Writing and Research
Home Page >> Information Sheets >> Paraphrase Information Sheet
Paraphrasing is a very valuable skill to be able to use when you are doing writing that requires you to use information gathered from other writers. Rather than simply quoting everything that you want to use and having your paper read like a patchwork quilt of different writing styles and patterns, paraphrasing allows you to make your information read smoothly and efficiently for the reader.
Let's say you are writing a paper on the subject of welfare reform, and you run across this sentence in an article by Susan Sontag:
But this administration has taken the radical position that all international treaties are potentially inimical to the interests of the United States since by signing a treaty on anything (whether environmental issues or the conduct of war and the treatment of prisoners) the United States is binding itself to obey conventions that might one day be invoked to limit America’s freedom of action to do whatever the government thinks is in the country’s interests.
You think that this is a interesting point and want to use it in your paper. One option would be to quote the source, making sure that your paper used the EXACT words from the original while setting up the subject AND introducing the source:
The United States has not been a world leader in international agreements. In fact, according to Susan Sontag, “this administration has taken the radical position that all international treaties are potentially inimical to the interests of the United States” (par 6).
Notice that even though you are using a quote, you still have to explain what you think that quote means, or is saying. Otherwise, the reader might interpret it differently themselves. In addition, the quoted material uses a more formal vocabulary and sets itself apart from the other material. If you want or need to use a lengthy or complex argument using direct quote, you are forced to "waste" much of your paper quoting somebody else's ideas, not your own. In a research paper, you always want to emphasize your own understanding of the ideas/concepts whenever possible.
On the other hand, paraphrasing allows you to give the reader the basic content/information from the source, while also making sure that each sentence uses the same vocabulary/style as the next:
The current administration believes that because it involves conforming to an outside agreement/authority, any international treaty takes away the United States’ ability to control its own destiny (Sontag par 6).
Notice that this paraphrase does not change the meaning or content of the original source, but it does help the reader see the significance of the information and how it helps build the writer's argument. Note that rather than explaining about specific treaties, the paraphrase allows the writer to focus on the important content from the source. Paraphrasing also allows the writer to summarize and condense long, complicated arguments down into shorter, more consistent language, as long as the content or meaning is not altered.
THIS IS NOT PLAGIARISM. Note that you still cite the source. What you don’t have to do is announce who the source is the way you do with a direct quote. The paraphrase is able to have just the parenthetical citation. (This one has a paragraph reference instead of a page number because it’s an internet source which doesn’t have consistent printed pages).
By the way, one important aspect of paraphrase you don't want to ignore or forget is that while there is analysis, the paraphrase itself is expected to be as objective and non-biased as possible. You can be critical after the paraphrase, but not within it. You can be critical after the paraphrase, but not within it. You may not agree with Susan Sontag’s point in the paraphrase given above, but the place to make that point is AFTER or BEFORE the paraphrase, not IN the paraphrase itself
Examples of how one source (the last sentence of paragraph 12 of Andrew Leonard’s essay “We’ve Got Mail -- Always” on page 242 of the WARAC) can be paraphrased objectively, yet differently by different people:
Electronic communication allows people to be more rude than they would be in person.
When they are online, people feel free to write much cruder, objectionable things than they would say out loud to somebody.
Even the nicest people find themselves writing mean things in the fast-paced world of e-mail and instant messaging.
The most appalling, vile statements can be written by otherwise polite people when they communicate electronically.