As you write essays you will need to paraphrase or summarize the work of others.  How can you do this effectively and what are the likely errors when trying to use this vital essay writing skill?  Paraphrasing is not as straight forward as it appears.

Persuasive essays with paraphrasing

You know how to write an essay and you have collected all the relevant information together to start work.  To make your point and persuade your reader of your opinion, sometimes you want to refer in depth to the material of other authors.

Paraphrasing and summarizing are vital so that you essay doesn’t become one long quote of other academics’ work.

To paraphrase a piece of text is to write it in your own words.  Students have to be very careful when they paraphrase so that they really do change all of the text to their own rendition.

Summary is closely related to paraphrase.  To summarize is to take the key points or most important points from a text and put these in your own words.

Your essay and paraphrasing pitfalls

Paraphrasing causes student writers difficulty because they believe they have effectively changed the text, but in reality they have only changed a few words.  This leaves them open to accusations of plagiarism. For example:

Original text: Paul was worried about paraphrasing correctly.

Attempted paraphrase: Paul was nervous about paraphrasing in the right way.

The attempted paraphrase changes some words but doesn’t go far enough. Paraphrasing is more than making a few changes to words.  You have to change the text substantially so that it is clear that it consists only of your own writing.  The sentence above is far too similar to the original.  You might try:

Accurate paraphrasing was causing Paul concern.

This maintains the meaning, but changes the words used and their order.  Can you come up with a better paraphrase of this text?  Try to keep as far away from the original as possible without distorting the meaning.

Essay tips for paraphrasing

One suggestion to help you avoid copying the original is to:

  • Read the material that you want to paraphrase and make sure you fully understand the meaning.  Then put the book or article out of sight.  Rewrite the text in your own words.
  • Check the original again.  You may be surprised and may even feel a little uneasy when you see how many phrases you have accidentally remembered from the original and used in your writing.  Change as much as you can, or if you think a particular phrase is really unchangeable, put it in quotation marks to show that it is someone else’s work.  Reference these quotes properly.

Have you come across any other essay writing tips for paraphrasing?  If so, please share your comments below.