Chapter 5: Ethics of Using and Creating Information

5.4 Paraphrasing

Paraphrasing refers to incorporating someone else’s ideas into your own work, using your own analysis and voice. This means more than simply swapping out their words for synonyms and putting them in your paper. This skill can be challenging and takes practice. If you paraphrase improperly, you will be committing plagiarism. Understanding the purpose of paraphrasing and how to paraphrase correctly will help you be a better and more ethical writer.

Paraphrase for a purpose

The purpose of paraphrasing is to build on someone else’s work in an original way. By correctly paraphrasing you demonstrate that you have understood an author’s ideas, and that you can analyze and restate them without altering the author’s meaning. Perhaps you agree with the author and wish to further explore their main points. Or perhaps you disagree with their conclusions and wish to explain your own perspectives. In either case, the ideas you are paraphrasing must somehow add to your argument or thesis. They should serve a real purpose in the context of your paper, not just to fill up space. If you’re paraphrasing simply to make your paper longer, your efforts would be better used on expanding upon your argument.

Understanding your source

When you understand someone else’s perspective and how it fits into your argument, only then can you put those ideas in your own words. Most writing guides will recommend that you read and reflect on the main points that may be relevant to your project.

The key is to understand the significance of the author’s point, not just their literal words. One way to do this is to read the source, then put it away and take time to make sense of what you’ve read. Then describe the importance of that author’s main points using your own words. After you have written this down, return to the source and make certain that your work is your own and not words remembered directly from the source.

Quoting within your paraphrasing

You may have been told at some point that you don’t need to use quotation marks unless you copy some specific number of words in a row from an author’s work. This is not really true. If the author has used any words or phrases in a distinctive way, make sure that you use quotation marks if you use the same words in your paper. For example, a source might define a new process or system that must be cited, such as “action painting,” a term which combines common words in a new way, and was coined by a specific art critic.

Acknowledge the source

You must always cite the source whenever you paraphrase. Citing acknowledges that you are using someone else’s ideas whether or not you are using the exact words of the original author. Not citing paraphrased material is plagiarism. Your work is strengthened when you show that you have done your research; citing other writers’ works is your evidence!

Be true to the source

Finally, you must accurately represent the message of the original author in your paraphrasing. This doesn’t mean you have to agree with the ideas, just that you explain them accurately.

Paraphrasing Examples

The original source reads: 

“In recent decades, destination cards have become quite common, especially in larger cities, facilitating, for example, free entrance or discounts on major attractions and free or low-priced public transportation. The Dutch coastal province of Zeeland, the Netherlands, introduced four regional destination cards in 2014 and branded them as the ‘Zeelandpas’. The cards themselves had their own names and specific offers but were all part of the Zeelandpas innovation project and were promoted as such. In 2015, the regional destination cards became unified into one Zeelandpas destination card that could be used across the entire state province” (Derriks, van der Duim, & Peters, 2019, p. 115).

References (APA)

Derriks, T., van der Duim, R., & Peters, K. (2019). Tourism innovation by bundling practices: A genealogy of the ‘Zeelandpas’ destination card. In L. James, C. Ren, & H. Halkier (Eds.), Theories of practice in tourism (pp. 115-132). London: Routledge.

A poorly paraphrased section might read:

“Destination cards are very popular in big cities these days because they let tourists get discounts on public transit, attractions, and more! One example of this is the Zeelandpas card, originally a set of four destination cards released by Zeeland, a province in the Netherlands. These four cards were consolidated into one Zeelandpas card in 2015, one year after their original release.”

The above rewrite is essentially a word scramble of the original source, substituting words here and there. Reading closely, you’ll see several unique words and phrases from the original paragraph appear in the bad paraphrasing but without quotation marks to indicate these words are borrowed. Most importantly, the bad paraphrasing does not cite the original source in any way. There’s no footnote, no language that indicates the source of this information or idea (such as “According to” or “As described by“). This is a classic example of plagiarism.

To contrast, here’s an example of correct paraphrasing: 

As Derriks et al. (2019) explain, “destination cards,” a card that allows visitors to get discounts or even free access to local attractions such as tourist destinations and museums, are coming into popular use around the world. One example of a destination card is the “Zeelandpas,” a set of four unique cards introduced by the Dutch province of Zeeland in 2014 and consolidated into a single, all-inclusive destination card the next year (Derriks, van der Duim, & Peters, 2019). In this paper, I argue that having a single destination card is a better way of attracting tourists than offering multiple cards at a lower price.

In this example, it is clear where the information comes from, as the author has included proper citations. In paraphrasing, the author demonstrates that they have read the original work, thought about its meaning, and summarized it to further their own work. The author has even put quotation marks around the unique phrases “destination card” and “Zeelandpas.” But what if the writer hadn’t put quotation marks around the phrase “destination card” when paraphrasing Derriks et al.’s work? Or worse yet, what if they hadn’t clearly acknowledged the source at all? Not putting quotation marks around that phrase or acknowledging Derriks et al. as the source would be plagiarism, plain and simple. A careful and ethical researcher shows how ideas and arguments are developed, building on and acknowledging the work of others.​​​​​​​

Try it yourself!

You can review some examples of distinguishing correct paraphrasing, summaries, and examples of plagiarism at the Purdue University Online Writing Lab (OWL) website. They have an excellent handout on paraphrasing, plus some good online paraphrasing exercises that you can try. Check it out!


LIB 160: Information Literacy Copyright © 2019 by Iowa State University Library Instruction Services. All Rights Reserved.

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