Putting someone else’s idea into your own words is a key academic skill. It demonstrates you have understood the idea and can communicate it clearly in a way that links to your own points. 

Scroll down for our recommended strategies and resources. 

What is paraphrasing?

People often explain paraphrasing as, "Just write it in your own words", as if this is an easy thing to do. In fact, paraphrasing can take more time, thought, and practice than people give it credit for. Don't be discouraged if you find paraphrasing challenging, because it is a complex process but it will get easier with practice and understanding. For a good clear overview of how to paraphrase see this short guide:

Sentence structure

Don’t just change a few words. This can lead to paraphrases that are far too close to the original text, and which will be considered as plagiarism. Cover over the original and write using a different sentence structure that is more like your natural style. Look at these examples explaining acceptable and unacceptable paraphrases:

Reference it!

You must always reference a paraphrase as the idea is still someone else’s even though you have written it in your own words. See our guides to referencing and academic integrity for more on good practice.


It’s almost impossible to paraphrase something if you don’t understand it fully. Avoid paraphrasing a text line-by-line as you read it, because this could result in you just changing a few words without really understanding what you are reading. Instead, read a longer section and get more of an overview of the main points and how they fit with your own purpose before starting to paraphrase the text. Then you can make an informed choice about how to paraphrase what you have read. 


People often worry that they can’t express the idea any better than the original author. But remember your own purpose. You will be using the information in a different way and this will shape the parts you choose to paraphrase and the unique emphasis you put on it. See this video for more on paraphrasing with purpose:

Using reporting verbs

The language you use when introducing the paraphrased ideas of other people indicates what you think about that idea. Selecting an appropriate reporting verb can help you focus on your own voice and stance towards the source which can, in turn, give you the confidence to write the ideas in your own words. For example, the verb ‘speculates’ in the phrase, ‘Ahmed (2021) speculates that wearing green shoes is illegal’ suggests you think their evidence for this claim is weak and possibly based on guesswork. Compare this with the effect of using the verb ‘demonstrates’. See this list of more reporting verbs and the stances they signal:


We say ‘put it in your own words’ as if this was easy, but it is a skill that takes practice. Avoid copying or cutting and pasting text into your notes. Instead, take the opportunity to practice your paraphrasing. See our page on how to make effective notes: