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Paraphrase is a re-expression of someone else's ideas in your own words. While it is true that you do not have to enclose paraphrased information in quotes, you are still responsible for giving proper attribution to the original source of the information and for making sufficiently substantial changes that the paraphrase is a genuinely new expression of the idea, not merely a trivial rewording of the original passage. Incorrect paraphrase is perhaps the most common type of 'accidental' plagiarism.

Key points:

  • First, it is important to recognize that paraphrased material must be credited.

  • Second, how you paraphrase can determine whether the material is considered plagiarized.

Original text

Intellectual honesty is the admission that humanity is linked together in a kind of collective learning process. Very little is discovered "de novo," that is, without a solid foundation in other researchers' previous exploration and understanding. Citation is an act of humility and an act of appreciation for what other scholars have pieced together about the nature of a particular problem or an aspect of some phenomenon. 

Unacceptable Paraphrase:

Unacceptable paraphrase is usually caused by making only superficial changes to the original text such as replacing some of the words with synonyms or changing the sentence order. The paraphrase is so close to the original that it is considered essentially a direct quote without attribution. Unacceptable paraphrase, particularly close paraphrase, usually shows the student does not have a significant understanding of the subject and opens the possibility of misrepresenting the original author's ideas.

Unacceptable paraphrase examples

Acceptable Paraphrase:

When you have achieved an acceptable paraphrase, it feels dramatically different. It sounds like an entirely new way of expressing the idea even though every effort has been made to capture the original meaning.

Acceptable paraphrase example

Acceptable Close Paraphrase:

As with all cases of partial plagiarism, it is possible to use a close paraphrase with the appropriate attribution and citation style. While direct quotation is almost always preferred, close paraphrase might be used in cases where the quoted passage uses some difficult to understand terms, or is unnecessarily long for the purposes of the paper, or uses an inconvenient grammatical turn.
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1. Hoemann, George. Electronic StyleWhy Cite? 14 September 1998. University of Tennessee. 3 Oct. 2000 <http://web.utk.edu/~hoemann/why.html>.

2. Writing Tutorial Services, Indiana University. Plagiarism: What It is and How to Recognize and Avoid It. Indiana University. 5 February 2008 http://www.indiana.edu/~wts/wts/plagiarism.html.

Last updated 02/05/2008 by Sue Thompson
Cal State San Marcos Library