How can I paraphrase without plagiarising?


Paraphrasing is okay

There really is nothing wrong with paraphrasing. When you’re writing about a topic, especially one that is difficult, and hard for you to explain without using a few examples from external sources, paraphrasing is OK.

Here we explain how to do it without plagiarising. 

What is paraphrasing? Well, when you’re reading source material, and you want to take a sample from it without copying it word-for-word, then you can summarise it in your own words to use in your work. There is a huge difference between doing this and outright plagiarising.

If you’re plagiarising material, you are copy and pasting it right into your essay, without any credit given to the original author. Don’t get any ideas, though – plagiarising is also just changing a couple of words. If you have a great paragraph that you would like to take for your own essay, it is still indeed plagiarising to change that one noun or verb.  The key is to either:

  • Directly quote from the source and give credit, or
  • Completely reword the source and give credit.

The difference between paraphrasing and a direct quote is that when you paraphrase, you’re just trying to give the gist of someone else’s idea and you may well be fitting it into a particular context. When you’re direct quoting, you are taking an idea from someone and putting the whole thing into your paper word for word.

Example of a direct quote:

“Don’t just expect that people are going to switch on their images (which are usually off as standard) and delight in your huge images. They need to have a good impression without them so be descriptive and tell people why they should switch those images on” (Jacks, 2012)

Example of the same quote paraphrased:

It’s a good idea in email campaigns to insert alternative text behind the images.  This is because many people switch their email images off. With a good description of what’s in the campaign, they will be enticed to switch them on again (Jacks, 2012).

The second example explains the point better than the direct quote.  It is completely different in the phraseology used but the idea is taken from the 2012 article.  You may want to paraphrase like this when you’re trying to fit an idea into the context of your own essay.

Citing your source in the bibliography

You usually need to put everything you paraphrased into a bibliography or ‘works cited’ page. A bibliography/works cited page can vary in format, but it usually comes down to the same thing: writing down what influenced your essay. Not only does this tell your tutor that you’re definitely not plagiarising, but it also helps you remember where you got information, so you can go back later and look at it if you need to.

So in the above example, a full citation to the 2012 article should be given in the bibliography like this, such as:

Jacks, A (24 October 2012) Four things to  improve your email marketing today, URL:, accessed 19 December 2012

Your college or university will usually have a referencing guide to help you properly format your references and bibliography in the style they want to see, so make sure you follow this.

Most teachers run their essays through software that checks many, many sources for the material they used. If a student is caught plagiarising, then they could be punished for it by being failed, or even kicked out of the course. It isn’t worth it at all.

Even if you cite your sources, you can’t paraphrase your entire essay. Use it in moderation, and always cite your sources. While you may not be copying anything verbatim, your work will lack originality and won’t show that you’ve understood the course material, so you will lose marks. Make sure to use your own thoughts and paraphrase only when necessary.

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