How do you paraphrase?

In the 21st century, middle school students are writing research papers, so they need to know how to paraphrase. Quoting word-for-word is no longer the preferred way to present information in a research paper; paraphrasing is.

So what is paraphrasing? Paraphrasing is saying what someone else said (or wrote) using your own vocabulary and grammar. Paraphrasing turns antiquated writing into easy-to-understand modern writing; paraphrasing captures the essence of a writer’s ideas while ignoring his boring language; paraphrasing avoids plagiarism.

Paraphrasing is not the same as summarizing. In a paraphrase, the writer tries to capture all the important details of the original; in a summary, the writer leaves out most of those details.

How does a student paraphrase?

  • First, read the selection to be paraphrased. If you don’t understand every word and idea, read it again, look up words and ask for help. You can’t paraphrase what you don’t understand.
  • Carefully study the first sentence. Put it in your own words, being careful to use different vocabulary.   In particular, change the verbs if you can, using specific synonyms.
  • Now change the grammar. Try changing the order of the parts of the sentence so the ideas are the same, but they are not stated within a sentence in the same order.
  • Of course, you will need to use some of the same words in the original for which there are no synonyms, or for which alternatives would be cumbersome. If you are paraphrasing rules about how to play soccer, for example, you would need to use “soccer,” “ball,” “goal, “field” “play” and many other soccer-specific words.
  • Move through the selection one sentence at a time. As you get more experience, you can paraphrase ideas rather than sentences, combining ideas in several sentences in the original into one sentence in the paraphrase.  Or you can cut long, verbose sentences in the original into two or more shorter sentences in the paraphrase.
  • Paraphrases don’t need to be exactly the same length as the original, but all the important ideas in the original need to be stated in the paraphrase.
  • Read over your paraphrase to be sure it is clear to the reader.

Notice the difference between the Preamble of the Declaration of Independence and a paraphrased version:

The original words:   “When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”

A paraphrase: Sometimes, one group of people who have been politically connected to another group of people decide it’s necessary to go their separate ways and to become a new country. Out of respect for everyone involved, it’s a good idea for the country which is separating to explain the reasons why the break is necessary.

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