Within academic writing it is advised that a combination of both direct and indirect quotes (paraphrasing) are used. Often it is better to paraphrase what an author has said as opposed to using lengthy direct quotations. But what does it mean ‘to paraphrase’? According to the MacMillan English Dictionary (MacMillan, 2012:online), to paraphrase is “to express what someone else has said or written using different words, especially in order to make it shorter or clearer.” When you paraphrase another author's writing you rewrite their argument using your own words, phrasing and interpreting it in your own way.
How to paraphrase
- change the vocabulary
- reorganise the structure of the argument
- cite the author directly,
For example the direct quote from Halliday (1978:1) “A child creates, first his child tongue, then his mother tongue, in interaction with that little coterie of people who constitute his meaning group …”
- Halliday (1978) claims that children develop their language by interacting with those around them
- Children develop their language by interaction with those around them (Halliday, 1978).
Some helpful guidelines
- As you study and write your notes do not copy chunks of text directly out of the book, instead always write your study notes in your own words. Remember to note which book or article your notes were drawn from for your reference information.
- Check your writing against the books and articles you are using as sources. If the words you have written are too similar to the original, you should try to revise your own wording.
Once you have taken notes from the original source, work only from your notes; put the original article or book away.
Successful vs unsuccessful paraphrases
Paraphrasing is often defined as putting a passage from an author into “your own words” but what are your own words? How different must your paraphrase be from the original?
The paragraphs below provide an example by showing a passage as it appears in the source, two paraphrases that follow the source too closely, and a legitimate paraphrase.
The Passage as It Appears in the Source
Why this is plagiarism?
Notice that the writer has not only “borrowed” Chase’s material (the results of her research) with no acknowledgment, but has also largely maintained the author’s method of expression and sentence structure. The phrases in red are directly copied from the source or changed only slightly in form. Even if the student-writer had acknowledged Chase as the source of the content, the language of the passage would be considered plagiarized because no quotation marks indicate the phrases that come directly from Chase. And if quotation marks did appear around all these phrases, this paragraph would be so cluttered that it would be unreadable.
Why this is plagiarism?
This paraphrase is a patchwork composed of pieces in the original author’s language (in red) and pieces in the student-writer’s words, all rearranged into a new pattern, but with none of the borrowed pieces in quotation marks. Thus, even though the writer acknowledges the source of the material, the underlined phrases are falsely presented as the student’s own.
Why this is a good paraphrase
The writer has documented Chase’s material and specific language (by direct reference to the author and by quotation marks around language taken directly from the source). Notice too that the writer has modified Chase’s language and structure and has added material to fit the new context and purpose — to present the distinctive functions of experts and nonexperts in several professions.
Perhaps you’ve noticed that a number of phrases from the original passage appear in the legitimate paraphrase: critical care, staff nurses, nurse manager, clinical nurse specialist, nurse clinician, resource nurse.
If all these phrases were in red, the paraphrase would look much like the ‘Patchwork’ example.’ The difference is that the phrases in the legitimate paraphrase are all precise, economical, and conventional designations that are part of the shared language within the nursing discipline (in the too-close paraphrases they’re red only when used within a longer borrowed phrase).
In every discipline and in certain genres (such as the empirical research report), some phrases are so specialized or conventional that you can’t paraphrase them except by wordy and awkward circumlocutions that would be less familiar (and thus less readable) to the audience.
When you repeat such phrases, you’re not stealing the unique phrasing of an individual writer but using a common vocabulary shared by a community of scholars.
Some Examples of Shared Language You Don’t Need to Put in Quotation Marks
- Conventional designations: e.g. physician’s assistant, chronic low-back pain
- Preferred bias-free language: e.g. persons with disabilities
Technical terms and phrases of a discipline or genre: e.g. reduplication, cognitive domain, material culture, sexual harassment
- Chase, S. K. (1995) The social context of critical care clinical judgment. Heart and Lung: The Journal of Acute and Critical Care. Vol. 24. No. 2: 154-162.
- Halliday, M. (1978) Language as Social Semiotic: The Social Interpretation of Language and Meaning. London: Arnold.
- MacMillan (2012) MacMillan Dictionary. [Online] Available from: http://www.macmillandictionary.com/dictionary/british/paraphrase
Adapted from The Writing Centre – The University of Wisconsin