A Guide to Paraphrasing in Research Papers (APA, AMA)

Instructional Videos

Why Should You Paraphrase?

“Paraphrasing” is expressing the meaning of someone else’s words in your own words instead of quoting directly.

By paraphrasing effectively, you can:

  • save space and keep your study more focused
  • distill complex information into language that general readers can understand
  • avoid plagiarism and provide your own authorial voice in your paper

 When to Paraphrase and When to Use Direct Quotes

Paraphrase box 1

General Formatting Rules for Quoting and Paraphrasing

Direct Quote: simply a “copy-and-paste” of the original words and/or word order. In all research papers with formatting guidelines (APA, AMA, MLA, etc.), quoted text must be accompanied by quotation marks and in-text citation.

Paraphrasing:  can include some key terms from the original work, but must use new language to represent the original work—DO NOT COPY THE ORIGINAL WORK. When you paraphrase, you do not need to include quotations marks, but you must still cite the original work.

Changing Source Text into a Paraphrase

Step 1: Read important parts of the source material until you fully understand its meaning.

Step 2: Take some notes and list key terms of source material.

Step 3: Write your own paragraph without looking at the source material, only using the key terms.

Step 4: Check to make sure your version captures important parts and intent of the source material.

Step 5: Indicate where your paraphrasing starts and ends using in-text citation.

Useful Tips for Paraphrasing

Use the following methods to make your paraphrases even stronger. Note that you should not apply only one of these rules in isolation—combine these techniques to reduce your chances of accidental plagiarism.

*Text in red indicates key changes from the source material.

Change the voice of the source text

By changing the voice of the sentence (active voice to passive; passive voice to active), you can alter the general structure of your paraphrase and put it into words that are more your own.

Paraphrase box 2

Use a thesaurus to find synonyms and related terms.

A thesaurus can be an excellent resource for finding terms that are synonymous with or similar to those in the original text, especially for non-native English speakers. However, be careful not to use terms that you don’t fully understand or that might not make sense in the context of your paper.

Include introductory phrases with signaling terms

Signaling terms (e.g., “they write,” “Kim notes that…” “He believes that…”) help smoothly introduce the work of other studies and let the reader know where your own ideas end and where the cited information begins.Paraphrase box 3

          Use specific signaling verbs to show your position

Authors also show their positions regarding the original content by using verbs that are neutral, that show agreement, or that show disagreement. A relative pronoun (“that,” “how,” “if”) is also used in many instances.

Paraphrase box 4

Merge multiple sentences of the source text into a one- or two-sentence paraphrase

One major reason to paraphrase is to capture main idea of the original text without using so many words. Use only one sentence or two in your paraphrase to capture this main idea—even if the original is an entire paragraph.

Original Source Text

The journal primarily considers empirical and theoretical investigations that enhance understanding of cognitive, motivational, affective, and behavioral psychological phenomena in work and organizational settings, broadly defined. Those psychological phenomena can be at one or multiple levels — individuals, groups, organizations, or cultures; in work settings such as business, education, training, health, service, government, or military institutions; and in the public or private sector, for-profit or nonprofit organizations.

(Source: Journal of Applied Psychology Website http://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/apl/)

Brief Paraphrase of Source Text

The Journal of Applied Psychology accepts studies that increase understanding of a broad range of psychological phenomena and that apply to a variety of settings and levels, not limited by subgroup, institution, or sector (JAP, 2015).

Combine quotes and paraphrasing within the same sentence.

Too often, research writers separate information from the current work and cited study into completely different sentences. This limits the dialogue between the works, makes it boring for readers, and can even create issues of plagiarism if the paper is composed of too much quoted material. Include direct quotes within your paraphrased sentence to fix all of these issues and make your research writing much more natural and smooth.

Original Source Text: (SEE ABOVE)

Quote/Paraphrase Combination

The Journal of Applied Psychology accepts studies that “enhance understanding of cognitive, motivational, affective, and behavioral psychological phenomena” and that apply to a variety of settings such as “business, education, training, health, service, government, or military institution” (JAP 2015). The studies can be set or observed from a number of levels and are not limited to institution or sector.

Some details from the original source are quoted because they are taken directly from the text. They provide important information that readers might need to know and it thus makes more sense to use quotes here.

Avoiding Plagiarism

Although paraphrasing can be very helpful in helping to reduce instances of plagiarism, writers still need to follow the rules of citation and referencing carefully. Here are a few things you must keep in mind when paraphrasing any original material.

  • When you paraphrase, use your own terms along with the key terms from the source material.
  • Even when you paraphrase with your own terms, you still must provide in-text citations (according the formatting requirements—APA, AMA, MLA, etc.).
  • If you are quoting or paraphrasing your own previous work, treat it as another person’s work (i.e., you must still use quotation marks and/or citations).

An Example of Plagiarized Paraphrasing

The following example is an attempt at a paraphrase of the above source text taken from the Journal of Applied Psychology website. Note that the author does not follow the above-mentioned rules to avoid plagiarizing the work.

Plagiarized Version of Source Text

The Journal of Applied Psychology (JAP 2015) accepts empirical and theoretical investigations that increase knowledge of motivational, affective, cognitive, and behavioral psychological phenomena in many settings, broadly conceived.

These phenomena can be at several levels — individual, teams, or cultures; in professional settings like business, education, training, health, government, or military institutions; and in either public or private sector, in nonprofit or for-profit institutions.

Some of the source text words have been changed or removed, but the underlined terms are identical to the original; overall the meanings and even the grammar structures have been copied. Finally, quotation marks are missing. Do not use the same language unless you put quotation marks around the content.

Example of Multiple Attribution Methods

In this example, the details in the source text and how they have been changed in the paraphrase are indicated in red. Note the usage of signaling terms in each version to introduce the author’s content.

Original Source Text: “Fully grown penguins generate pressures of around 74 mm Hg to excrete liquid material and 430 mm Hg to excrete material of higher viscosity similar to that of oil.

Direct Quote: In her study of Antarctic penguin defecation habits, Brooks (1995, p.4) wrote, “fully grown Chinstrap penguins generate pressures of around 74 mm Hg to excrete liquid material and 430 mm Hg to excrete material of higher viscosity similar to that of oil.

*Quotations around quotes; citations included; many details provided; a complete sentence is quoted.

Paraphrase: When studying Chinstrap penguin defecation habits, Brooks (1995, p.4) observed that fully grown penguins generate a much higher pressure when excreting more viscous fecal matter.

*No quotation marks; citations included; the most important data fact is highlighted: “Penguins use more pressure to excrete thicker poo.”

Quote/Paraphrase Combination: When studying penguin defecation habits, Brooks (1995, p.4) observed that fully grown penguins vary in how they excrete waste, generating “pressures of around 74 mm Hg to excrete liquid material and 430 mm Hg to excrete material of higher viscosity similar to that of oil.

*Quotation marks only around directly quoted information; citations included; the most important data fact is paraphrased; additional details provided by direct quote.

Paraphrasing Checklist

  • Write the paraphrased statement in your own words.
  • Always include a citation with a paraphrase—you are still using someone else’s ideas
  • When you use a direct quote, be sure to clarify the quote to show why you have included it.
  • Avoid using blocks of quoted text, especially in papers on the natural sciences. You can almost always use a paraphrase/quote combination instead.
  • Overall, focus on your study first—any extra information should be used to enhance your arguments or clarify your research.

For more helpful information on academic writing and the journal publication process, visit Wordvice’s Resources page and check out these related articles and videos:

  1. Hartley, James. Academic writing and publishing: a practical guide. New York: Routledge, 2010. Print.
  2. Penn State College of Earth and Mineral Sciences Blog: “Descriptive Abstracts.
  3. Academic Conferences and Publishing International: “Abstract Guidelines for Conference Papers.”
  4. UNC College of Arts and Sciences Writing Center Blog: https://writingcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/abstracts/
  5. Wordvice Blog: “How to Choose the Best Title for Your Manuscript.
  6. The University of Wisconsin Writing Center Writer’s Handbook : https://writing.wisc.edu/Handbook/QPA_paraphrase2.html
  7. Wordvice Blog: Choosing the Best Keywords for Your Paper.”
  8. Wordvice YouTube Channel: Parts of a Research Paper.
  9. ScienceDocs Blog: “5 Common Mistakes to Avoid When Writing a Discussion.”

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