Paraphrasing from Sources

Whereas a quotation copies the exact words from a source, enclosing them in quotation marks, a paraphrase uses an idea from a source, but expresses it in original wording. Paraphrases are not enclosed in quotation marks. No matter whether you quote or paraphrase, you will need to cite your source.

In all of the examples on this page, the quotes are cited in MLA style, but the basic methods for paraphrasing are the same in all styles.

What is a summary?
A summary is a type of paraphrase in which you take a large amount of information and shrink it down to a manageable amount. You may choose to summarize when the main idea of an article is important to you, but no individual part of it expresses that main idea succinctly. You also may choose to summarize when the article's basic idea is useful to you, but the specific details and examples are not.

When you summarize, follow the basic guidelines below for paraphrasing, but also focus on expressing just the essence of the source in a short amount of space.

What is a paraphrase?
A paraphrase is taking a small portion of information from a source and reproducing the ideas entirely in your own language. Paraphrasing when you are using secondary sources can help to ensure your voice is dominant in your essay. Paraphrasing is especially appropriate when the idea presented in the source is useful, but the wording is not striking. When you paraphrase the source, you have the opportunity to make the idea understandable to the reader and ensure that it integrates smoothly into the paragraph.

Keys for paraphrasing

  • Maintain the idea of the original author as closely as possible. Aim to reproduce the idea as closely as possible in original wording. Your paraphrase should not water down the original or alter the meaning.
  • Change the wording and sentence structure thoroughly. You must take in the information and then reproduce the idea in your own language. Sometimes this can be difficult to do as you are looking at the source. Read the source several times to understand the meaning, then cover the source and write your paraphrase. Reread the original and compare it to your version to ensure thoroughness.
  • Avoid simply replacing words in the original sentence with synonyms. This will not result in a true paraphrase and may result in plagiarism. For example, notice in the two examples below how the paraphrase retains the original sentence structure and changes only a few words. This is an incorrect paraphrase:

Original: " He [Poe] makes us understand that the voluble murderer has been tortured by the nightmarish terrors he attributes to his victim..." (Gargano 1672).

Paraphrase: Poe makes us comprehend that the talkative killer has been persecuted by the frightening horrors he assigns to his prey (Gargano 1672).

  • Do not paraphrase large amounts of information at a time. Instead, paraphrase small chunks, no more than a few sentences at a time, using your own ideas in your own sentences to analyze the information and transition between ideas from sources. As you do this, keep in mind that it must always be clear which ideas belong to a source and which are your own.
  • If your paraphrase is more than one sentence long, be sure to indicate clearly where the paraphrase begins and ends. For example, you might lead into the paraphrase with a signal like "According to James W. Gargano," include the paraphrase, and then cite at the end. This method encloses the paraphrase in a sort of envelope, making it very clear to the reader where the source information is located.
  • Paraphrases should be roughly the same length as the original. Making your paraphrase quite a bit shorter may leave out important information. If your paraphrase is significantly longer than the original, you may be adding in your own ideas. It will not be clear to the reader where the source information stops and your additions begin.
  • Give the necessary citation information either in the sentence or in parenthetical citation. Even though a paraphrase is in your language, a citation shows that the idea is not your own.

Example of paraphrasing:

Original source, from James W. Gargano's article "The Question of Poe's Narrators in 'The Tell-Tale Heart' and 'The Cask of Amontillado'":

Poe intends his readers to keep their powers of analysis and judgment ever alert; he does not require or desire complete surrender to the experience of the sensations being felt by his characters. The point of Poe's technique, then, is not to enable us to lose ourselves in strange or outrageous emotions, but to see these emotions and those obsessed by them from a rich and thoughtful perspective.

A paragraph that properly integrates a paraphrase of this source:

Many of Edgar Allan Poe's narrators are unreliable, deceptive, or downright insane. For example, the narrators in both "The Tell-tale Heart" and "The Cask of Amontillado" are both murderers who are trying to justify or defend their actions. In their attempts to exonerate themselves, they likely will not tell the truth. Another deceptive narrator is the husband in "Ligeia." He describes taking opium on the night he claims to have seen Ligeia rise from the dead. Surely this event was a hallucination brought on his abuse of the drug. On the whole, Poe's narrators cannot be trusted, but he does not seem to want the readers to trust these men. James W. Gargano writes that Poe wants the readers of his stories to remain vigilant about questioning and interrogating his narrators, not to accept his narrators' version of the truth. He is not asking the reader to experience the story from the narrator's perspective, but rather to view the narrator's feelings from a detached point of view (Gargano 1672).  Thus, reader can experience Poe's stories from two levels. They can enjoy the tale as told by the narrator, and they can analyze the way the narrator's outlook is shaped by his insanity.