Paraphrasing technique: the HeadStart Guide

Paraphrasing Technique

Paraphrasing is something that student always struggle with – particularly if they don’t have a good idea about paraphrasing technique.  And fair enough – it is a challenging academic skill and frankly, even native speakers struggle with this in the beginning…

In all our work at world-leading universities, we’ve developed a technique that we’ve used at some of the best.  Today, we’re going to teach you this fail-safe technique, walk through a worked example with you, then give you access to a FREE practice lesson.

So – do you want to become an awesome academic paraphraser in 8 minutes or less?

If so, read on – and even try the FREE TRIAL LESSON below!

What is paraphrasing?

Let’s start with a formal definition.  The MacMillan English Dictionary for Advanced Learners defines (to) paraphrase as “to express what someone else has said or written using different words, especially in order to make it shorter or clearer”.

Fair enough.  That’s an accurate definition and it’s good to have a formal backdrop to build from – particularly as it gives us a sense of “why” we paraphrase.  But the way that we always think of it is a lot simpler and, we think, more practical.  We always compare it with quoting… so let’s start there.

Who is this?

That’s right – this is Martin Luther King – an incredibly famous, important, and influential civil rights leader in the US in the 1950s and ‘60s.  You probably also know this famous quote from him: 

I have a dream.

If we were to paraphrase this, it might come out sounding a bit more like

“At night, I have a recurring set of images and ideas in my head”. 

Not quite the same impact, right?  And to be fair, it’s not a great paraphrase – it’s neither shorter nor clearer than the original.  But it does help us explain the key difference between quotes and paraphrases.  And that is this:

Quotes: same ideas, same words
Paraphrases: same ideas, different words

The next step is to talk about why we paraphrase.

Paraphrasing in academic writing (or "why do we need to paraphrase?")

Paraphrasing (as well as quoting and summarising, too) in academic writing connects back to using other academic sources to support your academic arguments.  This is something that we look at in some detail in the academic authority lesson.

In brief, you need to use other academic sources to support your writing as evidence, examples, explanations, etc.  Otherwise, it’s just your opinion and, as important as that is in your everyday life, in academic writing – well, who are you?

This also connects back to how students can express their own ideas and opinions in their writing.  We look at this in some detail in the reporting verbs and author’s voice lesson. 

Effective use of reporting verbs can make a huge difference to how effective your final academic writing is in achieving your purpose.  After all, if you write than an author “suggests” something, is it the same as “proves” or “demonstrates”?  The answer to this question is no.  And this is the beauty of reporting verbs – combined with paraphrasing it offer subtle grades of meaning that are otherwise very difficult for readers to achieve.

So now we’re done with the “why”, let’s turn to the “how”…  as in

How to paraphrase effectively

Paraphrasing is challenging at first but if you have the right technique it becomes much easier.  So we’re going to work through this technique now.  There are three steps to this technique:

  • Read and understand the source
  • Take out the important information
  • Change the following:
    • The words (i.e., synonyms)
    • The grammar (e.g., word form, active à passive, etc.)
    • The idea order.

That’s it.  That’s 98% of paraphrasing right there.  After you’re done, you’ll need to include it as a meaningful part of your writing but those three steps are the meat and potatoes of paraphrasing.  So let’s now work through an example.

How to paraphrase: an example

So let’s say this is the original source.  The first thing you need to do is read and understand the source.  

Take your time with this – academic texts can be very complex and might not mean what you originally think they do.  If you’re reading this with a friend, definitely talk it over with them and see what they think.

The next thing that we need to do is to take out the important information.  If we had to pick them, we’d say these are the key words…

Cool?  And here we’ve taken out what they mean…

In future, you won’t need to write out what each of the words mean – it will become much more automatic as you develop this skillset – but for now, we recommend that you write it out to make it clear for you as you go. 

Anyway, the next step is to rewrite, remembering that there are three main things you can change:

  • The words (i.e., synonyms)
  • The grammar (e.g., word form, active à passive, etc.)
  • The idea order.

Scroll down to check out our paraphrase of Gecko (2015).

So there you have it!  That concludes our Paraphrasing technique: the HeadStart Guide.  If you want to check out a FREE practice lesson where you can practice the techniques that we’ve looked at here today – click the button below!

Looking for a paraphrase practice example?

So that’s us for this HeadStart Guide on paraphrasing technique – we hope it’s been useful!  As always, we’d love to hear from you if you have any questions or comments – write us a post below or follow us on Facebook

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