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Paraphrasing helps mitigate the common complaint by creatives that formal academic writing squelches their “voice.” Paraphrasing is putting other people’s ideas into your voice—your way of saying or phrasing things. The caveat is that it still needs to be in an appropriate style. Most people have no problem speaking at various levels depending on the environment they find themselves in. Writing according to different environments and audiences is no different.

Definition: A paraphrase captures an idea – the thought, meaning, and attitude of someone else – and restates it in your own words. It offers the same level of detail as the original source, so it is often the same length as the source material.

When Are Paraphrases Used? We use paraphrasing when the results matter, not the words used to report them. This is why common knowledge and commonly held views are often paraphrased. Paraphrasing is also used to translate complex ideas into terms your audience might find easier to understand. That might mean toning down pontificating prose into common yet classic wording. It might mean replacing industry jargon or at least explaining any unfamiliar terms.

How To Paraphrase: Knowing your material inside and out is the key to being able to write it without it looking like a poorly disguised quote. This is a skill that will take some practice to perfect as well.

  1. Read, re-read, deep-read the original passage to ensure you understand its full meaning.
  2. Set the original aside and without looking at it, write it down.
  3. Check your version with the original to make sure it accurately expresses the meaning the original author intended.
  4. Ensure you have changed both the words and sentence structure from the original passage.

This is Part 3 of the series: Better Quoting, Paraphrasing, and Summarizing.

Part 1: Write With Respect
Part 2: How to Choose (Not Abuse) Quotes