Wednesday, August 6, 2014

How to Paraphrase Source Content

An actor presents Act V Scene 1 from Hamlet, much to the confusion of the man on the left.
Comprehension is key to a successful paraphrase.
There are three ways to incorporate ideas from another writer into your own papers.  First, you might quote the original source.  Alternatively, you could summarize the main idea or ideas from a source.  Third, you could paraphrase the original by putting it into your own words while still expressing the context and tone of the original.

Of the three, I believe paraphrasing is the trickiest to master, as it requires complete comprehension of the original and a strong understanding of how to rephrase the original idea in context and in your own words.

A Paraphrase Requires Complete Comprehension of the Original Source Content 

First things, first:  In order to rephrase someone else's words, you must thoroughly understand the original.  For example, do you thoroughly understand the following sentence from a United States government memo written during World War II?

Such preparations shall be made as will completely obscure all Federal buildings and non-Federal buildings occupied by the Federal government during an air raid for any period of time from visibility by reason of internal or external illumination.

Franklin Roosevelt, the United States President at the time, found it difficult to understand.  However, once he worked out its meaning, he paraphrased it as "Tell them that in buildings where they have to keep the work going to put something across the windows."

A Paraphrase is a Rephrase the Original Source Content

In order to ethically paraphrase an original bit of text, the writer must put the idea into his or her own words, or use quotation marks to set apart any key words or phrases he or she doesn't change, and then attribute the original to the original writer.  Let's look at an example.

James Thurber once said "There is no good writing, only rewriting."  If I wanted to borrow that, I could learn it by heart and let others know I was quoting James Thurber, or I could try to paraphrase the idea - and still let others know the idea came from James Thurber.  I might say, "To paraphrase James Thurber, rewriting makes writing effective, not just writing." 

Always make sure the paraphrase is truly in your own words and not too close to the original.  Otherwise, you might be accused of plagiarism.

A Paraphrase Must Maintain the Original Content in Context

Mike Palmquist, writer of The Bedford Researcher, offers the following advice about paraphrasing in context:

"To provide a clear context for your source information, establish why the quotation, paraphrase, or summary is reliable by identifying the source's credential's.  In addition, indicate how it relates to your main idea and what it contributes to the point you're making." (pg. 252)

To paraphrase, you should always make sure a reader can tell the difference between your own writing and the paraphrased content of others.  Furthermore, you should make sure your readers know why you've included the paraphrased material by making sure you tell them how the content supports your own idea.  

For example, instead of stringing together a list of paraphrased facts . . .

While President Clinton was in office, private sector jobs grew more than at any other time in U.S. history.  While he was President, democrats held the majority in Congress.  President Obama's term in office has not seen such growth.  Republicans control Congress.

Make sure the reader knows where your information originated and what point you are trying to make by including it.  

Private sector job growth can be influenced by a number of factors.  One is the cooperation between the executive and legislative branches of government.  For example, while President Clinton was in office, private sector jobs grew more than at any other time in U.S. history (Jackson, 2006, para. 6).  Contributing to the successful jobs numbers was his ability to work seamlessly with the legislative branch: While he was President, and a democrat himself, democrats held the majority in Congress.  On the other hand, President Obama's term in office has not seen such growth (Smith, 2014, pg. 578).  As the republicans control Congress, they are seemingly unwilling to cooperate with President Obama, a democrat.

If you continue to practice diligently using and citing paraphrased source content, you will get more and more comfortable and adept at taking a bit of information, unraveling it, and rephrasing it in context.

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