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What is ‘paraphrasing’?

A paraphrase is a restatement of someone else’s thoughts and/or ideas in your own words.

Paraphrasing can be used to express complex ideas using simpler, more easily understood language. For example, if you are a medical student and are explaining the effects of a drug to a non-specialist reader, a paraphrase would be much easier to read and understand than a quotation.

You can also use paraphrasing to help you understand difficult and complex ideas in a source in your own words. If you can express the same ideas in your own words, then you have understood them.

Expressing other people’s ideas in your own words shows that you have understood your sources, and it also helps you to avoid plagiarism.

Paraphrasing is a difficult skill. Therefore, you should only try to paraphrase something that you are sure you have understood. In addition, it is best to paraphrase short passages—a sentence or two at most. Avoid paraphrasing large paragraphs and large sections of your sources.

Six Strategies for Paraphrasing

There are a number of strategies you can use to paraphrase words and/or ideas.

The interactive tasks in this exercise will teach you how to paraphrase from sources and provide you with strategies, tasks and models in order to build your paraphrasing skills.

Carefully read the instructions before completing each task below.
Click here to show Strategy 1, Part 1

Click here to show Strategy 1, Part 2

Click here to show Strategy 2, Part 1

Click here to show Strategy 2, Part 2

Click here to show Strategy 3, Part 1

Click here to show Strategy 3, Part 2

You have learned that when you are paraphrasing an author’s idea, you must rewrite the ideas in your own words without changing the meaning. However, there may be some words in the original that cannot be rephrased without creating awkwardness. It is important for you to be aware of this and to be able to determine which words in an original passage will be unchanged in your paraphrase.

Here are some examples of categories of words that are difficult to paraphrase, especially if they are essential to the main idea of the passage.

*Specific numbers (Note: See the information elsewhere about paraphrasing statistics.)

*Proper names: including geographical locations, e.g. the Yangtze River, Himalayas, Hong Kong, the Philippines, etc.

*Organizations, e.g. the United Nations, Greenpeace, the FBI, etc.

*Names of (famous) people, e.g. President H. K. Chang, Jackie Chan etc. (Note:    
If a person is famous and has a title, it is possible (but not required) to rephrase one by using the other. For example, “Xi Jinping” can be rephrased as “the President of  the PRC”, or vice-versa.)

*Specific dates, e.g. 4th June 1999. (Note: When a date is not specific, it can often be paraphrased. For example, the sentence “I finished university in 1988” can be rewritten as “I graduated from university 10 years ago.”

*Nouns (Note: In general, nouns are harder to paraphrase than verbs and adjectives because so many nouns refer to technical terms within a field or to common, concrete objects for which few or no synonyms exist.

*Terms within a field: e.g. environmental terms (greenhouse effect, acid rain), chemical terms (carbon dioxide), computer components (mouse, printer), medical terms (open-heart surgery, coma), political terms (president, prime minister, socialism), economic terms (interest rate, stock market)

*Common concrete objects: This is a difficult category as you must have a fairly large
vocabulary in order to determine which words have synonyms and which do not. For example,  
the words that describe such concrete, everyday objects such as ‘bed’, ‘chair’, ‘grass’, and  
‘book’ have very few common synonyms, while others, such as ‘couch’, ‘store’ and ‘rain’do  
(couch: ‘sofa’, store: ‘shop’, rain: ‘precipitation’, building: ‘block’).

(Note: While the individual words “bed” and “chair” may be awkward if paraphrased, it is possible to provide a generalization if both words are present in a passage, since “bed and chair” can be rephrased as “pieces of furniture.”)

Keep practising as you will find that the more you do it, the easier paraphrasing becomes, and the more your English writing and vocabulary improves, too!

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