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Guidelines for Paraphrasing

Submitted by burnsc on Tue July 22, 2014 - 10:33am

Your goal in paraphrasing, or summarizing information from a source is to give as accurate a picture as possible of the original work, but in your own words. The process of summarizing helps you understand the original source; your work should demonstrate to the reader that you understand the material.

  1. To start, find the main idea in the reading (it should be in the first paragraph). Next, read through the material looking for the secondary points that contribute to the main idea. Then, read the conclusion. You should now have a general sense of the key points of the paper.
  2. Now go back and read the entire text carefully, highlighting important points. Write down the central idea and the author's reasons (purpose and intent) for holding this viewpoint. Note the supporting elements the author uses to explain or back up her/his main information or claim.
  3. At this point, you should be able to write a one- or two-sentence summary that captures the central idea of the original work. As you revise and edit your summary, compare it to the original and ask yourself: Have I rephrased the author's words without changing their meaning? Have I restated the main idea and the supporting points accurately and in my own words? Does what I have written demonstrate that I understand the content of the original work?
  4. For many assignments (e.g. lab reports and term papers), you will need to integrate information from a range of sources, which involves using only those sections of each original source that are relevant to your topic. For such assignments, you will need to be able to paraphrase the key ideas from each source in one or a few sentences in your own words. What if you need to paraphrase a substantial amount of information from one source (e.g. if you are told to write a summary of an article)? In this case, you can follow the same steps described above but you will need to write a longer summary. After writing a one- or two-sentence summary, make an outline that includes the main idea and the supporting details. Arrange your information in a logical order, e.g. from most to least important points. Your order does not have to be the same as that in the original—it should reflect your thinking rather than the original author's and be relevant to your topic —but keep related supporting points together. The way you organize the outline will help you organize your summary.  In writing your summary, present the main idea, followed by the supporting points. The remainder of your summary should focus on how the author supports, defines, and/or illustrates that main idea.
  5. It is permissible to mix your ideas and interpretations in with those of the author, as long as you make it clear which ideas are yours, and which are the author's. In doing so, it is particularily important to faithfully and accurately present the author's ideas; i.e. be careful not to suggest that the author said something that he/she did not.


Behrens, L., L.J. Rosen and B. Beedles. 2005. A sequence for academic writing. 2nd ed. Pearson Longman, New York.
Pechenik, J. 2007. A short guide to writing about biology. 6th ed. Pearson Longman, New York.