Whereas a quotation is the exact reproduction of what someone else has written (said, etc.), a paraphrase is a re-writing of text (speech, etc.). Writers who paraphrase thus re-formulate in their own words what someone else has expressed.
In two important ways, the same rules apply to paraphrasing as to quoting:
- the source must be identified through a properly phrased reference
- the contents (ideas, results, etc.) of the original text may not be altered
Quoting or paraphrasing?
In some academic fields, direct references to specific texts and text passages are frequent. Writers within these fields often strive to vary between quoting and paraphrasing, as a text with too many quotations is difficult to read and comes across as too dependent on sources, whereas a text with too much paraphrasing may give the impression of being too superficial.
Whether to use a quotation or a paraphrase sometimes depends on the writer's aim in using a certain reference. If a specific phrasing or term is important, a quotation is the natural choice, whereas paraphrases may be preferable if the writer wants to clarify the argument of a complicated source text.
Below are two examples that illustrate how the same source can be used both in a quotation and in a paraphrase, and how the effect will differ slightly, depending on the form of reference that is chosen.
The source referred to in both examples is a book from 1839, Sarah Stickney Ellis's The Women of England: Their Social Duties and Domestic Habits (see relevant extract in fold-down text element below).
As is seen in the examples below, the paraphrase basically offers the same information as the example with the quotation, but in the paraphrase, the writer’s own words have been used instead of a quotation from Ellis's book.
In her discussion of what she perceives to be problems of English society at the time, Ellis (1839) argues that English middle-class women "have lately learned to look with envious eyes upon their superiors in rank, to rival their attainments, to imitate their manners, and to pine for the luxuries they enjoy" (p. 15).
In her discussion of what she perceives to be problems of English society at the time, Ellis (1839) argues that English middle-class women try to imitate upper-class manners and life-style (p. 15).
Paraphrasing or summarising?
Both paraphrases and summaries are re-writings of an already existing text (speech, etc.). A summary boils down a longer text to a shorter one.
In both cases, the meaning and focus of the source text must be kept, and a reference to the source must be given.
Read more and find examples in the AWELU section on summarising:
If the paraphrase is too close to the source text in wording, syntax and structure, it is not a proper re-writing, but may risk being classified as patch-writing. Read more about this – and the risk of plagiarising when paraphrasing – here:
As explained in the online resource Plagiarism.org, writers who wish to paraphrase "must retain the essential ideas of the original, but significantly change the style and grammatical structure to fit in the context of their argument" (Educational tips on plagiarism prevention, Plagiarism vs. Paraphrasing)