Paraphrasing is a way to incorporate outside sources into your writing. It involves restating a passage of text from another source in your own words. A fair and accurate paraphrase includes the main idea, supporting details, and citation.
The three main techniques for incorporating sources into your writing are summary, quotation and paraphrase. Employed most frequently, paraphrase can be used to
- introduce a point of view you will analyze and critique
- compare and contrast several points of view on a topic
- provide background and discussion on a topic
- provide evidence and support for your own claims
An effective paraphrase has the following characteristics:
- recasts the original passage in your own words and sentence structures
- includes the main ideas and supporting details from the original passage
- is usually as long as long as the original passage
- preserves the technical terms from the original passage
- is often introduced with a signal phrase that gives credit to the author (In Smith’s opinion...)
- includes an in-text citation and a bibliographic entry
Patchwriting is substandard paraphrasing. When patchwriting, the student writer doesn’t use original sentence structures or word choices; instead, the writer selects synonyms for just a few words and/or rearranges the order of the author’s words, phrases, or sentences. Beware, patchwriting may lead to allegations of plagiarism...
Guidelines for Paraphrasing
To successfully paraphrase, and avoid patchwriting, try these steps:
- Read the source text carefully, until you fully understand it.
- If necessary, take notes on the key ideas.
- Put the source text away (turn the book over! close the browser!) and paraphrase it from memory.
- Check your newly written paraphrase against the source text for originality and accuracy.
- Repeat steps 1-4 if needed.
- Add in attribution to the original author (signal phrases) and citation.
When evaluating your paraphrase, always check for these essentials:
- your words: it restates the passage using your own vocabulary
- your sentence structures: it uses your own unique sentence structures
- signal phrases: it introduces the author(s) and places the ideas in their voice
- attribution: it provides in-text and bibliographical citation that gives credit to the source
- accurate: it accurately conveys the ideas of the author(s)
Comparing Some Examples
Citations for the following examples are done in MLA style.
Original Passage (quoted & cited)
“It is trickier to define plagiarism when you summarize or paraphrase. They are not the same, but they blend so seamlessly that you may not be aware when you drift from summary into paraphrase, then across the line into plagiarism. No matter your intention, close paraphrase may count as plagiarism, even when you cite the source” (Booth et al. 203).
Patchwriting & Plagiarizing the Passage (without signal phrase or citation)
It is difficult to define plagiarism when summary and paraphrase are involved, because while they differ, their boundaries blur, and a writer may not know when they are summarizing, paraphrasing, or plagiarizing. Regardless, too close a paraphrase is plagiarism, even when the source is cited.
Paraphrasing the Passage Accurately (with a signal phrase & citation)
According to Booth et al., writers sometimes plagiarize unconsciously because they think they are summarizing, when in fact they are too closely paraphrasing, an act that counts as plagiarism, even when done unintentionally and when sources are cited (203).
Note: The second passage not only commits plagiarism because it lacks attribution to the original authors; it also maintains the sentence structures of the original and simply replaces a few words with synonyms. It does not recast the passage in a new way or in the student writer’s voice.
The third, successful, passage closely paraphrases the original but avoids plagiarism because it varies sentence structures—the original three sentence passage becomes one long sentence—it uses a signal phrase to make it clear these ideas are not the student writer’s, and it uses language that varies from the original.
Booth, Wayne C., Colomb, Gregory G., and Joseph M. Williams. The Craft of Research. 2nd ed., University of Chicago
Howard, Rebecca Moore. Writing Matters. McGraw-Hill, 2010.
Lunsford, Andrea A. The St. Martin’s Handbook. 8th ed., Bedford/St. Martins, 2015.
Paraphrasing. The Writing Lab and OWL at Purdue and Purdue U, 2020,