Paraphrasing is the fine art of taking other people's words and ideas and rewriting them in your own words. Because you are a conscientious and ethical writer you wouldn't dream of plagiarising their words, so you will, of course, cite the source or sources that you use fully.

Paraphrasing is used in every academic discipline, although in some (English for example) it is also common to quote source material, in others (Biology for example) you would hardly ever dream of quoting and you would only paraphrase sources.

Although paraphrasing can also be used, and is often used, to summarise another piece of work, let us start at the simplest end; rewriting a sentence in your own words.

Consider the sentence "The pancreas produces insulin in response to an increase in blood glucose." There are four bits to this sentence, a subject (The pancreas), a verb (produces), an object (insulin) and a modifying phrase (in response to an increase in blood glucose).

The easiest way to paraphrase a sentence is to swap the subject and the object, then adjust the verb and any modifying phrases. We quite easily get to Insulin is produced by the pancreas in response to an increase in blood glucose. This sentence has basically the same meaning, but it is a different sentence.

We can also change the emphasis - in this case we might be writing an essay about homeostatic changes in response to stimuli. The stimulus is contained in the modifying phrase, to make it more important we want to make it the subject, and then juggle the remainder of the sentence. We might decide that the name of the hormone is the next most important thing, and so keep insulin as the object, but in a different piece of writing the organ might be more important and we could move insulin to the modifying phrase and put the pancreas in as the object. We might end up with a sentence such as Rising blood glucose stimulates insulin release by the pancreas or Increased blood glucose causes the pancreas to release insulin. These both contain the same basic information as the original sentence, but with a different emphasis... they tie the sentence to the stimulus more obviously.

The situation can become much more complex than this. You can expand, summarise, or otherwise slant the material as you paraphrase it. Summarising is the same skill as you use anywhere else. Obviously if you're taking a paragraph or more and reducing it to a sentence or two, you are rewriting it in your own words.

Paraphrasing and expanding is a more unusual skill, but still using the same principles. In my experience it is mostly used when combining materials from multiple sources. For example, and staying with insulin, the pancreas and blood glucose as an example, you might check in physiology, biochemistry, biology, histology, cytology and possibly some other texts before writing your material. Depending on which ones you use you will find at least a paragraph in each - in some you might well find a chapter or more on this topic. But, let's say you stay with sources that give you a paragraph each. Between them they cover everything you need for your current work. Rather than copying each paragraph and paraphrasing it, you will probably want to extract the connected sentences from each of the sources - for example everything you can find about the synthesis and structure of insulin (biochemistry, physiology, cell biology books might be the prime sources here) and rewrite those sentences into a coherent paragraph in your own words. To do this you will have to identify the key elements you need from each of the sources, then rearrange the elements into the order you wish, then arrange sentences around them. In that sense, this is much closer to normal academic writing, but you will sometimes find you use this skill to combine some sentences about the same idea into a paragraph. It can quite often start by paraphrasing each of those sentences, then re-arranging them to make the paragraph as a whole make sense.

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