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How to Paraphrase Correctly

Virginia has been a university English instructor for over 20 years. She specializes in helping people write essays faster and easier.

You take the words or perspective of someone else and explain it clearly.

You take the words or perspective of someone else and explain it clearly.

How to Paraphrase Properly

Paraphrase: You give all the information from a small part of a source, but you do it in your own words rather than quoting. Often, your re-writing of the original may actually be longer because you need to make sure it is clear and not in technical terms or difficult language.

Quotation: You use the actual words that someone else wrote or said. You put quotation marks around what you take from that source.

Summary: You are saying the main idea of the source in your own words but not giving the details. A summary is much shorter than the original material.

Paraphrase vs. Quotation

Most of the time, a paraphrase is better than a quotation. Only quote when:

  • The information can't really be re-phrased accurately.
  • The person who said the information is an important authority.
  • The exact phrase is well known, like Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech.

Sometimes, students want to quote when the information is complicated or scientific. However, that is exactly when you want to paraphrase. If the information is difficult for you to understand, it will be hard for your reader too. You need to carefully unpack the meaning of that information in your paraphrase so that the reader understands how that research supports your claims.

Paraphrase vs. Summary

Summary and paraphrase both put something in your own words. The difference is that in a summary, you only tell the main ideas and don't worry about the details. A summary is a lot shorter than the original and leaves out a lot. On the other hand, a paraphrase is often longer than the original because you need to explain every detail in simple language and often it takes more words because you need to define and describe.

Steps to Follow

  1. Read the original a couple of times carefully and think about what it means.
  2. Without looking at the original, write re-write the passage in your own words.
  3. Look back at the original and see if you have used any of the same words, phrases or sentence order. If you have, change them.
  4. Note: sometimes you do need to use a few of the same words if there is no other way to say it that wouldn’t change the meaning (although it can also help to ask someone else if they have an idea how to say that phrase differently).
  5. If you do find a phrase or longer idea you can’t re-write, then enclose it in quotation marks. It is ok to combine paraphrasing with quoting.
  6. Don’t forget to mention the source at the beginning of your paraphrase, and don’t forget the parenthetical citation at the end.


  1. Length: Unlike a summary which is usually a lot shorter than the original text, a paraphrase will often be longer than the original quotation because you often need more words to make the concepts understood.
  2. Citing: Like both a summary and a quotation, you will often want to cite the source inside your sentence (According to Raul Castro...) along with using a parenthetical citation (Castro 12).

Rules for Quoting

Sometimes you need to quote but many of my students use quoting rather than really understanding the sources they use. When you paraphrase and summarize, you need to read more closely to understand what you are reading. By putting things in your own words, your paper will be smoother and also have a stronger argument. However, sometimes really do need to quote the exact words. For example, you need to quote when:

  • The authority of your source is important to your argument.
  • You can't re-word and keep the same meaning.
  • The words are written in a memorable way.
  • The quote is famous.
Quote a famous saying.

Quote a famous saying.

Student Examples and Teacher Comments

Frequently, my students use quotations when a paraphrase would work much better. The exercises below show you examples from student papers and my comments to explain when a quotation is needed and when a paraphrase would work better.

1. Student Sentence: When I asked Connie Cocanougher why she is so dedicated to Happy Endings Dog Rescue she put it bluntly, “Dogs are better than people.” I couldn't agree with her more.

My Response: This is a good use of a quote because it expresses the person's attitude in a way that it would be hard to paraphrase in your own words. It is also well-written with the second sentence emphasizing the quote.

2. Student Sentence: Animal Control focuses on three areas of animal control management, “administration, the use of management tools, and delivery of services,” (Aronson X).

My Response: This is also probably a time when quoting might work better than paraphrase because some specific words are used to characterize this criterion and you may want to use those exact words in your discussion of this issue so you may not want to paraphrase them. In addition, you are citing an authoritative source which you may want to quote to add authority. However, this is not written quite correctly. It is probably better to write the author's name (although the book title in italics would also be all right) and since this is a list you need to use a colon. Again, no comma before the parenthetical reference:

My Rewrite: Stephen Aronson explains that the three areas of animal control management are: "administration, the use of management tools, and delivery of services" (Aronson X).

3. Student Sentence: Another disturbing fact is that “More than 20 percent of people who leave dogs in shelters adopted them from a shelter” (ASPCA).

My Response: The above sentence does quote correctly but I really don't think you need to quote this information because it doesn't fit into any of the rules of when you need to quote. Instead, put this fact into your own words in a paraphrase.

My Rewrite of Quote into a Paraphrase: Another disturbing fact is that twenty percent of dogs left at a shelter are adopted dogs which are being returned (ASPCA).

4. Student Sentence: Many other reasons are grouped under the category of “social attitudes”. “One out of every five animal companions becomes lost at some point of their lives,” ( Also, “over 30% of the animals who wind up in shelters are surrendered by their guardians who are unable to care for them,” (

My Response: There is good information but by breaking up these quotes, you don't really use your information effectively by explaining how these ideas relate and connecting them to your overall argument. Moreover, there is really no reason to quote this rather than paraphrasing. Notice how much more information I'm able to give in the paraphrase below which doesn't rely on just the quotes but weaves the facts into an overall main point that pets go to shelters in part because their owners are not as responsible as they should be.

My Rewrite of Quote into a Paraphrase: Many other reasons why animals are given up to shelters are because of the attitude of their owners. Many people don't take careful care that their animals aren't lost, or work hard enough to find them when they are missing. In fact, 20% of all pets are lost by their owners at some point ( Moreover, owners often don't work hard enough to either control negative pet behaviors or find a new owner when they aren't able to care for them. Shelter statistics show that 30% of surrendered animals are there because their owners didn't want to care for them anymore (

Practice Exercises

Here are some more sentences from students that contain errors. Can you rewrite these into sentences which paraphrase the material carefully using your own words and sentence structure? Don't forget to cite correctly too.

  1. Overpopulation concerns are supported by the state that only “10 percent of animals received by shelters have been spayed or neutered,” (ASPCA).
  2. “It is estimated that between six and eight million cats and dogs enter animal shelters every year in the United States,”(
  3. In 1990, Friends for Life was asked to "serve as legal guardian for a man who was found unconscious. He was unable to make medical decisions and he had no family who could intervene on his behalf. Friends for Life now offers guardianship service in 39 Texas counties and serves as guardian when the judge determines a person lacks capacity and there is no family member qualified and willing to serve" (Friends for Life 33).
  4. "Friends for Life serves the elderly and people with disabilities through five different program areas:
  • Guardianship
  • Money Management
  • Independent Living and Quality of Life Programs
  • Intergenerational Programs
  • Adult Day Care" (Friends for Life 2).

More Practice Exercises

Pick up a textbook, newspaper or magazine. Choose 1-2 sentences which contain important information. Using the format above, read and paraphrase them. Be sure to check them word for word with the source afterward.

  1. Did you say everything in the source?
  2. Did you use any of the same words, sentence structure or phrasing (outside of technical terms you can't change).
  3. Read the sentence out loud. Does it read smoothly? Does it sound like you wrote it?


Rishab Chimmanamada on January 16, 2017:

Loved it