Writing someone else's text in your own words is otherwise known as paraphrasing and is an essential skill as it prevents you from plagiarising the original author's work. Simply put, paraphrasing means that when sharing someone else's ideas and information, you do so using your own words.
The golden rule of paraphrasing is that you must fully understand the source information before attempting to re-write it. Once you fully comprehend the subject in hand, you'll be able to confidently summarise and convey the message in your paraphrasing.
It is as important to paraphrase in your study notes, as it is when you write your assignments. So, when you study, always write your notes in your own words and write down which book or article they were drawn from.
When paraphrasing, consider these points
- Read and re-read the original information you are working from, absorb the message, set it to one side, and then try to re-write it in your own words from memory. This limits the chance of inadvertently plagiarising the original piece.
- Simply replacing words with different words that have the same connotation doesn’t mean you've paraphrased well enough. Beware of superficial paraphrasing.
- When amending the structure, argument and words, ensure that what you've written still accurately conveys the original source.
The mechanics of paraphrasing
At its most basic level, paraphrasing involves three types of changes:
- The words you use (for example, nouns, adjectives, verbs)
- The structure and syntax (for example, from a passive construction to an active construction)
- The elements of the original text (pick the elements that are applicable and leave the rest).
Changing the structure of the argument should come easily to you, as you'll only need to choose the appropriate elements of the original argument. It’s a natural result of you tailoring the original to the aims of your own assignment.
If you need to reproduce someone’s argument quite closely, you might find it difficult to make your version sufficiently different from theirs. If you're unable to put the content into your own words, consider quoting the author instead.
Read back what you have writtenThen ask these questions:
- Does it make sense?
- Does it accurately convey the original message?
- Does it represent your own writing style?
If you answer no to any of the above questions, revisit and rework what you've written.
Writing in your own words activity
Try this paraphrasing activity to practice putting other people’s ideas into your own words.Launch activity