Paraphrasing is a complex task and not easy to master. If you’re new to academic writing, it can take a lot of practice to correctly paraphrase so that you aren’t plagiarizing any sources.

What Is Paraphrasing, Really?

Paraphrasing is when you have information from a source that you want to turn into your own words so that instead of just using the author's exact wording, you're now relaying it to your reader in a way that you would explain using your own style. Whether you’re using MLA or APA style, here’s how to paraphrase properly.

Try to think of it like this: if you read a paragraph, how would you tell someone about it? You would tell someone your interpretation or understanding of that paragraph. That’s exactly how paraphrasing should be.

  • Read the passage
  • Think about the ideas presented
  • Put aside that source and try to explain the ideas in your own words
  • Write that down

Misconceptions About Paraphrasing

The biggest misconception about paraphrasing we see at the Writing Center is that all you have to do is change every few words and reorganize some sentences to paraphrase. It's important to note that this is not correct paraphrasing. You can't just pick out some words and change them to a synonym or change the order of some sentences.

Another misconception is that when you paraphrase, you don't have to cite. Know that you do still have to cite the original source when paraphrasing. 

How Do I Paraphrase, and What Does It Look Like?

Let's look at an example of paraphrasing gone wrong.

Original Source: Brown, A. (2015). The newest form of bullying has new consequences. Journal of Psychology, 207 (6), 17-27. Retrieved from

Research on cyber bullying has been conducted largely in the absence of theory. Theory neither guides the hypotheses that are derived nor are there faithful attempts made at theory building in the cyber bullying literature. Theory building can cultivate cohesiveness to a body of research by establishing an order to the variables already tested (Dublin, 1978). Moreover, the use of established theories in predicting behaviors has utility when broader processes are unclear. In cyber bullying research, there is an inherent need for both types of theoretical inquiry. 

Incorrect paraphrase attempt where the student thought she was paraphrasing correctly:

Study on cyber bullying has been conducted largely in the lack of theory. Theory building can promote cohesiveness to a body of research by launching an order to the variables already tested (Dublin, 1978). Theory neither guides the assumptions that are derived nor are there true efforts made at theory making in the cyber bullying literature. Furthermore, when broader processes are unclear the use of established theories in predicting manners has utility. In cyber bullying research, there is an essential need for both types of theoretical inquiry. 

What you see underlined above are 9 words that the students simply replaced with a synonym. Instead of "research," she wrote "studied." Instead of "absence," she wrote "lack," and so on. 

Paraphrasing is not an exercise in changing every few words and using your thesaurus to find synonyms. This example would actually be plagiarism. 

Another thing that the student did here is reorganize some of the sentences. The third sentence in the original text has been moved to the second sentence. Doing so is not proper paraphrasing. Something else that's missing in the incorrect paraphrase is Brown, the original author, who isn't cited. So when I'm reading that incorrect paraphrase, it seems like the student has only read Dublin and the rest of these ideas are her own, which is not the case. Those ideas are coming from Brown.

Let’s now take a look at correct paraphrasing of the original text from writing experts, Millie and Christy. 

Millie’s paraphrase

Brown (2015) stated that the research that has been done on cyber bullying has not applied established theories that may help to understand and predict occurrences of this type of bullying. Brown also noted that the current research does not show that new theories on cyber bullying are being tested. Dublin shared in 1978 that the development of new theories on an issue is useful in adding cohesiveness to what has already been established and what is now being understood (as cited in Brown, 2015). 

Christy’s paraphrase

According to Brown (2015) researchers have yet to focus on developing theories when examining the topic of cyberbullying. This lack of focus does not allow readers to understand the different factors or variables associated with this problem (Dublin as cited in Brown, 2015). Brown further noted that theories are important, as researchers may use different methods when researching this topic; an established theory will allow readers to understand how the different studies are connected on this topic.

Paraphrasing is going to look different from one person to the next because we all interpret things a little differently and we all have our own way of explaining ideas.

When we attempted to paraphrase the original paragraph, we had to read it several times to really understand it. Then we tried to explain the ideas the way that we understood them. The ideas are still there, but we’ve written them in a way that is unique to our own style of explanation and writing. 

It’s important to know the differences between paraphrasing and plagiarizing and to know how to best avoid plagiarizing altogether. Plagiarism and academic dishonesty are serious matters. Being accused of stealing content can stigmatize a student during his or her time in college, while proof of the charges can lead to failure or even expulsion. It's not an exaggeration to say that plagiarism is something that students want to avoid at all costs.

If you work in a field such as journalism where you must deliver accurate and timely information, knowing how to avoid plagiarism is a critical skill that will be valuable to you as a student and when you begin your career. Serving the public interest by delivering timely and accurate information means that you should not only be able to gather information, but that you should also be skilled in helping the audience to interpret the information that is presented to them. This task requires that you know how to research properly and ethically and be able to explain statistics and visual representations properly. If you intend on becoming a skilled journalist, writer, or researcher, you should also understand how information is derived. This intersection is where solid, ethical research skills come in handy.

For writers, honesty, integrity, and originality will remain a critically high priority during your entire working career. The last thing you want is to develop the bad habit of resorting to plagiarism as a student, and then carry it over into your career. Not only will this practice put your future at risk; you'll be depriving yourself of the full benefits of your education.

5 Things to Consider

Establishing solid practices when it comes to academic honesty is the best way to avoid trouble. Here are five important things to keep in mind.

1. Understand what is and isn't plagiarism

One of the primary pitfalls for students is simply not knowing when they may be committing plagiarism in a school paper or assignment. Copying and pasting someone else's work word-for-word may be the first thing that most people think of, but it's only one of many kinds of plagiarism.

Plagiarism is broadly defined as the intentional – or even accidental – claiming of other people's work as your own, or the failure to adequately cite the sources of information you gathered externally. Your school and instructors may have more specific plagiarism policies in place that you have to adhere to.

2. Don't just paraphrase

While directly lifting text is perhaps the most obvious form of plagiarism, don't assume you're in the clear if you simply paraphrase someone else's point. Material doesn't have to be copied exactly in order to count as plagiarism. Remember, a good rule of thumb is that if the information – not just the words – came from somewhere else, you should cite the source.

3. Attribute correctly

In order to avoid the appearance of passing off someone else's work or ideas as your own, you'll need to cite your sources correctly. The specifics of how and what you cite will depend on what citation style you're following, but generally the requirements include identifying information like the title, author, publisher, and date of publication. If your school doesn't follow a specific citation style, instructors will often let you know their preference. The key is not only attributing information to its source, but also doing it correctly and consistently.

4. When in doubt, cite your sources

Rather than agonize over whether or not to cite an outside source, the safest course of action to avoid a charge of plagiarism is simply to go ahead and cite it. Always err on the side of caution when it comes to attributing information contained in your work. If you're unsure about whether to cite, you can also ask your instructor before turning in your assignment. This strategy can help you avoid answering a subsequent charge of plagiarism while also showing your instructor that you value academic honesty and want to do the right thing.

5. Hold yourself to a high standard

As a journalist or a communications professional, you'll have high standards of conduct to live up to. With credibility as the most valuable currency, you'll only be as successful as you are trustworthy. Whether it's your readers, viewers, employer, or clients, people will be counting on you to honor the ethical code of your profession. The best way to ensure that you're up for the task is by holding yourself to the same high standard while you're still in school. That way, honesty and integrity will come more naturally when you embark on your career.

One thing to always remember about plagiarism is that it's 100 percent avoidable. In fact, avoiding plagiarism in the first place is much easier and infinitely less unpleasant than having to face a charge of academic dishonesty. With so much on the line – both while you're in school and later when you start your career – steering clear of plagiarism is a no-brainer habit you should start practicing now.

The first step to avoiding plagiarism and paraphrasing properly is really being able to understand what you're reading. If you don’t fully understand what you are reading, you won’t be able to explain it in your own words. Take your time to process what you are reading. And keep practicing with paraphrasing. The more you do it, the better you will become.


By UAGC Staff

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