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How to Paraphrase a Source – Steps & Examples

Published by at October 17th, 2023 , Revised On October 17, 2023

In our vast world of information, conveying ideas in our own words is crucial. This brings us to the practice of “paraphrasing.” 

Paraphrasing can be defined as the act of rephrasing or rewording a piece of text to convey the same message or meaning using different words. Unlike direct quoting or using block quotes, where you reproduce the text verbatim, paraphrasing offers a unique rendition of the original, relying on the writer’s interpretation and understanding.

The importance of mastering the skill of paraphrasing cannot be understated, especially in today’s content-saturated society. But before talking about paraphrasing, it is essential to highlight the importance of finding sources.

The credibility of your work largely depends on the quality of the sources you use. Therefore, leaning towards credible sources and occasionally secondary sources enhances the quality of your work.

Academic Writing

For students and researchers, source evaluation is pivotal. It is not always feasible or appropriate to use direct quotes. Paraphrasing allows them to incorporate external knowledge into their work without plagiarising. It demonstrates their comprehension of the material and their ability to integrate this understanding into a broader argument.

Content Creation

In content production, it’s crucial to understand how to cite sources accurately. Whether for digital media, print, or broadcasting, the essence of many sources needs to be distilled into articles, scripts, or reports. Paraphrasing ensures the message is delivered without infringing on copyrights, thus keeping content creators on the right side of the law and ethical considerations.

Day-to-day Communication

In daily interactions, we often find ourselves retelling stories, explaining news items, or summarising a recent film or book to friends and family. Efficient paraphrasing ensures we can convey these stories accurately without unnecessary verbiage.

Differences Between Paraphrasing, Summarising, and Quoting

Understanding the distinction between paraphrasing, summarising, and quoting is pivotal for anyone who deals with information, be it a student, a content creator, or a communicator. While all three techniques allow us to incorporate external sources into our own work, they do so in different manners. Let’s break down these differences.


Paraphrasing involves taking a specific passage from a source and rewriting it in one’s own words while ensuring that the original meaning remains intact.

The key features of paraphrasing include the following:

  • Typically close in length to the original text.
  • Retains the original message but uses different phrasing and structure.

When to Use Paraphrasing

  • When the exact wording of the source isn’t crucial, but its content or idea is.
  • When looking to demonstrate understanding or interpretation of a specific point.
  • When wanting to avoid overloading a piece of writing with direct quotations.


Summarising entails condensing the main points of a larger piece of text into a brief overview.

  • Much shorter than the original text.
  • Focuses on the main ideas or themes, omitting specific details.

When to Summarise

  • When providing an overview or gist of a source’s content.
  • When highlighting the primary arguments or findings of a lengthy text.
  • When a detailed examination of a source isn’t necessary, but its overarching themes are relevant.


Quoting is the act of extracting exact words from a source and presenting them verbatim, typically enclosed within quotation marks.

  • Direct reproduction of the original text.
  • Requires accurate citation to give credit to the original author.

When to Quote

  • When the original wording is especially powerful or poignant.
  • When precision is necessary, such as citing statistical data or a specific claim.
  • When analysing the language or rhetoric used in a particular passage.

Steps of Paraphrasing a Source

Paraphrasing is both an art and a skill requiring comprehension, interpretation, and articulation. One should adhere to a systematic approach to avoid the pitfalls of inaccurate paraphrasing, which can lead to misunderstandings or even unintentional plagiarism. Here’s a step-by-step guide to mastering the art of effective paraphrasing:

Step 1. Read the Source Multiple Times

Understanding the Main Idea:

  • Before even attempting to paraphrase, it’s essential to have a deep understanding of the source material.
  • Reading once might give you a general idea, but revisiting the text helps cement the primary message and nuances.

Avoiding Misunderstandings:

  • A single misinterpretation can change the entire meaning of the content. Reading multiple times ensures you grasp the intended message, tone, and nuances.

Step 2. Jot Down Key Points

Importance of Taking Notes:

  • Active note-taking helps isolate the fundamental elements of the content.
  • It also aids in breaking down complex ideas into simpler, digestible points.

Keeping the Essence of the Original Text:

  • Your notes should capture the crux of the source material. Focusing on these central points ensures the core ideas remain intact, even if you use different wording.

Step 3. Write Without Looking at the Original

Relying on your Understanding and Memory:

  • Now that you have read and noted the key ideas distance yourself from the original content. This promotes originality in your rendition.
  • Drafting from memory ensures that you’re not just swapping out words but genuinely processing and internalising the content.

Ensuring Originality in the Paraphrased Content:

  • This step is where the “rephrasing” truly happens. You will naturally adopt different sentence structures and vocabulary as you write, ensuring your version is not a mere replica of the original.

Step 4. Compare and Adjust

Matching your Version Against the Original:

  • Once you have drafted your paraphrased content, revisit the source material. This helps in identifying any inadvertent similarities or omissions.
  • It is crucial to ensure that the original message remains consistent while the words are different.

Making Necessary Edits for Accuracy:

  • This is the refining stage. Make adjustments to enhance clarity, accuracy, and fluency as you compare. Ensure that your version doesn’t distort the original meaning in any way.

Paraphrasing Examples: Original Versus Paraphrased Passages

Paraphrasing serves different purposes across various disciplines. 

Literary Quote

Original: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” – Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen.

Paraphrased: A commonly accepted belief is that a wealthy bachelor surely seeks a wife.

Nuance Discussion: The paraphrased version condenses Austen’s iconic opening line, capturing the essence of societal expectations during the Regency era. While the paraphrased version loses some of Austen’s stylistic charm, it retains the core observation about societal beliefs.

Scientific Statement

Original: “The mitochondria are often referred to as the powerhouse of the cell because they generate most of the cell’s supply of adenosine triphosphate, used as a source of chemical energy.”

Paraphrased: Often dubbed the cell’s energy factory, mitochondria produce the majority of the adenosine triphosphate, a chemical energy source for the cell.

Nuance Discussion: In the scientific realm, precision is key. The paraphrased version retains the core details about the mitochondria’s function and its importance in energy production. It uses different descriptors and structures while preserving the factual essence.

Historical Event

Original: “In 1492, Christopher Columbus set sail from Spain and arrived in the Americas, marking a pivotal moment in global exploration.”

Paraphrased: Christopher Columbus embarked on a journey from Spain in 1492, reaching the Americas and heralding a significant shift in worldwide exploration.

Nuance Discussion: Historical paraphrasing should maintain factual accuracy. The paraphrased version remains faithful to the event’s timing, origin, destination, and significance while restructuring the sentence and altering vocabulary.

News Headline

Original: “Tech Giant Announces Launch of Innovative Smartphone with Advanced AI Capabilities”

Paraphrased: Leading tech company unveils a new smartphone boasting cutting-edge AI features.

Nuance Discussion: News headlines are already condensed, so paraphrasing seeks to offer an alternative presentation without losing crucial details. The paraphrased version provides the same information – a major tech player introducing an AI-enhanced phone but with different phrasing.

Benefits of Paraphrasing

Paraphrasing is a powerful tool in the world of writing and communication. Its utility goes beyond merely changing words; it serves deeper academic, ethical, and skill-enhancing purposes. Here are the primary benefits of mastering the art of paraphrasing:

Engagement with the Content

Paraphrasing requires a thorough reading and comprehension of the source material. You cannot effectively paraphrase something you do not fully understand. This pushes readers to engage deeply with the content, asking questions and seeking clarity.


Rewriting in your own words often demands reflection on the material’s significance and relevance. This process of internalisation can lead to better retention and a more profound grasp of the topic.

Ethical Writing Practices

Plagiarism is a grave offence in both academic and professional spheres. When done correctly, paraphrasing allows writers to incorporate others’ ideas into their work without directly copying, thus adhering to ethical standards.

Giving Credit Where Due

While paraphrasing helps avoid verbatim copying, it’s still vital to attribute ideas to their original authors. This practice ensures intellectual honesty and gives readers a path to the original source for further exploration.

Vocabulary Expansion

The act of searching for synonyms and alternative expressions can expand a writer’s vocabulary. Over time, this can lead to richer and more varied writing.

Improved Articulation

Paraphrasing challenges writers to convey the same message in different ways. This enhances adaptability and hones the skill of articulating complex ideas simply and clearly.

Flexibility in Writing Styles

By paraphrasing various sources from different genres or fields, writers become more adept at switching between writing styles, making them more versatile and adaptable.

Better Structuring of Ideas

The process often involves breaking down the original content, understanding its structure, and then reconstructing it. This practice can sharpen a writer’s ability to organise and structure their own ideas coherently.

The research done by our experts have:

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Common Mistakes to Avoid in Paraphrasing

Paraphrasing, though invaluable, comes with its pitfalls. These common mistakes can compromise the integrity of your work and, in some cases, lead to academic or professional repercussions.

1. Changing Only a Few Words

  • Why this does not count as paraphrasing: Simply swapping out a few words for their synonyms does not constitute genuine paraphrasing. True paraphrasing requires a complete restructuring of the sentence or paragraph, demonstrating a full understanding of the original content.
  • Pitfalls: This superficial approach can lead to accidental plagiarism, particularly if the structure and flow of the original text are largely retained.

2. Misrepresenting The Source

  • Risks of altering the original meaning: When paraphrasing, it’s crucial to retain the original intent and meaning of the source. Misrepresentation can lead to the dissemination of incorrect information, misleading readers and undermining the credibility of your work.
  • Pitfalls: Misrepresentation can damage your reputation as a reliable writer or researcher, lead to misinformation, and potentially result in academic or professional consequences.

3. Forgetting Citations

  • The importance of giving credit to original authors: Even if you have paraphrased content, the original idea came from another source. Signal phrases are a great way to introduce borrowed ideas, ensuring that they blend seamlessly into your work. Failing to cite these sources is intellectually dishonest and can be viewed as plagiarism.
  • Pitfalls: Omitting citations can lead to accusations of intellectual theft and bear significant academic or professional repercussions.

How to Cite a Paraphrase

Citing a paraphrase is essential to give credit to the original source and avoid plagiarism. The method to cite a paraphrase varies depending on the citation style you are using. Here are guidelines for three common styles: APA (American Psychological Association), MLA (Modern Language Association), and Chicago.

APA Style (7th edition)

  • When paraphrasing, provide the author’s last name and the year of publication in parentheses.
  • You can include the author’s name as a part of your narrative and just include the year in parentheses right after.

Example: Narrative: According to Smith (2020), the climate is changing rapidly due to human activities. Parenthetical: The climate is changing rapidly due to human activities (Smith, 2020).

MLA Style (8th edition)

  • Include the author’s last name and the page number where the original information can be found. If there is no page number, just the author’s name will suffice.
  • Place this information in parentheses at the end of your paraphrase.

Example: The climate is changing rapidly due to human activities (Smith 23).
If there isn’t a page number:

Example: The climate is changing rapidly due to human activities (Smith).

Chicago Manual of Style

The Chicago Manual of Style offers two methods: notes and bibliography, and author-date. Here’s how to cite a paraphrase for both:

Notes and Bibliography

Use footnotes or endnotes. The first time you cite a source, provide full bibliographic information. In subsequent notes, you can use a shortened form.


  • John Smith, Climate Change and Human Impact (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2020), 23.
  • Smith, Climate Change, 45.


Similar to APA, include the author’s last name and the year of publication. Page numbers are not required but can be included.

Example: The climate is changing rapidly due to human activities (Smith 2020, 23).

For all styles, always ensure you have a full citation either in a “Works Cited” page (MLA), “References” page (APA), or “Bibliography” section (Chicago) to give full details about the source. Always refer to the respective style guide or manual for specific and comprehensive guidelines.

Tools and Resources for Paraphrasing

In our digital age, numerous online tools promise to assist with paraphrasing. However, while they can be beneficial, relying solely on them can be perilous.

Introduction to Online Paraphrasing Tools

  • Automated software or websites that rephrase content for users.
  • Use algorithms to replace words with synonyms or change sentence structure.

Benefits and Potential Drawbacks

    • Benefits:
      • Quick results.
      • Helpful for those who may struggle with initial rephrasing or non-native speakers.
      • Some advanced tools can provide relatively accurate paraphrased content.
  • Drawbacks:
    • Often lack nuance, leading to awkward or incorrect phrasing.
    • It might not always capture the true essence or tone of the original content.
    • Over-reliance can hinder the development of personal paraphrasing skills.
    • Risk of producing content that still too closely resembles the original.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Understand the original text fully.
  • Write without looking at the source.
  • Use your own words and structure.
  • Compare with the original to ensure different phrasing.
  • Cite the source properly.
  • Use plagiarism detection tools to double-check.

Paraphrasing is not inherently plagiarism. However, it can be considered plagiarism if done improperly without adequately altering structure and language or without proper citation. Understanding the source material and expressing it genuinely in one’s own words is essential, always crediting the original author or source to avoid plagiaristic practices.

Whether to quote or paraphrase depends on the situation. Quote when the original wording is powerful or uniquely expressed. Paraphrase to simplify or tailor content to your audience or to integrate information smoothly into your work. Always provide proper citations, regardless of your choice, to give credit to original sources.

About Alvin Nicolas

Avatar for Alvin NicolasNicolas has a master's degree in literature and a PhD degree in statistics. He is a content manager at ResearchProspect. He loves to write, cook and run. Nicolas is passionate about helping students at all levels.