There’s a difference between paraphrasing and plagiarizing. Watch this lesson to learn how to report information from a source without plagiarizing the author’s work.
Paraphrasing and Plagiarizing
When you’re working on a writing project, you often want to report something that someone else said. For example, you might need to use information from a book or a reading passage to support your own argument.
Sometimes, you do this by quoting directly from the source text. For example, you might say something like: The Declaration of Independence says that ‘all men are created equal.‘ But sometimes, you don’t want to quote the author’s exact words; you just need to quickly describe his or her main point.
That’s called paraphrasing. Paraphrasing is using your own words to report another author’s ideas while crediting the author for the original thought.
For example, you could paraphrase the Declaration of Independence by saying, The Declaration of Independence asserts the fundamental equality of all men. Here, you’re still getting the idea of equality, but you’ve put it in your own words and dropped the quotation marks.
Paraphrasing is a great way to summarize someone’s argument, but when you paraphrase, it’s important not to accidentally start plagiarizing. Plagiarism is trying to pass off another author’s exact words or ideas as your own.
Here’s an example of what not to do: The Declaration of Independence says that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights. There are no quotation marks here, so this sentence is trying to claim the language of the Declaration as your own writing. That’s dishonest — it’s a form of stealing.
It’s also plagiarizing if you use someone else’s idea but don’t say where you got it from.
Plagiarizing is not acceptable under any circumstances. If your teachers catch you doing it on purpose, they might give you a failing grade for the paper or even for the class. It’s also unacceptable on standardized tests like the TOEFL. So in this lesson, you’ll learn how to paraphrase without plagiarizing, even accidentally.
Strategies for Paraphrasing
Many students who struggle with paraphrasing don’t mean to steal anything; they just don’t know effective strategies for reporting someone else’s ideas without using their exact words. So here are some concrete strategies for paraphrasing without veering into plagiarism.
We’ll use the sentence: The Declaration of Independence states that ‘all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.‘ Our goal is to replace that quotation with a paraphrase.
To paraphrase this, we’ll need to fundamentally change the structure of the sentences. You can’t paraphrase by just changing one or two words or by substituting synonyms. Here’s how to do it:
- Look away from the source text and write your paraphrase on a clean piece of paper. This will help you engage with the author’s idea, and not accidentally start following his or her wording too closely.
- Imagine that you’re explaining the original text to someone who doesn’t understand it. This will force you to come up with different ways to phrase important ideas.
- If key concepts are expressed using one part of speech, try expressing them with another. For example, the adjective ‘equal’ is a key word in the original text. In your paraphrase, you might change it to the noun ‘equality.’
Try using these tips right now: pause the video, grab a piece of paper, and try to express the quoted idea in our original sentence in your own words. Remember to change the grammatical structure of the thought, not just one or two words.
Have you got your version down? Now let’s take a look at some potential paraphrases. There are many possible ways that you could paraphrase this idea without plagiarizing. No one of them is inherently ‘better’ than another. These are just a few of the possible options:
The Declaration of Independence stresses the fundamental equality and inherent rights of all men.
According to the Declaration of Independence, equality and certain rights naturally belong to all men.
The Declaration of Independence asserts the equality of all men, and claims that they have fundamental rights that nobody can violate.
Notice how these paraphrases don’t follow the grammatical patterns of the original text. The sentences are structured differently, and ideas are expressed using different parts of speech, for example using ‘equality’ instead of ‘equal.’
To check your own paraphrase, label the grammatical structures. Put an S over every subject, a V over every verb, and an O over every object. Mark subordinate clauses and prepositional phrases with underlines. Do the same for the original, and compare the two — they should look noticeably different.
If your first paraphrase is too similar to the original, don’t give up! Keep practicing with different quotations and sentences, and you’ll get better with experience.
In this lesson, you learned the difference between paraphrasing and plagiarizing and got some tips for discussing other people’s opinions without plagiarizing or being dishonest. Paraphrasing is restating someone else’s opinion in your own words, while still crediting the idea to the original author.
There’s nothing wrong with paraphrasing, but make sure you don’t fall into the trap of plagiarizing. Plagiarizing is stealing another person’s exact words and trying to pass them off as your own, or using someone else’s ideas without giving them credit. If you do want to use someone else’s exact words, put them in quotation marks so the reader knows they aren’t yours, and always remember to cite the source of any ideas that aren’t yours.
When you want to paraphrase someone else’s ideas in your own writing, follow these tips to avoid plagiarizing:
- Use different grammatical structures. The structure of your sentence should look completely different from the original.
- Look away from the original sentence when you write your version, and pretend you’re explaining it to someone else who doesn’t understand.
- Check your paraphrase by labeling grammatical structures in the original and in your paraphrased version. They should be different.
It takes some practice to learn how to paraphrase well, so don’t worry if you’re not a pro at first. Keep working at it, and soon you’ll be paraphrasing like a pro.
After watching this lesson, you should be able to:
- Interpret the difference between paraphrasing and plagiarizing
- Implement tips to avoid plagiarizing when you want to paraphrase ideas in your own writing