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What is Paraphrasing?

Paraphrasing involves restating the ideas in an existing work while retaining the original meaning and level of detail.

(It is not a phrase with a parachute.)

Why Do We Paraphrase?

In academic writing, it is important to incorporate outside ideas into your arguments.

But how can you use the ideas in books or articles without plagiarizing?

There are two methods:

  • Directly quoting the text
  • Paraphrasing

“In Your Own Words”

You are often told to express ideas “in your own words” when paraphrasing. While this sounds simple, there is more to it than just re-writing someone else’s ideas.

A writer must express the original idea in the context of their own writing.


A good paraphrase should:

  • Change the sentence structure
  • Change the language
  • Maintain the same level of detail

But how do you know you are paraphrasing enough?

Bad Paraphrasing

Not paraphrasing enough makes for a bad paraphrase

Two types of bad paraphrasing:

  • Replacing words
  • Patch Writing

Replacing Words

Paraphrasing ≠ replacing words

It is plagiarism to cut and replace words in the original text with synonyms.


Charles Darwin: “The tortoise is very fond of water, drinking large quantities, and wallowing in the mud”

Giant Tortoise: “I am quite enamoured of water, consuming significant amounts, and relaxing in the mud”

This is plagiarism!


Patch Writing

Patch writing is a form of bad paraphrasing where the paraphrase is too similar to the original text. Patch writing involves “patching” together direct quotations or pieces of information without changing them enough.

Patch writing occurs when a student does not understand what they are reading well enough to synthesize it in their own way.

To avoid patch writing, read the text carefully and make sure you understand it.



Long-finned pilot whales (Globicephala melas) are rare visitors to the southern North Sea, but recently two individual strandings occurred on the Dutch coast. Both animals shared the same, unusual cause of death: asphyxiation from a common sole (Solea solea) stuck in their nasal cavity.

Patch Writing:

Recently, two long-finned pilot whales were found stranded on the Dutch coast, even though they rarely visit the southern North Sea. The unusual cause of death for both whales was asphyxiation from a sole found in the nasal cavity.

IJsseldijk, L. L., Leopold, M. F., Rebolledo, E. L. B., Deaville, R., Haelters, J., IJzer, J., … Gröne, A. (2015). Fatal asphyxiation in two long-finned pilot whales (Globicephala melas) caused by common soles (Solea solea). PLOS ONE, 10(11), 1-12.


A paraphrase is different from a summary.

Summarizing involves picking out the central idea from an original work and expressing that idea concisely.

A paraphrase should have the same level of detail as the original source

Good Paraphrasing

Now that we know what makes a bad paraphrase, how do we make a good paraphrase?

Next we’ll go over the steps to a good paraphrase.

Steps to a Good Paraphrase

  • Read the paragraph you would like to paraphrase from and make sure you understand the full meaning
  • Take notes about the important ideas expressed in this paragraph
  • Put the original work aside and write a paraphrased sentence from your notes
  • Look over the original paragraph to make sure that you have conveyed the same meaning in a different way
  • Cite the original source

Avoiding Plagiarism

Don’t forget to cite! Paraphrasing without citing the original source is plagiarism.

Remember: Always cite your sources when you quote, summarize or paraphrase

Paraphrasing Example

“It appears that the colossal squid is not a voracious predator capable of high-speed predator-prey interactions. We speculate that it is, rather, an ambush or sit-and-float predator that uses the hooks on its arms and tentacles to ensnare prey that unwittingly approach.”

– Rosa & Seibel (2010)

Rosa, R., & Seibel, B. A. (2010). Slow pace of life of the Antarctic colossal squid. Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom, 90(7), 1375–1378.

Bad Paraphrase:

It seems that colossal squid are not insatiable predators with high-speed predator-prey interplay. They appear to be passive predators instead, who use the hooks on their tentacles and arms to capture prey that pass them by.

Reasons: This keeps the structure of the passage the same, substitutes synonyms and does not cite the source.

It is plagiarism.

Good Paraphrase:

Though colossal squid were previously thought to be high-speed attack predators, new evidence indicates that they may be ambush predators, waiting patiently for prey to approach before capturing prey with their hooked arms and tentacles (Rosa & Seibel, 2010).

Reasons: This sentence changes the structure of the original, uses different terminology and the source is cited.

Review Paraphrasing Do and Do Nots


  • Change the language
  • Change the sentence structure
  • Cite the source

Do not:

  • Substitute words
  • Patch together sentences (patch writing)
  • Plagiarize

Quiz Time

Question 1: Choose the best paraphrase of this passage:

Sea otters consume a wide variety of invertebrate species with varying degrees of defensive armoring. To overcome the protective shells, sea otters sometime use rocks, shells, human debris (such as bottles), and other prey items as either hammers or anvils to crack open invertebrate prey

Fujii, J. A., Ralls, K., & Tinker, M. T. (2017). Food abundance, prey morphology, and diet specialization influence individual sea otter tool use. Behavioral Ecology, 28(5), 1206–1216.

  1. Sea otters eat a variety of invertebrates featuring varying degrees of protective armor. To defeat these defensive casings, sea otters occasionally use tools, such as shells, stones and discarded bottles, to open these invertebrate victims.
  2. Many invertebrate species consumed by sea otters feature a varying degree of defensive armoring. They have been studied using human debris, shells and rocks as anvils or hammers to overcome the protective shells of their prey (Fujii et al., 2017).
  3. The diet of sea otters includes many invertebrates with protective shells or armoring; sea otters have been knows to use tools, such as rocks, debris or shells, to break through these defensive shells (Fujii et al., 2017).



  1. This substitutes synonyms which is plagiarism. There is also no citation.
  2. This is patch writing. It is not different enough from the source, so it is plagiarism.
  3. This is a good paraphrase.


Question 2: Choose the best paraphrase of this passage:

Considering the large aggregation of belugas in Barrow Strait and the high numbers of narwhals frequenting the coastline of Somerset Island, it is surprising to us that polar bears do not appear to be exploiting this large summer food resource to any significant extent.

Smith, T. G., & Sjare, B. (1990). Predation of belugas and narwhals by polar bears in nearshore areas of the Canadian high arctic. ARCTIC, 43(2), 99–102.


  1. A study of polar bear predation in the Barrow Straight was surprised to find that polar bears rarely take advantage of the abundance of belugas and narwhals available in the area during the summer (Smith & Sjare, 1990).
  2. Given the large number of narwhals visiting the Somerset Island coastline and abundant gathering of belugas in the Barrow Strait, it is unexpected that polar bears do not take advantage of this food wealth to any meaningful degree (Smith & Sjare, 1990).
  3. Scientists wonder why polar bears do not exploit the large summer food resource available with the large number of belugas in Barrow Strait and the high number of narwhals frequenting the coastline of Somerset Island (Smith & Sjare, 1990).



  1. This is a good paraphrase.
  2. This just substitutes synonyms. Even though it cites the source this is still plagiarism.
  3. This directly quotes the original source without indicating by quotation marks so it is plagiarism.


Question 3: Choose the best paraphrase of this passage:

We trained eight sheep (Ovis aries) to recognize the faces of four celebrities from photographic portraits displayed on computer screens. After training, the sheep chose the ‘learned-familiar’ faces rather than the unfamiliar faces significantly above chance.

 Knolle, F., Goncalves, R. P., & Morton, A. J. (2017). Sheep recognize familiar and unfamiliar human faces from two-dimensional images. Open Science, 4(11), 171-228.

  1. Researchers trained sheep in facial-recognition using four celebrity photographs (Knolle et al., 2017).
  2. A recent study demonstrated the ability of sheep to recognize familiar faces after training eight sheep to identify images of four celebrities from photographs shown on computer screens (Knolle et al., 2017).
  3. Sheep can be trained to choose the ‘learned-familiar’ faces of four celebrities from photographic portraits rather than the unfamiliar faces (Knolle et al., 2017).



  1. This is a summary
  2. This is a good paraphrase as the sentence structure is changed.
  3. This is plagiarism as parts of the original quotation are used without quotation marks

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