About Paraphrasing

Like a direct quotation, a paraphrase is the use of another's ideas to enhance one's own work.

For this reason, a paraphrase, just like a quotation, must be cited. In a paraphrase, however, the author rewrites in their own words the ideas taken from the source. Therefore, a paraphrase is not set within quotation marks. So, while the ideas may be borrowed, the borrower's writing must be entirely original; merely changing a few words or rearranging words or sentences is not paraphrasing. Even if properly cited, a paraphrase that is too similar to the writing of the original is plagiarized.

Good writers often signal paraphrases through clauses such as "Werner Sollors, in Beyond Ethnicity, argues that..." Such constructions avoid excessive reliance on quotations, which can clog writing, and demonstrate that the writer has thoroughly digested the source author's argument. A full citation, of course, is still required. When done properly, a paraphrase is usually much more concise than the original and always has a different sentence structure and word choice. Yet no matter how different from the original, a paraphrase must always be cited, because its content is not original to the author of the paraphrase.

The following are examples, with explanations, of the wrong and right ways to paraphrase: 

The Wrong Way to Paraphrase #1

This paraphrase, while an accurate summary of the passage, is nevertheless plagiarized, because it contains no citation of the passage from which its main ideas are obviously derived.

Original Passage: "[J]ust before 1914 most religious leaders genuinely opposed war and few saw reasons to partake in a remote struggle in Europe. For decades a spirit of progressive optimism had moved many of the more powerful leaders, who saw no point in settling human differences with anything so destructive as war. Yet when it came, they closed ranks and generated an ideology to support it. The majority suspected innocents for presumed lack of patriotism and punished dissenters. For a brief moment they also found that the specter and cause of war united them as no spiritual impulse of their own ever could."

  • Source: Martin E. Marty, Pilgrims in Their Own Land: 500 Years of Religion in America (Boston: Little, Brown, 1984), 355.

Paraphrase: Although initially skeptical, many religious leaders soon embraced America's involvement in the First World War, and even discovered that it (and the xenophobia surrounding it) bolstered their sense of solidarity more effectively than purely religious motivations had.

The Wrong Way to Paraphrase #2

While the author of this intended paraphrase mentions the source and gives a full citation in a footnote, this excerpt is nevertheless plagiarized, because it is not a paraphrase but a nearly verbatim reproduction of the source. It is too similar to the original. Rather than concisely summarizing the ideas, it uses the phrasing and structure of the original. (Using APA citations as an example)

Original Passage: "To the young American architects who made the pilgrimage, the most dazzling figure of all was Walter Gropius, founder of the Bauhaus School. Gropius opened the Bauhaus in Weimar, the German capital, in 1919. It was more than a school; it was a commune, a spiritual movement, a radical approach to art in all its forms, a philosophical center comparable to the Garden of Epicurus."

  • Source: Tom Wolfe, From Bauhaus to Our House (New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1981), 10.

Paraphrase: As Tom Wolfe notes, to young American architects who went to Germany, the most dazzling figure was Walter Gropius, founder of the Bauhaus School. Gropius opened the Bauhaus in the German capital of Weimar in 1919. It was, however, more than a school, it was a commune, a spiritual movement, a philosophical center like the Garden of Epicurus (Wolfe, 1981).

  1. Tom Wolfe, From Bauhaus to Our House (New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1981), 10.

The Right Way to Paraphrase

This paraphrase is properly cited and represents an accurate and concise summary of the source. (Using APA citations as an example)

Original Passage: "The Republican Convention of 1860, which adopted planks calling for a tariff, internal improvements, a Pacific railroad and a homestead law, is sometimes seen as a symbol of Whig triumph within the party. A closer look, however, indicates that the Whig's triumph within the party was of a very tentative nature."

  • Source: Eric Foner, Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men: The Ideology of the Republican Party Before the Civil War (New York: Oxford University Press, 1970), 175.

Paraphrase: Contrary to many historians, Eric Foner argues that the Republican platform of 1860 should not be understood as an indication of Whig dominance of the party, (Foner, 1970). 

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