How to Paraphrase

Most often when we work with sources we paraphrase other scholars' work to make a point in relation to our own thinking. Paraphrasing is an essential tool when working with other writers' material.

A paraphrase is:

  • your own rendition of essential information and ideas expressed by someone else, presented in a new form.
  • one legitimate way (when accompanied by accurate documentation) to borrow from a source.
  • a more detailed restatement than a summary, which focuses concisely on a single main idea.

Paraphrasing is a valuable skill because:

  • it is better than quoting information from an undistinguished passage.
  • it helps you control the temptation to quote too much.
  • the mental process required for successful paraphrasing helps you to grasp the full meaning of the original.

6 Possible Steps to Effective Paraphrasing:

  1. Reread the original passage until you understand its full meaning.
  2. Set the original aside, and write your paraphrase on a note card or in your notebook.
  3. Jot down a few words below your paraphrase to remind you later how you plan to use this material in your own paper. At the top of the note card (or above the entry in your notebook), write a key word or phrase to indicate the subject of your paraphrase.
  4. Check your rendition with the original to make sure that your version accurately expresses all the essential information in a new form.
  5. Use quotation marks to identify any unique term or phraseology you have borrowed exactly from the source.
  6. Record the source (including the page) on your note card so that you can credit it easily if you decide to incorporate the material into your paper.

As you see there is a clear relationship between good note-taking practices and efficient paraphrasing. Practice putting the information you gather from reading into your own words. This will also help you understand the source material better.

Examples of proper and improper paraphrase

The original passage:

Aaron Copland (1900-1990) integrated national American idioms into his music with technical polish. He was the first of many American composers to study with Nadia Boulanger in Paris. Jazz idioms and dissonance figure prominently in some of his earlier works, such as Music for the Theater (1925) and the Piano Concerto (1927). These were followed by compositions of a more reserved and harmonically complex style, including the Piano Variations of 1930. In a desire to appeal to a larger audience, Copland turned toward simplicity, diatonic harmonies, and the use of traditional song – Mexican folksongs in the brilliant orchestral suite El Salón Mexico (1936), cowboy songs in the ballets Billy the Kid (1938) and Rodeo (1942). The school opera The Second Hurricane (1937) and scores for a number of films (including Our Town, 1940) represent the Gebrauchmsmusik of this period – that is, music composed specifically “for use.”

Copland reached the apex of his trend toward simpler music in Appalachian Spring (1944), first written as a ballet with an ensemble of thirteen instruments but better known in the arrangement as an orchestral suite. The work incorporates variations on the Shaker hymn ‘Tis the Gift to Be Simple. The song is subtly transfigured and its essence is absorbed in music that sincerely and simply expresses the pastoral spirit in authentically American terms. The wide spacing of chords and the empty octaves and fifths suggest country fiddling.

  • from Barbara Russano Hanning, Concise History of Western Music, Second Edition. New York: W.W. Norton, 2002, p. 556

A legitimate paraphrase:

Aaron Copland, the first of many American composers to study with Nadia Boulanger in Paris, integrated many American idioms into his music in a very expert way. He incorporated jazz styles and dissonance in some of his earlier works, than created music in a more reserved and harmonically complex idiom. Later, desiring to reach a larger audience, he wrote in a simpler way, using diatonic harmonies and traditional types of songs, including Mexican folksongs and cowboy songs. He also wrote a number of film scores and a school opera. This trend culminated in the well-known work Appalachian Spring, originally written as a chamber orchestral work for ballet, but better known in its version as an orchestral suite. Incorporating variations on the Shaker hymn ‘Tis the Gift to Be Simple, the work suggests country fiddling at times, and conveys an authentically American spirit (Hanning, 556).

For more information on the difference between quotation and paraphrase, see Quoting, paraphrasing, and summarizing.