Perfect paraphrasing, is there such a thing?

Paraphrasing can be a tricky thing to master. Many people tend to explain it as ‘putting things in your own words’, but what this actually means can be confusing. When you write an essay, you may have to refer to other sources to use as evidence in backing up or providing counter arguments for your points. You can include direct quotes to show an author’s point but the main way you may express these points is through paraphrasing.

Let’s start from the beginning…

You have just been given an essay and the essay guidance tells you to refer to theory and the literature around the particular topic. After searching Google Scholar and OneSearch you have found quite a few useful sources to help you understand and answer your essay question. You have a range of books and journal articles to start reading and making notes from.


My advice at this point is that instead of copying chunks of information directly from your sources into your notes, try to read the information, comprehend the main arguments/ideas/concepts as much as you can and then write these down in your own words. Why is this important? If you do this right at the beginning of your reading you will be more likely to paraphrase effectively and less likely to plagiarise in your writing.


The main misconception around paraphrasing is that it involves taking particular sentences or paragraphs from source material, changing a few words or the sentence structure and passing this off as ‘your own words’. This is known as ‘close paraphrasing’ and can potentially mean that you find yourself being penalised for plagiarism. The road to effective paraphrasing is to firstly identify the key/general idea or argument from the source that you want to use as evidence for your own points. Secondly, think about how you want to express this in your own words, in your own style and using vocabulary you are comfortable with. Finally, consider how you will interpret this idea for your own particular purpose i.e. your point or answer to your essay question. Remember, although you have to put the idea in your own words you must try to retain the same general meaning of the original idea. I said it was tricky didn’t I?

The last thing I want to highlight is in-text citations when it comes to paraphrasing. You should cite the author/organisation of the idea/argument you have paraphrased even if you have managed to communicate it entirely in your own words to acknowledge where it originated.


So, in summary:

  • Write notes from your reading in your own words
  • Don’t take sentences and paragraphs and change words here and there
  • Identify the key/main idea you want to express
  • Think about the type of vocabulary that you would use to communicate the idea
  • Remember to acknowledge where the original idea/argument originated from