Proper vs Improper Paraphrasing

Restating ideas in your own words is proper paraphrasing while copying too much is improper paraphrasing.

Alen Walker - Published on - 2023-09-12 , Last-Mod: 2023-11-10

Table of Contents

Paraphrasing: A Simple Definition

Paraphrasing means rewriting something you read in your own words. Restating source information in your own words is paraphrasing. Paraphrasing shows you understand what you read. 

It lets you use research in your paper without direct quotes.

To paraphrase properly, you have to rewrite the whole passage in your own style. You can't just change some words or mix up sentences. There are rules to follow so you paraphrase correctly instead of plagiarizing.

9 Pointers for Proper Paraphrasing

The standards for proper paraphrasing include:

  1. Understand the original passage fully before paraphrasing. Identify the main ideas.
  2. Don't just change a couple words or shuffle things around. Put it totally in your own words and style of writing. Rewrite each sentence from scratch instead of tweaking the original.
  3. Stay true to the original meaning. Paraphrase conveys the same ideas without copying text verbatim.
  4. Don't simply rearrange the words and change some verbs to synonyms. This results in patchwriting, which is still considered plagiarism.
  5. Cite the source even when paraphrasing. Give credit to the original author by including an in-text citation.
  6. Check that you haven't accidentally used any unique phrasing from the source. If you do reuse a phrase or sentence that could be considered "key words", put it in quotes and cite.
  7. Use paraphrasing to back up your own points, not as a replacement for writing your own ideas. Paraphrase small parts of others' work that support your ideas.. Don't just paraphrase big chunks of other authors' writing.
  8. Paraphrasing uses your style; summarizing condenses the overall meaning.
  9. Don't rely too heavily on paraphrasing generators. The algorithms may reproduce text that is still too similar to the original or nonsensical. Use carefully in combination with manual paraphrasing.

Examples of Proper Paraphrasing

Original text 

Social media sites have given young people chances to be politically active by sharing their views online, but spreading inaccurate information is a concern.

Proper paraphrase

The growth of social media sites lets young people share their political opinions and get active on issues by posting online. But, spreading false or biased information on social media is an issue.


The children were disappointed that it rained on the day of the picnic.

Proper paraphrase

The children felt sad when it started to rain on the day they planned to have their picnic.


The tall oak tree in the backyard provided ample shade on hot summer days.

Proper paraphrase

The huge oak tree behind their house gave the children nice cool shade to play under when the summer days were very hot.

Defining Improper Paraphrasing

Improper paraphrasing keeps the source's meaning and structure with minor word changes. This is still plagiarism, even if we cite the source, because we are not giving proper credit to the original author's ideas.

 Improper paraphrasing examples include

  • Changing only a few words or phrases
  • Keeping very close to the original sentence structure
  • Making the paraphrased version much shorter than the original
  • Failing to include an in-text citation of the source

Copying too closely or not properly citing sources is plagiarism, even if small changes are made.

Improper Paraphrasing Examples

Original text 

The signs and impacts of anxiety disorders can range from controllable to disabling, severely affecting daily life and happiness.

Improper paraphrase

 The effects and impacts of anxiety disorders can range from manageable to very severe, greatly affecting daily life and wellbeing.


The children were disappointed that it rained on the day of the picnic.

Improper paraphrase

The kids were sad because it was raining on the picnic day.


The tall oak tree in the backyard provided ample shade on hot summer days.

Improper paraphrase

The big oak tree in the yard gave a lot of shade when it was hot outside.

Consequences of Improper Paraphrasing

Engaging in improper paraphrasing has serious consequences including


Accusations of plagiarism 

Teachers may accuse a student of plagiarizing if the student's paraphrased work looks too much like the original source and does not have citations. This can lead to failing grades, discipline, or expulsion.

Loss of credibility as a scholar 

Teachers may accuse plagiarism if paraphrased work resembles the original without citation. This can hurt their credibility and trustworthiness as a scholar.

Difficulty getting published or progressing academically 

Scholars who improperly paraphrase may see their manuscripts rejected by academic journals or have difficulty advancing their degrees if seen as lacking academic rigor.


Job loss or failed job applications 

Improper paraphrasing in work material can lead to plagiarism accusations and career damage.

Loss of professional credibility 

In fields where original writing is highly valued, improper paraphrasing could severely damage a writer's or researcher's reputation and cost them their career.

Legal action 

Companies may take legal action against employees who plagiarize content in their professional work. Writers may take action against copyright violation.


Copyright infringement lawsuits 

Publishing improper paraphrases can prompt copyright lawsuits and substantial fines.

Loss of publishing opportunities 

Publishers are hesitant to take on writers with a reputation for plagiarism issues or copyright disputes due to improper paraphrasing.

Criminal charges

In severe copyright cases, authors who intentionally publish plagiarized paraphrasing could face criminal charges for theft of intellectual property.

Strategies to Avoid Improper Paraphrasing

To paraphrase properly

  • Take comprehensive notes on the original passage in your own words 

As you read the source material, thoroughly summarize the key ideas, facts, and arguments in your own vocabulary and style of writing. This helps cement comprehension.

  • Do not directly reference the original text as you draft 

Compose your paraphrased version from your notes only, without the source material in front of you. This avoids unintentional duplication of phrases and structure.

  • Double check that your paraphrase differs substantially

Once completed, directly compare your paraphrase to the original passage to ensure you have sufficiently rewritten the content in an original way. It should be read as a new piece of writing.

  • Cite the source every time you paraphrase 

Use proper in-text citations for each instance of paraphrasing to credit the original author. Make it clear which ideas are theirs versus your own analysis.

  • Take a break before comparing to the original 

Allow time between reading the source and drafting the paraphrase to clearly separate the two versions in your mind. Then re-read the original to check accuracy.

  • Use paraphrasing carefully 

Balance paraphrasing from sources with your own synthesis of ideas. Quote and cite any unique wording you need to reuse. Rely on paraphrasing only as needed to back your own analysis.

  • Seek feedback 

Seek reviews of paraphrases to identify lingering similarities or citation issues. Learn from your mistakes.


Paraphrasing is rewriting something in your own words. Proper paraphrasing shows understanding and lets you use research without quoting. Improper paraphrasing is just changing some words - this can be plagiarism. Plagiarizing can cause problems at school, work, or legally. To paraphrase right, understand the source then rewrite it completely in your own style. Follow the rules to paraphrase honestly and make your writing stronger.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I avoid improper paraphrasing?

To avoid improper paraphrasing: Take notes in your own words instead of copying from the source. Use phrases like "according to the author" or "the article states" when citing sources. Change the order of sentences and paragraphs from the original. Don't just replace words with synonyms from a thesaurus. Make sure your summary matches the source's main ideas. Give credit to the author by citing where you got the information.

Does changing word order count as paraphrasing?

No, simply changing the word order or sentence structure of the original text does not count as proper paraphrasing. You must thoroughly restate the ideas in your own style.

Can I paraphrase multiple sources together?

No, you should paraphrase sources separately to avoid improper paraphrasing. Do not combine paraphrasing of distinct sources into one paragraph or passage. Properly cite each source paraphrased.

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