of information for your notes or essay. Read a section, a few pages, a chapter, close the book or journal or website and then (and only then) open your notebook or essay. If you have thoroughly understood what you have read, you will have less difficulty expressing it in your own words without referring to the original text. If you cannot, then you have probably not really understood it and will need to read it again. (Remember, the main reason you write essays is to show your understanding). This technique is good for revision too.
Example 1 shows in-text citations in Harvard and Example 2 shows them as footnote markers. Please note that for some disciplines using Harvard you may be required to give page numbers in your in-text citations for paraphrased text - please check with your lecturers. Footnote references always give page numbers for paraphrased text. See the examples at the bottom of the Quoting tab for how to include page numbers.
Example 1. Original text
"We come into the world with 100 billion neurons in place and ten times as many support cells. Each child’s experiences are unique – from within the womb and throughout the years of maturation. Our brains grow at an astonishing rate – doubling in size during the first two years and increasing by 400 per cent by sixteen years of age". (Sardar, et al., 2007:103).
Example 1. Poorly paraphrased text
People are born with 100 billion neurons already in their brain and 1,000 billion support cells. Each child's life-events are distinctive – from inside the uterus and through their formative years. Brains increase in size at a remarkable speed – doubling in magnitude by the time children are two and growing by 400 per cent by the time they are sixteen. (Sardar et al., 2007).
This is plagiarism.
Example 1. Well paraphrased text
A human baby already has 100 billion neurons at birth, along with ten times as many other brain cells. By the second year of life, its brain will have increased in size by a factor of two and by a factor of four by age sixteen, acquiring along the way a series of experiences which will be unique to that individual (Sardar et al., 2007).
Note the different structure, not just different words.
Example 2. Original text
"A single case can be selected for in-depth study, or several cases can be selected so that they can be compared. The intent or objective of conducting a case study plays an important role regarding the choice of research design, and there are three design variations: intrinsic case study, instrumental case study, and collective or multiple case study."1
Example 2. Poorly paraphrased text
An individual case can be chosen for for in-depth consideration, or a number of cases can be selected for comparison. The objective or intent of doing a case study plays a crucial role regarding the design of the research. There are three design choices: intrinsic case study, instrumental case study, and collective case study.1
This is plagiarism.
Example 2. Well paraphrased text
Case study research can involve single or multiple cases. Multiple cases are used when comparison is required though this can limit the depth of analysis that focusing on a single case can provide.1 Case study design can be intrinsic, instrumental or collective/multiple - the choice of which is dictated by the underlying objectives of the research.2
In this case the citation is given after both sentences as it is less obvious that they are both from the same source.
1 L. D. Bloomberg, 'Case study method', in B. B. Frey (ed), The SAGE encyclopedia of educational research, measurement, and evaluation [eBook]. (Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications Inc., 2018), 237-240, 239.