Paraphrasing Techniques

Paraphrasing, quoting and summarising are key academic skills you need to develop in order to correctly acknowledge the work of researchers you cited in your academic assignments.

Today I am going to focus only on paraphrasing since students use it far more frequently than quoting and summarising.

Although international students need to learn how to paraphrase when they prepare for IELTS exam,  surprisingly, many undergraduate and postgraduate students still struggle with this rather fundamental skill.

Generally, paraphrasing requires good knowledge of English vocabulary, grammar and syntax and that positions
non-native English speaker with less developed language skills at clear disadvantage.

At the same time, some students struggle with paraphrasing due to misconceptions related to the process.

Let me recap the most important points.

What is paraphrasing?

Paraphrasing is your own unique rendition of the text you have read. In other words, paraphrasing is a restatement of what  you have read in your own voice adapted to your own audience. In this aspect, paraphrasing differs from (rather sparsely used) quoting, where you cite exact words of the authors. Well-done paraphrasing should be substantially different form the original text but it also should closely reflect its content. It has to be complemented by citing a source.

Why developing good paraphrasing skills is so important?

Besides acknowledging sources, paraphrasing supports your understanding of what you have read. You are not going to be able to paraphrase terms, definitions and processes described in the original text if you don’t understand what you have read. Paraphrasing also develops your language skills (grammar,  vocabulary, collocations, syntax, academic language) and of course your writing skills. It helps you to remember things better.

General paraphrasing guidelines:

1. Read the specific passage carefully to understand the meaning. This is crucial.

2. Outline main ideas from the excerpt e.g. use bullet-points. Make sure you didn’t miss anything important.

3. Write a paraphrase in simple words. Imagine you were explaining the meaning of the passage to your friend.

4. Make sure that the original passage and the paraphrase are linked together and easy to find. It is possible that you might want to return to the paraphrased text later to check whether the rendition was correct (the essence should always stays the same). You need to develop an easy method to find the original text (you can use Scrivener, Evernote, or Citavi for this purpose).

5. Cite your source! Otherwise it will be a plagiarism.

6. Polish your paraphrase e.g. use more precise synonyms.

7. Check that the text is sufficiently different from the original passage.

How to paraphrase:

1. Start by changing the structure, you might want to start from the middle of the passage instead of the beginning.

2. Change synonyms.

3, Change grammar e.g. active voice into passive voice, or passive voice into active voice.

4. Change word class e.g. change nouns to verbs: identification to identify.

5. Change word order.

6, Make the paraphrase more concise, where necessary  add something to clarify meanings.

7. Use different connecting words.

8. Don’t change everything, e.g. you can use author’s key terms.

A word of warning.

Recently, I have noticed that some non-native students of English use online tools such as ‘rephrasing tools’ and ‘article spinners’ to help them with paraphrasing. Such services are often advertised as effective writing tools providing new non-plagiarised content. I don’t want to discuss here all potential issues related to academic integrity.
Just remember,  using online paraphrasing tools can put you in serious troubles.

Although such tools seem to provide students with a quick fix, their output is also of  a very questionable quality.
They usually provide simple synonym substitution which often produces unnatural, crude, incoherent and simply weird content. Any good tutor can identify such an automated output.

Also, the point of the departure for good paraphrasing is ability to understand and synthesise the text. Online tools I have tested are not good at this at all. They often produce incomprehensible gibberish. You will be better off if you focused on developing your English language skills rather than using these flawed tools.

As a better (and safer) alternative I suggest using synonym dictionaries, collocation dictionaries and corpus-based online tools.

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