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Dear Write Site

How to paraphrase with confidence

Dear Write Site is a new series that equips Athabasca University (AU) learners with tips and tricks to improve their writing—whether it’s for an essay, research paper, or the next great novel. We will feature advice from the Write Site, AU’s academic writing support services, with answers to learner questions.

Dear Write Site, 

I am freaked out by paraphrasing as I don’t want to accidentally plagiarize. Help! 

—Worried Writer

Dear Worried Writer,

Paraphrasing can certainly be intimidating, but once you understand how to approach it, you’ll feel more confident about maintaining academic integrity. In fact, you paraphrase all the time and you don’t even realize it! For example, when you are asked what someone said, you may quickly rephrase it instead of repeating the words verbatim. This is paraphrasing—putting someone else’s words into your own while crediting their original thought.

The difference between paraphrasing and direct quoting

When you find a phrase to use in your essay, decide if you’ll quote it using double quotation marks (“quote”) or reword it in your own language (paraphrase).

Direct Quote

Direct quotes are taken word-for-word from the original text, bookended by double quotation marks, and then completed with an in-text citation. Here is an example of a direct quote cited in APA style:

“Palahniuk’s work is not only entertaining but also rife with literary devices, references to history, and complex character development, so it can be a great tool for instructors in a number of English and Cultural Studies courses” (Lowman, 2022, p. 31).


To paraphrase, you take the direct quote and reword it in your own voice. Here is an example of a paraphrased sentence cited in APA: 

Palahniuk’s use of allusions and nuanced characterization offers English instructors rich teaching material (Lowman, 2022). 

Illustration of person writing

A note about paraphrasing and quoting

Paraphrasing and direct quoting are done in the same manner regardless of style. The only difference is how the citation is formatted.

How to paraphrase

Once you have read and understood what you want to paraphrase, put the original text away. Otherwise, it is too easy to transfer the exact wording or sentence structure of the original, which results in accidental plagiarism.

When you write about the idea, write it as though you’re explaining it to someone else as you understand it. This is the way to ensure the idea will be written in your own words and will be clear. In short:

1. Read
2. Ensure your understanding
3. Put away the original
4. Draft your paraphrase
5. Cite the source
6. Check the original for correctness

Signal phrases

If you get stuck thinking about how to start a paraphrased sentence, you can use a signal phrase. This means:
• Begin with the author followed by an active verb: Lowman writes, Lowman explains, Lowman investigates, Lowman states, Lowman iterates, etc.
• You could also use the prompt or signal phrase: “According to…”

For example, in APA:
According to Lowman (2022), Palahniuk’s work is a “great tool for instructors” (p. 31).

According to Lowman (2022), the versatility of Palahniuk’s work offers instructors an effective teaching resource. 

Too many synonyms

Though you may be tempted to use a thesaurus to find different synonyms to replace words from the original text, this can result in the wrong meaning coming across, as the new words may not have exactly the same meaning. Crosscheck definitions to make sure this new word is contextually appropriate for the sentence. Too many synonyms could also result in accidental plagiarism.

Accidental plagiarism

Worried Writer, you mentioned the fear of accidental plagiarism. This can happen in a number of ways:

Keeping the same sentence structure but just switching out words

  • Original: “Palahniuk’s work is not only entertaining but also rife with literary devices”
  • Incorrect paraphrase: Palahniuk’s work is not only vivid but also teeming with literary devices

Directly copying a phrase within the sentence

  • Original: “Palahniuk’s work is not only entertaining but also rife with literary devices
  • Incorrect paraphrase: Palahniuk offers a rich literary experience that is rife with literary devices

Copying and pasting the entire phrase and not using a direct quote. Even if you add a parenthetical citation to the end of the paraphrase, it is still plagiarism.

  • Original: “Palahniuk’s work is not only entertaining but also rife with literary devices”
  • Incorrect paraphrase: Palahniuk’s work is not only entertaining but also rife with literary devices (Lowman, 2022).

Effective parphrasing: Examples

Here are examples of paraphrases using the guidelines above: 

    • Original: “Palahniuk’s work is not only entertaining but also rife with literary devices”
  • The use of literary devices in Palahniuk’s work creates an entertaining read.  
  • Palahniuk captivates his readers with engaging and literary writing.  
  • Palahniuk’s use of literary devices enriches its entertainment value.


It’s important that you research how to cite a paraphrased sentence according to the documentation style required for your course. Here are some helpful links for the major documentation styles:



Chicago Manual of Style




With practice, paraphrasing will become less intimidating and a more intuitive part of your writing practice.

1. Read the following quote from Agatha Christie’s Crooked House. Of the paraphrases that follow, which is effective? Why?

“I returned to England on a soft grey day in September. There were playful gusts of wind. From the airfield I sent a telegram to Sophia: “Just arrived back. Will you dine this evening, Mario’s, nine o’clock? Charles.”

a. The protagonist in Crooked House describes the soft grey day with playful gusts of wind that characterizes his return to England in September. His telegram to Sophia from the airfield states he has just arrived back and would like to dine with her at Mario’s at nine this evening.

b. Crooked House shows the return of the protagonist to England to a softened ash day with mischievous gales of wind. From the airport he transmits a telegram to Sophia stating he has just come back and will she sup with him tonight at Mario’s.

c. Charles, the protagonist in Crooked House, describes a cloudy yet pleasant day upon his return to England. His first action is to wire Sophia to let her know of his arrival and invite her to dinner that evening.

2. For fun, try paraphrasing the following quote from Agatha Christie’s Crooked House yourself. Don’t worry about documentation, just practice putting it in your own words. Another way to think about it is how would you respond if someone said, “What happened in that scene?”

“She had spoken in a low hurried voice with a kind of desperation that startled me. I had not realized how much on edge she was. I had not realized, either, quite how desperate and possessive was her feeling for Roger.”


With practice, paraphrasing will become less intimidating and a more intuitive part of your writing practice. Best of luck!


Cara Violini,
Writing coach

For more questions about paraphrasing, contact

Answer to question 1:

C is effective because it uses unique sentence structure and wording. The writer has drafted their paraphrase without looking at the original, which allowed them to ensure their own understanding and produce a new phrasing. 

The Write Site offers services that support AU students with academic writing. With support from the Write Site’s writing coaches, learners can discuss writing questions and receive feedback about the writing aspects of assignments. Writing coaching is usually most helpful when a learner’s goal is to develop writing skills within the context of course work over time.

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  • October 18, 2022