Avoiding Plagiarism - Paraphrasing

In writing papers, you will paraphrase more than you will quote. For a report or research paper, you may need to gather background information that is important to the paper but not worthy of direct quotation. Indeed, in technical writing direct quotation is rarely used.

Exactly what does "paraphrase" mean?

It means taking the words of another source and restating them, using your own vocabulary. In this way, you keep the meaning of the original text, but do not copy its exact wording.

Original Plagiarism Paraphrasing

Because of their unique perspective, Americans fear globalization less than anyone else, and as a consequence they think about it less than anyone else. When Americans do think about globalization, they think of the global economy as an enlarged version of the American economy.

(Source: Thurow, L. (1993). Fortune Favors the Bold (p. 6). New York: Harper Collins.)

According to Lester Thurow (1993) Americans fear globalization less than people from other countries and as a consequence spend less time thinking about it. Indeed, Americans see globalization as an enlarged version of their own economy. 

Why is this plagiarism?

The writer has used Thurow's exact words without enclosing them in quotation marks. S/he has only substituted synonyms here and there. Even though Thurow is credited with a citation, this would be considered plagiarism.

Lester Thurow (1993) maintains that because Americans see globalization simply as a bigger form of their own economy, they are less concerned about it than is the rest of the world.

Why is this acceptable?

The writer has kept the meaning of the original passage without copying words or structure. Words like globalization and Americans are generic terms (i.e., terms that are commonly used for the concept they illustrate - it is difficult to find synonyms for them). Thus you may use these words without placing them in quotation marks.

(Complete Thurow reference appears in bibliography)

What strategies can I use to paraphrase?

  • Use synonyms for all words that are not generic. Words like world, food, or science are so basic to our vocabulary that is difficult to find a synonym.

  • Change the structure of the sentence.

  • Change the voice from active to passive and vice versa.    

  • Change clauses to phrases and vice versa.

  • Change parts of speech.

Example 1:

Original
Acceptable Paraphrase #1
Acceptable Paraphrase #2

Like drought, excess rainfall and flooding can also contribute to epidemics of waterborne infectious diseases, in this case due to poor sanitation resulting from runoff from overwhelmed sewage lines or the contamination of water by livestock.

(Source:  Shuman, E., M.D. (2010, March 25). Global climate change and infectious diseases.  New England Journal of Medicine; 362, 12, 1061-1063. Retrieved from nejm.org at MIT Libraries.)

Used Synonyms

An overabundance of rainfall can also be a factor in spreading infectious diseases carried by water, usually as a result of overflowing sewers and pollution from farm animals (Shuman, 2010).

Changed Sentence Structure

When there is an overabundance of rainfall, two situations can occur: sewers can overflow and water can become polluted by the presence of livestock, both of which can lead to outbreaks of waterborne diseases (Shuman, 2010).

Example 2:

Original Acceptable Paraphrase
Current political and economic incentives favor industry and other interest groups at the expense of health: consider the subsidies paid for corn-based agriculture and mass-produced processed foods, the tobacco revenue generated in countries with a government-owned tobacco industry, industrial growth in the face of environmental pollution, and the spread of the sedentary automobile-and-television culture.

(Source:  Venkat Narayan, K.M., Ali, M.K., and Koplan, J.  (2010, September 23).  Global noncomunicable diseases – where worlds meet. The New England Journal of Medicine, 363; 13. 1196-1198. Retrieved from nejm.org at MIT Libraries.)

Changed Voice and Changed Parts of Speech

Researchers point out that in attempting to implement economic growth, industry is often favored over health: government may subsidize certain forms of agriculture and food production, contribute to tobacco consumption in nations where it owns the industry and otherwise promote growth of industries that pollute. (Venkat Narayan et. al, 2011).

Example 3:

Original Acceptable Paraphrase: Changed Clause to Phrase
The prevalence and impact of non-communicable diseases continue to grow.  Chronic diseases account for 60% of all deaths worldwide, and 80% of these deaths occur in low-or middle-income countries, where the toll is disproportionate during the prime productive years of youth and middle age.

(Source:  Venkat Narayan, K.M., , Ali, M.K., and Koplan, J.  (2010, September 23).  Global noncomunicable diseases – where worlds meet. The New England Journal of Medicine, 363; 13. 1196-1198. Retrieved from nejm.org at MIT Libraries.)

The increasing spread of non-communicable diseases can be seen in figures that show these diseases are responsible for 60% of all deaths on the planet, and that in countries where the population is primarily of low or middle income, the impact is greatest, often focusing on those who are young or middle-aged (Venkat Narayan et. al, 2011).

A good paraphrase combines a number of strategies: the goal is to rephrase the information so that it appears in your words, not those of the author.

Example 4 - using multiple strategies to paraphrase:

Original Acceptable Paraphrase #1 Acceptable Paraphrase #2
We do not yet understand all the ways in which brain chemicals are related to emotions and thoughts, but the salient point is that our state of mind has an immediate and direct effect on our state of body.

(Source: Siegel, B. (1986).
Love, Medicine and Miracles (p. 69). New York: Harper and Row.)

Siegel (1986) writes that although the relationship between brain chemistry and thoughts and feelings is not fully understood, we do know that our psychological state affects our physical state.

 

What did the writer do?

  • Used synonyms
  • Changed sentence structure
  • Changed voice
  • Cited source

Words like brain are generic and do not need to be changed.

Siegel (1986) writes that the relationship between the chemicals in the brain and our thoughts and feelings remains only partially understood. He goes on to say, however, that one thing is clear: our mental state affects our bodily state.

 

What did the writer do?

  • Used synonyms
  • Changed the sentence structure (use two sentences instead of one)
  • Changed voice
  • Changed parts of speech
  • Cited source

Words like brain and chemicals are generic and do not need to be changed.

Example 5 - unacceptable paraphrase:

Original Unacceptable Paraphrase #1 Unacceptable Paraphrase #2
We do not yet understand all the ways in which brain chemicals are related to emotions and thoughts, but the salient point is that our state of mind has an immediate and direct effect on our state of body.

 

(Source: Siegel, B. (1986).
Love, Medicine and Miracles (p. 69). New York: Harper and Row.)

Siegel (1986) writes that we still do not know all the ways in which brain chemistry is related to emotions and thoughts, but the important point is that our mental state has an immediate and direct effect on our physical state.

 

Why is this unacceptable?

  • The writer has kept the same exact sentence structure

  • The writer had only substituted synonyms in certain places; in others the wording is exactly the same as that of the original.

  • Even though the writer mentions the original source in the introductory phrase, the result is plagiarism.

According to Siegel (1986), our mind affects our body quickly and directly, although we do not yet understand every aspect of how brain chemicals relate to emotions and thoughts.

 

Why is this unacceptable?

  • Although the writer has changed the structure of the sentence, key phrases have been taken directly from the original.

  • Even though the writer mentions the original source in the introductory phrase, the result is plagiarism.