Your instructor told you to paraphrase the information in your paper by restating it in your own words. Change a few words, and voila — it's totally different than the original text, right?

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Wrong. Paraphrasing requires more and bigger changes than switching out a few words. I'm going to show you exactly how to paraphrase to avoid plagiarism.

Try Writing It Out in Your Own Words

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The first thing you should do is read and reread the source material until you understand the idea the author was expressing.

Then, without looking at the source material, write down the idea in your own words. You can also explain the idea out loud to a friend and have them write it down.

Now, compare your paraphrase to the original text and highlight all the identical phrases.

How Much Text Did You Copy?

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Although we might intellectually believe that the suffering of our neighbor is just as awful as the suffering of someone living in another country, it’s far easier to empathize with those who are close to us…

Here's a Bad Paraphrase:

According to Bloom (2016), although we might logically believe that the suffering of our neighbor is as terrible as that of someone living in another country, we empathize more easilywith people close to us.

Too much of the paraphrase is identical to the original text.

If You Copied Too Much

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If more than 25% of your paraphrase is highlighted, you’ve probably plagiarized! I'll show you how to fix that by:

  • Swapping words

  • Changing the sentence structure

  • Changing from active to passive voice (or vice versa)

Tip: It's best to use at least two of these strategies to create your paraphrase. Applying only one is rarely enough to avoid plagiarism.

Swap Words

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First, change every word you can for another with the same meaning. Use an online thesaurus like to find synonyms.


But spotlights have a narrow focus, and this is one problem with empathy.

With Swapped Words:

But spotlights have a limited focal area, states Bloom (2016), which is one issue with empathy.

Still too similar. Let's rearrange...

One issue with empathy, states Bloom (2016), is that spotlights have a limited focal area.

Much better!

Tip: Make sure you didn't change the original meaning by substituting synonyms.

Change the Sentence Structure

The letters of the word

You can rearrange the parts of a sentence to make it sound different.


We are naturally kind because our ancestors who were kind to others outlived and outreproduced those who didn’t.

Split One Sentence Into Two:

Bloom (2016) writes that humans are naturally kind. Our ancestors, who were kind to others, lived longer and had more offspring than unkind humans.

Switch the Order of the Clauses:

Bloom (2016) suggests that because any ancestors who were kind to others outlived and outreproduced the ones who weren't, humans are naturally kind.

Change From Active to Passive Voice (or Vice Versa)

Active voice means that the subject in the sentence performs the action.

  • The woman pours the tea.

Passive voice means the subject of the sentence is acted upon.

  • The tea was poured by the woman.

Original (Active Voice):

Some people adopt the view that we should think about how to act in terms of certain principles, without reference to consequences.

In this quotation, the subject ("some people") performs an action ("adopt the view").

Paraphrase to Passive Voice:

According to Bloom (2016), the idea that we should think about how to act in terms of certain principles without reference to consequences is a view adopted by some people.

In this paraphrase, the subject (the idea), is acted upon (adopted by some people).

Pop Quiz: Paraphrase the Text

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Imagine you need to paraphrase the passage below:

But if I understand that you are in pain without feeling it myself, this is what psychologists describe as social cognition, social intelligence, mind reading, theory of mind, or mentalizing.

Which paraphrasing example below is the best way to avoid plagiarism?

A. If I know you're hurting without feeling it as well, this is what psychologists call social intelligence, mentalizing, or social cognition.

B. Psychologists describe social cognition, social intelligence etc., as "I understand that you are in pain without feeling it myself".

C. Social cognition, social intelligence etc., is knowing someone else is hurting but not feeling it yourself.


The best paraphrase is:

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