What does it mean to paraphrase?
When paraphrasing, a writer uses his or her own words to restate someone else’s ideas. Paraphrasing does not mean simply changing a few of the original words, rearranging the structure of the sentence, or replacing some words with synonyms. A paraphrase should explain a borrowed idea in the writer’s own voice but must also remain true to the message of the original text.
Why is it important to paraphrase using only your own words?
- To avoid plagiarism: If you are presenting an idea other than your own and you haven’t cited the source, this act could be considered plagiarism. Remember, however, that even when you paraphrase using your own words, you must still cite the original source since the idea has been borrowed.
- To simplify or clarify complex ideas found in the original passage: Sometimes an author has explained an idea or concept in a way that is difficult to follow, or an idea may be particularly perplexing. By using your own words, you not only illustrate to readers that you understand this concept, but also help readers understand the idea more clearly. This clarification is especially important if the idea you’re paraphrasing is vital to developing and supporting your own argument.
- To report the essential information of the idea: A lengthy direct quote may provide details that are not clearly relevant to your purpose or argument. By using your own words to paraphrase the idea, you can eliminate information that might distract your reader from the main message.
Let’s look at an example of a paraphrase:
Direct quote: “[The new laws] would also help ensure that companies like BP that are responsible for oil spills are the ones that pay for the harm caused by these oil spills, not the taxpayers. This is in addition to the low-interest loans that we've made available to small businesses that are suffering financial losses from the spill” (Obama). 
Paraphrase: According to the President, the proposed legislation would hold oil companies accountable for damages caused by oil spills and provide affordable loans to businesses whose profits have been affected by such incidents (Obama).
 Obama, Barack. “Remarks on the Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico.” The White House. Washington, D.C. 14 May 2010. Address. Web. 30 Apr. 2012.
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