Paraphrasing is another way of presenting ideas from source material in your own words, but without the condensing that happens in a summary. Instead, paraphrases stay approximately the same length as the original source material being paraphrased. Choose paraphrase over summary when you need to demonstrate your understanding of complex detail in a text that will require several sentences to explain.
What Makes Something a Paraphrase?
- Is in your own words
- Is not condensed
- Avoids personal opinion
- Is completely rephrased (and somewhat restructured) from the original
Like summary, a paraphrase is someone else’s ideas rewritten in your own words. Unlike summary, though, paraphrase should not be condensed—the ideas as you write them should take up about the same amount of space as they do in the original text. A paraphrase should not include your own opinions about the topic, what the author of the text is saying about it, or how that author is presenting their point
A paraphrase should look similar, but not TOO similar
Here is a brief passage from Sarah Boxer’s article in The Atlantic, “An Artist for the Instagram Age”:
The fact that some folks have managed to make the scene while others get left out in the cold is integral to the excitement of participatory art. The thrill is akin to exotic travel, or getting to see Hamilton. Because not everyone who wants the experience actually gets the experience, these works, even if their intentions and messages are democratic, tend to become exclusive affairs.
Which of the following is an appropriate paraphrase of this passage? (the answer is below)
- According to Boxer, the truth that many people have been able to attend these events as others have been shut out of them is key to what makes this kind of art appealing. The excitement is similar to visiting foreign countries or attending a showing of a sold-out musical. Since some people who wish to attend can’t do so, these art forms, despite not necessarily wanting to, often end up denying access to many would-be attendees.
- Boxer notes that this kind of art only maintains its appeal as long as there are more people clamoring to view it than can possibly actually view it. This reliance on scarcity means these artists are ultimately relying on elitist principles to find their success and remain in demand.
Avoiding Plagiarism when Paraphrasing
It can be easy, when writing a paraphrase, to rely on some of the original author’s phrasing or direct synonyms for the author’s original words. Remember that a paraphrase must be entirely your own writing, not just phrases or words substituted in the same sentence structure, length, etc. used by the original text. Write paraphrases in sentence structures that are natural to you and true to your own writing voice. The only job of a paraphrase is to accurately and completely represent the relevant idea presented in the text you are paraphrasing. If you must use words or phrases from the original, you must quote them. Sometimes words or short phrases from the text are essential to the text's point and impossible to translate into your own words.
In the above exercise, Example 1 follows too closely the structure of the original. It merely translates word for word. Thus, it would be considered a form of plagiarism, albeit an accidental form, given that you've provided proper attribution. Example 2 is better paraphrase because it conveys the same ideas in the writer's own words and form.
Recently, websites have sprung up that offer to paraphrase for you. I am not going to link to one. Professors consider the use of these websites plagiarism. They seem designed to help students avoid plagiarism detection programs. Do not use them for academic purposes. They are good for a laugh. Here's the above passage after a website paraphrased it:
The way that a few people have figured out how to cause the scene while others to get left without a friend in the world is basic to the energy of participatory workmanship. The rush is similar to colorful travel, or getting the opportunity to see Hamilton. Since not every person who needs the experience really gets the experience, these works, regardless of whether their aims and messages are popularity based, will in general become selective undertakings
ProTip: Look, look away, look back
When paraphrasing, the look, look away, then look back technique.
Look: read the passage you want to paraphrase. Hint: read it more than once.
Look away: try to write the meaning of the passage from memory. Here's my first attempt at phraphrasing Boxer
Sarah Boxer compares the experience of "participatory art" to exotic travel and attending sold-out shows. Whatever positive message the art wants to convey, that message is lost by the elitism created by the fact that not everyone gets to experience it.
Look back: is your paraphrase accurate? is it too close in places?
When I look back, I see that I took the phrase "exotic travel." I could quote it, but it's not important, so I will change it. I also use the word "experience" in the exact same way Boxer does. This word is important to the meaning, so I will quote it the second time but delete it the first time. Overall, I think my meaning is similar, so I will fix my paraphrase in those small ways
Sarah Boxer compares "participatory art" to specialized tourism or attending sold-out shows. Whatever positive message the art wants to convey, that message is lost by the elitism created by the fact that not everyone "gets the experience".
Wait! You can quote in a paraphrase?
Use paraphrase instead of direct quote unless you have compelling reasons to preserve the exact language of the original text. Often, the reason to preserve the original text in a direct quote is because that text uses specialized language that you can’t easily rephrase. As much of your work as possible should be in your own voice.
For example, let’s look at the last paragraph of the Scientific American article (found at www.scientificamerican.com) “Are you a Magnet for Mosquitoes?,” about why mosquitoes are more attracted to some humans than others. Consider this passage:
“Scientists that study human odors and genetics have previously suggested scent cues associated with genetics are likely controlled via the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) genes. Those genes appear to play a role in odor production and also in mammals’ mating choices—because humans and mice alike appear to prefer mates that smell less similar to themselves, which scientists have theorized may be a natural control against inbreeding.”
You might want to quote the phrase "scent cues" because it's a handy phrase that would take far longer to try to paraphrase. So, a good paraphrase of this passage would look like this
Scientists who study these things have found that some of our "scent cues" are genetic. These genetic scent cues help in mate selection because many mammals --humans included -- avoid mates that have the same scent. This helps prevent choosing a mate that is too close a genetic relation.
- How can paraphrase be an effective annotation annotation technique?
- Why do you think this page spends so much time talking about plagiarism (accidental or intentional)?
[adapted from The Word on College Reading and Writing (Babin, et al)