Reading & Writing Center
Putting an author’s idea into your own words is called “paraphrasing.”
A good paraphrase includes the following elements:
- totally different words and sentence structure from the original
- the name of the original author and text
- a page citation (unless you also present the direct quote--in that case, you can just cite the quote itself)
In the following example, the direct quote is taken from Michael Moore's book Dude, Where's My Country. The paraphrase contains the same idea as the quotation, but it does not use any of the same words or sentence structure. It also includes the author's name. Both versions include a page citation to show where the quote is from:
“Who attacked the United States on September 11—a guy on dialysis from a cave in Afghanistan, or your friends, Saudi Arabia?” (15).
Michael Moore suggests that Saudi Arabia might be to blame for the attacks on the World Trade Center (15).
When and why would I use a paraphrase?
There are a number of reasons that you might paraphrase a text, including the following:
- You are including the information from the text in a research paper.
- You are writing a summary. (learn more about writing summaries)
- You are explaining a quotation before or after you present it. (learn more about discussing quotations)
- You are doing an assignment that asks you to explain the meaning of a passage.
- You are studying for a test and want to see if you understand the ideas from a text.
How different should the paraphrase be from the original?
When you paraphrase, make sure you are not copying the author’s phrases or sentence structure. A paraphrase should show that you have taken in the author's idea, understood it, and can explain it in your own words. Therefore, your rewrite should look totally different from the original.
The following examples show an incorrect and correct paraphrase of a quotation from “In Praise of the F Word” by Mary Sherry:
“Passing students who have not mastered the work cheats them and the employers who expect graduates to have basic skills” (512).
incorrect paraphrase: too similar
When we pass students who have not mastered the work, we cheat them and the employers who expect graduates to have particular skills (512).
correct paraphrase: completely different
According to Mary Sherry, it is not fair to pass students who have not done strong work in school. She argues that passing these students will hurt them in their future careers (512).
Notice that the correct paraphrase uses almost none of the original words or phrasing. It also names the author or text of the original passage. This paraphrase shows that you have understood the passage and re-explained its main ideas in your own words.