Communication 101

What Is Paraphrasing and Why Do We Do It?

May 30, 2022

To put it simply: paraphrasing condenses information or the main points taken from another source and expresses or interprets it in your own words and writing style. Learning the art of paraphrasing involves comprehending, synthesizing, and conveying information in an original format. This technique is often used in college coursework such as research papers where plagiarism is strictly prohibited, and direct quotations should be kept to a minimum.

Paraphrasing is a valuable technique that you can use in many forms of writing and speaking, such as presentations, speeches, blogs, articles, and any other forms of communication where original ideas are shared. In today’s world, there are even paraphrasing tools such as Quillbot AI and Paraphraser.io leveraging technology and AI to help writers paraphrase while avoiding plagiarism.

Read on to learn all about what paraphrasing is, why it’s important and how to put this valuable rewording technique to use. 

Fast Facts About Paraphrasing

  • Paraphrasing is a valuable skill for speaking and writing original content in your own words.
  • When paraphrasing, it is important to keep the facts and express the original idea without copying the original content. 
  • A common goal of paraphrasing is to distill information concisely, creating more clarity, relevance, and/or impact for the receiver of information.

Are Paraphrasing and Plagiarism the Same?

There is a distinct difference between paraphrasing and plagiarism, and a lot of it is based on intention. If the paraphrased wording or sentence structure looks too close to the original passage, then one will assume that the writer is passing it off as their own work.

Unfortunately, intentionally plagiarizing can lead to failing a class, job loss, and even a damaged reputation or career.

A direct quotation is typically permitted if a text citation acknowledges the source. APA in-text citation style guidelines use the author's last name and year of publication when you refer to, paraphrase, summarize or use quotation marks for information from the direct source material.  

Plagiarism is considered intellectual theft and is strictly prohibited in academia and for legal reasons. Copyright is a set of exclusive rights given to a creator of original works. Plagiarism often violates these rights by copying and distributing the work. Copyright infringement can still occur even if the original author is acknowledged.

One instance where plagiarism doesn’t apply is related to commonly known facts such as basic information or historical dates. For example, you would not need to cite the encyclopedia if you wrote that “The United States officially adopted the Constitution in 1788” or that “There are eight planets in the solar system, nine if you count Pluto.”

How To Use Paraphrasing in Your Own Writing

Paraphrasing is a technique used to combat plagiarism, keeping original ideas intact but rephrasing information in your own words and original perspectives. Effective paraphrasing involves reading or listening to the original content until you fully understand it and taking notes on the main points. 

Next, you write down your version of the core concepts without looking at the original passage. Then, make sure that you restate it in a way that the original author has implied and not how you want them to imply it. Lastly, compare and edit your work to ensure it doesn’t resemble the original, and cite your sources when necessary. 

Other strategies to keep in mind when paraphrasing are changing the sentence structure or form, using synonyms, changing active to passive voice, changing clauses to phrases, and starting the sentence or paragraph differently from the original content.

 Suppose you don’t think you can accurately paraphrase a passage concisely. Instead, you can directly quote exact words from the original author and identify the original source of the material with their name or text citation to avoid plagiarizing, as explained previously.

Does Paraphrasing Improve Your Communication Skills?

Practicing paraphrasing as a skill can drastically improve your communication and writing skills since it involves the mental practice of active listening, learning new information or ideas, reflecting upon them, and pulling out the key concepts in your own words.

The process of paraphrasing enables you to truly learn a subject before you can confidently write or communicate that idea. Paraphrasing is a powerful way to further understand a subject or idea for both the writer and reader or speaker and listener.

Active listening and understanding are key components of efficient communication. Using this skill alleviates misunderstandings and prevents conflict.

What Are Some Examples of Paraphrasing?

In daily life, an example situation involving paraphrasing could look like sitting down at your favorite restaurant and ordering from the menu. You tell the server each item you’d like to order. They repeat it back to you for confirmation. If they misunderstand anything you said, you would interject to correct them. 

They will usually repeat it back a second time to ensure they have the correct order. They may not use the exact words you used but provide a restatement of your order. This process confirms the chef prepares the correct meals for you.

Other paraphrasing examples in writing include:

  • Original: He has many old clothes and furniture to donate or throw away.
  • Paraphrase: He needs to get rid of a lot of junk.
  • Original: Polar bears are nearly undetectable by infrared cameras. Thermal cameras detect the heat lost by a subject as infrared, but polar bears are experts at conserving heat.
  • Paraphrase: Because thermal cameras detect infrared heat given off by a subject, polar bears are undetectable due to their unique heat conservation abilities.
  • Original: Although most people learn from experienced sailors, it's possible to teach yourself in a controlled environment. The biggest concern when teaching yourself to sail is safety, as going out on the water alone and inexperienced can be perilous.
  • Paraphrase: In a safe and controlled environment, you can teach yourself to sail, despite trained sailors giving instruction in most cases. Going out on the water alone can be dangerous for a beginner.

Is Paraphrasing Ever a Bad Thing?

Paraphrasing shouldn’t be used when it does not accurately reflect the ideas of the original source. Poor paraphrasing can look like only switching out a few words or failing to acknowledge the source or author with direct quotations or in-text citations when necessary. Ultimately, incorrect paraphrasing could result in a costly mistake. 

Paraphrasing is unnecessary when sharing a famous speech or lines from a book. In this case, you would use direct quotations. For example, you wouldn’t paraphrase Martin Luther King Jr’s “I have a dream” speech. Therefore, paraphrasing would likely reduce the impact.

Why Do We Paraphrase?

Paraphrasing Leaves Out Unnecessary Info

The art of paraphrasing allows a writer or speaker to succinctly rephrase statements or ideas, focusing on the most critical aspects of the topic or idea. It helps to create clarity by leaving out any unnecessary information.

Paraphrasing allows the speaker or writer to reframe it in a more relevant way to their audience. Sometimes you would only take pieces of the original idea that relate to what you want to express.

Paraphrasing Simplifies Your Communication

Putting paraphrasing into practice regularly helps you focus on the key concepts or crucial information and communicate that, whether it’s in a professional conversation, giving a speech, or writing your paper for a college course. It allows you to hold people’s attention by providing concise information and impacting your audience.

Paraphrasing Puts an Original Spin on Information

Paraphrasing is a great technique to use if the original format of the information is not unique or impactful. It is an opportunity to rephrase it in a more compelling and digestible way, putting an original spin on an idea.

Improving this skill also allows you to keep your authentic communication style even if you’re sharing someone else's ideas.

Using Paraphrasing as a Listener

Using Paraphrasing in Active Listening 

A critical step in the paraphrasing process is active listening. To succinctly communicate an idea or concept in an original way, you must actively listen to extract the main points before you can accurately paraphrase. Paraphrasing what someone said shows the speaker you are actively listening and retaining the information.

How To Paraphrase in Conversation

When in conversation with others, paraphrasing is a great way to ensure both parties are on the same page in understanding the exchange of information. You can practice paraphrasing by actively listening to what someone is saying, condensing the information into a shorter format using your own words, and repeating it for confirmation.

New, Original Words

Paraphrasing is an effective technique for learning, communicating, and restating ideas and concepts in an original format. Improving your paraphrasing skills will help ensure your research paper, presentation, and professional or personal communication is clear, relevant, impactful, and plagiarism free. Just remember to cite any original sources where appropriate.

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Sources:

APA Citation Style Guide | University of South Carolina

Active Listening Definition, Skills, and Examples | The Balance Careers

Quoting and Paraphrasing – The Writing Center | UW–Madison

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