What is the best way to paraphrase?

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The Write Question is a weekly video podcast all about writing. Today’s question? What is the best way to paraphrase? If you have a question you’d like me to answer you can email me, tweet me @pubcoach, or leave a message for me at the Skype account, The Write Question.


What is the best way to paraphrase? That’s the topic I’m addressing today in The Write Question. I’m Daphne Gray-Grant, the Publication Coach, still in pandemic mode.

I have a question from Syeda Mahnoor Raza, a university student based in Islamabad, Pakistan. Here’s what she’s asked by email….

What is the best way to avoid plagiarism when integrating information from other sources? I  sometimes find myself having a difficult time paraphrasing something that simply cannot be said in a different way. What do you suggest that I do?”

Thanks for your question, Syeda. If it’s any comfort, I work with many academics who struggle with the notion of paraphrasing. You are not alone.

I have a few specific suggestions:

First, have a really effective system for saving and organizing your research. For academics, I recommend using the software Zotero or Mendeley which are free or EndNote if you want to pay. See links in the show notes below.

These pieces of software do more than just manage your research. They also create your citations for you. Take advantage of any software that allows you to do two things at once.

For non-academics who don’t need citations, however, I recommend the software Evernote which has both free and paid options. See link below.

Next tip: When collecting your research, be sure to be diligent about noting your sources. But don’t just transcribe them — unless, of course, there’s a section you know you’re going to want to quote. Instead, take notes about what you’ve read. Don’t look at the original when you’re doing this; force yourself to rely on your memory. Your goal is to jot down the main ideas and facts.

Then, take a moment to compare what you’ve written to the original material. Is your paraphrase different enough? And is it accurate? (You shouldn’t have changed the original meaning.) If you can answer yes to both those questions, you’re fine.

Next, in addition to taking notes about your research, also maintain a separate research diary. This is a place for your thoughts, feelings, ideas and opinions about the research you’ve read. I’ve done a post on this topic before and mentioned it in a couple of videos as well. See links, below.

The research diary will be your place to escape the risk of plagiarism. As well, it will help you write better, more successful essays because it’ll ensure that you’re contributing new thoughts and ideas — your own! — to the academic conversation.

Understand that academic writing is not just about summarizing or marshalling the thoughts of others. Don’t imagine your job to be paraphrasing. Instead, your real work is to make unique connections, explain context and come to new and interesting conclusions.

Finally, let me wrap up with a quote from the American actor Steven Weber:

I’ve rarely gotten a good review in my life, yet to paraphrase Noël Coward, I am happy to console myself with the bitter palliative of commercial success.”

Syeda, I used that quote because I wanted to investigate how Weber had paraphrased Coward. Based on my research, the original quote from Coward must have been, “Work hard, do the best you can, don’t ever lose faith in yourself and take no notice of what other people say about you.” Do you see how different the paraphrase is?

What Weber did was he adopted a Noël-Coward-like attitude and constructed a clever sentence. It was built on irony, much like Coward would have used.

That is masterful paraphrasing.


If you’d like to learn more about how to make writing a happier and more rewarding process, check out my latest book Your Happy First Draft. I don’t sell it in bookstores or via Amazon. The only place to buy it is on my website, link on the screen below and in the show notes. Try to have it linger for a couple of seconds.






Why you should consider keeping a research diary

Where to keep your research diary (video)

 Your Happy First Draft