Many people believe that putting a piece of text or an idea into ‘their own words’ avoids the issue of plagiarism. Formal methods for putting text or ideas into ‘your own words’ most commonly include summarizing and paraphrasing. A summary attempts to capture the author’s main points and often ignores the rest of the text. A paraphrase attempts to put an entire passage from the original source material into your own words. Both summarizing and paraphrasing are acceptable, even encouraged, but it is important to acknowledge the original author’s ideas, even if it has been substantially re-expressed.
Paraphrase can be the more complex concept to understand. The purpose of paraphrase is often to simplify the author’s ideas, making them easier to understand, more approachable. You might also use paraphrase to emphasize a particular idea or train of thought from the original author’s text.
It is important to be cautious rewriting a piece of information in your own words particularly when paraphrasing. Close paraphrase, where trivial changes are made such as substituting similar words or changing the sentence order, is essentially the same as copying the author’s words directly. This is not enough to count as an original expression of the idea and can be considered a form of exact copy plagiarism.
Last updated 8/23/2012 by Sue Thompson