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It usually isn’t necessary, or desirable, to quote the exact words of another author. Instead, you can explain their work or ideas in your own words, and relate the information to the argument that you are developing. Expressing someone else’s ideas in your own words is called paraphrasing.

What is paraphrasing?

The goal of paraphrasing is to re-state information in your own words. A paraphrase is usually based on a small section of text, as opposed to a summary, which contains the main points of a larger work.

A successful paraphrase keeps the original meaning of the source material, but uses different vocabulary and sentence structure to express that meaning. Paraphrasing can be a useful way of explaining complex information in simpler language. Sometimes this means that paraphrases are actually longer than the source material.

How to paraphrase successfully

To paraphrase a text, follow these steps:

  1. Read or listen to the text that you want to paraphrase and make sure you understand the main idea.

    Example of original (fictional) text
    After the cultural awareness intervention, the experimental group demonstrated growth in the target areas at a statistically significant level, while the control group showed no gains.
  2. Write the idea from memory. Try switching the concepts around and start your explanation of the idea in a different place. You might imagine that you are trying to explain the idea to someone who didn’t understand the original text.

    First paraphrase attempt
    While the students in the control group did not have any gains, students in the experimental group who experienced the cultural awareness intervention demonstrated significant improvements (Author 2023).
  3. If you’ve used too many words that are similar to the original text, replace these words with other words or phrases of similar meaning. A thesaurus or dictionary can help you, as can academic word lists that offer different word forms. A good goal is to aim for no more than 4 words in a row that are the same as in the original source.

    Final paraphrase
    While the students in the control group of Author’s (2023) study remained at the same levels of cultural awareness, those students who participated in the additional experimental classroom activities improved their cultural awareness by a large margin.
  4. Compare your language to the original text to make sure your version is different, but that you’ve kept the original idea. Don’t forget that you need to include a citation every time you paraphrase.

Avoiding plagiarism

It is important to make sure you paraphrase correctly to avoid plagiarism. If you use a section of text from another source in your own work, and you only change a few words or move the sentences around, that is still considered plagiarism. A paraphrase needs to be significantly different in vocabulary and structure to the original text. Plagiarism-detection tools like Turnitin will flag text for plagiarism if it's too similar to another person’s work, even if some of the words have been changed.

New artificial intelligence tools, such as ChatGPT, have the ability to paraphrase information, but words taken from ChatGPT also need to be properly referenced. The use of these tools is not always permitted, so be sure you understand the expectations of your course to avoid academic misconduct, and check with your instructor if you have any questions.

Practice paraphrasing

Read the text below, and then select the best paraphrase from the two options given.


Laudon KC and Laudon JP (2000) Management information systems: managing the digital firm, 6th edn, Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, NJ.

Please note: The examples on this page use the RMIT Harvard referencing style. Check your course handbook or speak to your instructor about the referencing style required in your area of study.