How to Paraphrase Without Committing Plagiarism

It is very common – and indeed expected – to use the work of others in your own papers. This is true at a student and a professional level, where writers employ the words and data of others to bolster their arguments, increase credibility and contribute to the overall body of human knowledge. Unfortunately, using the work of others brings the attendant danger of plagiarism.

Paraphrasing, or using your own words in a piece of academic writing to describe someone else’s ideas, is one way to avoid any possibility of cheating or theft. As such, it is an important tool to master for your essay-writing toolkit. Still, just because you paraphrase to avoid plagiarism, there is no guarantee you actually are avoiding plagiarism. You’ve got to go about it the right way.

In fact, though many writers expressly use paraphrasing to avoid plagiarism, they end up still committing it by assuming restatement of ideas is a good substitute for citation. That’s simply not true, seeing as paraphrasing often leads to unintentional plagiarism. And while the optics are better for that than for, say, direct plagiarism, there are still consequences.

If you want to learn how to paraphrase without plagiarizing, we’re here to help. In this article, we’ll cover what plagiarism is and what the consequences are. We will also discuss what paraphrasing is, how to do it, and a few examples. By the time you’re done reading, you will understand paraphrasing without plagiarizing forwards and backwards.

So, in order to keep your nose clean and write awesome essays, dissertations, scientific articles, and research papers read on.

Defining Plagiarism

Plagiarism is when you borrow the words or ideas of others and use them as your own. It can mean taking the exact original wording and pretending you wrote it. Or it can mean taking ideas that are not common knowledge and instead belong to a specific author, and passing them off as though the ideas are yours. (Important note: common knowledge can’t be copyrighted or plagiarized, because it belongs to everyone.)

There exist multiple types of plagiarism:

  • Direct plagiarism, in which you intend to rip off another’s work using the author’s exact words, inserting them into your essay without modifying anything and without attribution of any kind
  • Patchwork plagiarism, where you combine and rearrange work from one or multiple authors to make it look like a new piece, even though you did little to no actual writing of your own
  • Self-plagiarism, in which you repurpose old work for new assignments, disregarding the inherent expectation that you will create new work that answers the research question directly
  • Unintentional plagiarism, where you fail to cite a source correctly and end up not crediting the original author, which while accidental, still means the reader cannot follow the source to its original creator

Although each form of plagiarism varies slightly, the idea is the same: you are stealing intellectual property that someone put an abundance of time and energy into developing. If you did not research the ideas, create the dataset or write the words yourself, you must credit the original author. If you do not, and especially if you use the author’s words verbatim without citing them, you are committing plagiarism.

And no matter what form your plagiarism ultimately takes, intentional or accidental, it is just as serious.

Consequences of Plagiarism

If you are caught plagiarizing in any of the above ways, you can expect to face official consequences ranging from:

  • Deductions in grades on your academic writing
  • Docked pay or canceled contracts for professional work
  • Strikes against your academic integrity in your official record
  • Lawsuits from the original creator of the source material
  • Damage to your reputation and relationships
  • Humiliation and exposure

Plagiarizing is not all about you, either. Even if you were willing to risk the above, keep in mind that the creator from whom you’ve stolen work is still losing the credit, renown and possibly money they would have gotten if you’d cited them properly. This is a huge deal in the professional world, where scientists race each other to the finish line to report results.

It’s also a big deal online, where Google and other search algorithms sort between pieces of duplicate content and choose only one to rank. If the original piece isn’t the “best” one according to Google’s standards it gets archived, meaning it doesn’t turn up in search results nearly as often. For the original author, that’s a huge disappointment, and may even impact their bottom line.

It is your responsibility as an honorable writer to ensure that doesn’t happen. One of the best ways you can do so is to employ paraphrasing as your go-to quotation strategy.

What is Paraphrasing?

One of the best ways to use someone’s work respectably is to paraphrase. That means you can use their ideas in support of your argument without plagiarizing or having tons of quoted text.

In a nutshell, paraphrasing is summarizing a quote or segment in your own words. By using synonyms and different words as well as altered sentence structure, you can effectively restate the author’s main points in your own writing. Effective paraphrasing retains the meaning of the original source material, while ensuring the majority of your paper is your own writing.

To paraphrase without plagiarizing, it is still important you cite your sources. That way, the reader knows where the idea is coming from, even if it is in your words. There are a few other paraphrasing tips that will help you on your journey as well.

Summarizing & Paraphrasing Tips

When you are paraphrasing direct quotations or overall ideas, keep the following points in mind.

Read the Original Source Entirely

It is critical you read and understand the original content in full. In order to paraphrase well, you must comprehend the intentions of the original source, as well as the context surrounding the quote or idea. Otherwise, you risk taking something out of context, misrepresenting them and potentially working against your own argument or inaccurately representing their ideas.

Describe the Original Content in Your Own Words

This is the heart of paraphrasing: rewriting their main points in your own words. Start by writing out the main points you care to utilize in whatever words you want before adding your own thoughts and insights to make a strong argument. Then, ensuring that you vary the sentence structure and use synonyms and other alternate word choice, create your final thought. While you cannot avoid necessary jargon or critical coined terms, try not to use too much of the original author’s wording.

Include Attribution When Paraphrasing

If you want to steer clear of any plagiarism accusations while rephrasing, always attribute the source. Even if your verbiage looks nothing like theirs, you should still credit the author through both in-text citations and a bibliography listing. It also helps to use language such as “Al-Khalili’s real intent here is to demonstrate that … ” to indicate that you are not the one making the important idea in this section of your essay, but are rather borrowing another’s argument.

Use a Plagiarism Checker to Verify Your Writing

Unfortunately, plagiarism often arises not because a writer borrowed a direct quote and failed to use quotation marks. It usually occurs because you forgot to cite the source correctly. You can avoid this scenario by using a plagiarism checker, which will:

  1. Scan the entire text of your paper
  2. Compare it to millions of other documents to ensure there is no accidental plagiarism
  3. Flag where the problem is so you can fix it

With a tool like this at your disposal, you’ll never again have to worry about plagiarizing on accident. Instead, you can turn your attention to creating quality essays through professional-quality paraphrasing and citation. Let’s take a look at some examples next.

Paraphrasing Citation Examples

So you need to paraphrase an author’s work, and you want to be sure you:

  • Use your own words to avoid triggering any plagiarism matches or duplicate content online, and to convey to the reader how well you understand the ideas at hand
  • Properly cite the source so that the author still gets credit for their own work

Let us take a totally made-up example to see how this works.

A student is writing a paper about animal cognition, and has found the fascinating treatise Do Elephants Daydream? And Other Questions About the Animal Kingdom by Elle A. Funt. The quote they’re interested in reads, “While research from the 40s and 50s held that elephants thought about nothing further than their next meal, evidence now suggests that elephants can carry out such complex thought processes as daydreaming, judging tourists on safari, and plotting world domination.”

The student wants to convey this idea in their own words, but obviously cares about crediting the original author. How should they go about it in MLA, APA or Chicago Style? Take a look.

Paraphrasing Examples in MLA Format

MLA format dictates that paraphrasing should be cited in-text as well as in the reference list at the end of the research paper. The paraphrased sentence with in-text citation might read, “Dr. Funt believes that elephants have the ability to fabricate daydreams in their heads as well as pass judgment on others (Funt, 179).”

This citation style also requires a Works Cited page at the end of the paper, which would look as follows:

Last Name, First Name. Title of Book. City of Publication, Publisher, Publication Date.

In our example, the entry would look like this:

Funt, Elle A. Do Elephants Daydream? And Other Questions About the Animal Kingdom. Mogadishu, Zootopia Press, 2007.

Paraphrasing Examples in APA Format

Unlike MLA, which requires the page number for the quote when citing a source in-text, APA style asks you to provide the year the book was published. Accordingly, your in-text citation would say, “Dr. Funt believes that elephants have the ability to fabricate daydreams in their heads as well as pass judgment on others (Funt, 2007).”

For the Reference List, your entry follows this format:

Author, F. M. (Year of Publication). Title of work. Publisher.

In our case, the entry would look like this:

Funt, Ella A. (2007). Do elephants daydream? And other questions about the animal kingdom. Zootopia Press.

Note that with APA style, you use sentence case rather than title case for the book’s title.

Paraphrasing Examples in Chicago Style

Chicago Style brings another set of rules entirely to the table. Their in-text citation requires the author, publication date and page number, if applicable. Here, your paraphrased snippet would look like, “Dr. Funt believes that elephants have the ability to fabricate daydreams in their heads as well as pass judgment on others (Funt 2007, 179).”

This style guide uses a bibliography in place of a Works Cited or Reference List. Your Bibliography entry should follow this format:

Last name, First name. Title of Book. Place of publication: Publisher, Year of publication.

In Chicago, it would look like:

Funt, Elle A. Do Elephants Daydream? And Other Questions About the Animal Kingdom. Mogadishu: Zootopia Press, 2007.

Additional References

Note that depending on your boss or professor, you may be asked to create footnotes or endnotes as well as in-text citations and a reference page:

  • Footnotes are complete citations throughout the paper, at the bottom of the paper, where a reader could trace a source completely without having to flip to the back of your paper.
  • Endnotes come at the back of the paper, but they are different from bibliographies or works cited. The latter is a list of all the sources you used researching your paper, whether you’ve specifically cited them or not. The former is a list of the citations you used in-text throughout the paper, both paraphrased text and direct quotes, gathered all in one place.

Be aware of the difference if asked to use these in addition to in-text citations and reference pages.

Plagiarism Prevention Resources

Once again, plagiarism is not a simple matter of slaps on the wrist and a poor grade or two. It is a serious offense that can stay with you throughout life, especially if you get expelled or fired due to it. To avoid unintentional theft and consequences, it’s smart to use a plagiarism checker.

You can use your university writing center as a helpful resource. However, if you want an easy and convenient tool you can access any time, online, without needing to speak to anyone, try Quetext on for size. Our plagiarism checker will help ensure you don’t accidentally commit intellectual property theft by identifying any instances of plagiarism before you commit them. Next, you can use the citation generator to quickly make up for any citations you missed.

Cover all your bases before submitting any written work, so you can always show up as the best version of yourself, inside the classroom and everywhere else.