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Good Academic Practice: A Guide


Paraphrasing is often defined as putting a passage from another author into your own words. You may want to do this when referring to the viewpoints of other scholars. But how different must your paraphrase be from the original?

The answer is considerably different. The point of paraphrasing is to show you have understood another person's ideas, and can summarise them in your own writing style rather than borrowing their phrases. If you just change a few words, or add some of your own to an otherwise reproduced passage, you will probably be penalised for plagiarism.

You should aim to summarise the key ideas using different sentence structures and expressions. It is also important to credit the original writer, not just through a reference stuck at the end of the passage, but by introducing your summary with a phrase such as 'According to Smith (2000)....'

Tips for Paraphrasing

In order to paraphrase well, you must understand the essence of a writer's argument. Here are some reading strategies that may help you to do that:

  • Gain an overview of the article or chapter by reading the introduction and conclusion.
  • Then read the document through quickly, to get a 'feel' for the structure of it.
  • When you read through again, focus on things that are relevant to your essay. As you read, consider the writer's argument. What are they saying? Do you agree or disagree?
  • Then put the article out of sight, and try to sum up the writer's argument in one sentence or short paragraph. This will force you to use your own words and will test your understanding of what you have read. You can then check the original text to ensure that you have produced a fair summary. 

Examples of legitimate and non-legitimate paraphrases:

An original piece of text, from the University of Birmingham (2014):

The University's 250 acre campus was recently listed in the top ten most beautiful Universities in Britain by The Telegraph. It is a campus that is expanding and improving all the time with our most recent investments being in the planned building of a brand new multi-million pound sports centre, a redeveloped library with a cultural hub and a brand new student hub housed in the iconic Aston Webb building (University of Birmingham, 2014).

Paraphrase 1:

  • Only a few words changed. This would be considered plagiarism.

The University's large campus was recently listed by The Telegraph in the top ten most beautiful universities in Britain. It is a campus that is growing and developing all the time with its most recent investments being in the planned building of a new sports centre, an improved library with a cultural hub and a brand new student hub housed in the famous Aston Webb building. 

Paraphrase 2:

  • Uses totally different expressions but gets to the heart of what the original passage wanted to convey. This paraphrase also credits the original author at the start.

The University of Birmingham website (2014) reports that its campus was recently listed in the Telegraphs 'top ten most beautiful Universities in Britain.' It goes on to highlight that the campus is being continually developed. Future plans include a new sports centre, a state-of-the-art library and a student hub. 

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