Plagiarism & Paraphrasing

Plagiarism & Paraphrasing

What’s the Difference?

Paraphrasing is not the act of summarizing a story or idea. Paraphrasing is the successful conversion of a subject into a writer’s own thoughts and words. As a practice, paraphrasing requires mastery of a subject. Without mastery of the knowledge, a writer will only repeat the idea using synonyms to restate the concept. An example of lack of subject mastery is readily seen in this student's passage:

Yet the resulting information can be warped for five reasons: ending a study too soon, not publishing negative results, publishing results too early, skimming over or ignoring drawbacks, and “buffing” the results by showing them in the best light (Crossen, 1994, p. 167).

This statement, despite having a citation, is really not a paraphrase of the original statement but instead a restatement. A more effective paraphrase would state,

Research results can be altered in a misleading manner by early termination of a study due to undesired results; altering the chosen design and method of research during the study; and a bias to specific results for publication that may cause avoidance of negative outcomes and manipulation of data to show the best possible results (Crossen, 1994, p. 167).

Mastery of the subject is essential to the paraphrasing of work because the writer must understand what the original author is stating in order to utilize that information without plagiarizing. While the student, in the above example restated the original passage, he or she did not state the information in a manner that is original. Many words were repeated and if the student could not express the idea in clearer more concise manner than he or she should have quoted the material. This example might also be better expressed with a quote due to the large number of points being made.

Another strategy for paraphrasing is conciseness. Elaborate or complex ideas are difficult to express in simple words and this can lead to redundancy and plagiarism when students attempt to paraphrase these ideas. For example,

“Space time is a system of one temporal and three spatial coordinates by which any physical object or event can be locate” (Merriam-Webster, n.d.)

This statement can be restated as,

Spacetime is the combination of three-dimensional space with time.

The restatement of spacetime is concise and easier to understand than the original definition. While both statements mean the same thing, the restatement is more accessible to the average reader. Conciseness presents plagiarism concerns stemming from personal and cultural standpoints.

From a personal standpoint, many students feel intimidated by jargon and field-specific descriptions such as the definition of spacetime which is derived from physics. Intimidation can lead to the idea that restating concepts using jargon bypasses plagiarism. This is not true and can serve to make writing less concise and clear. To avoid this practice, a student should restate the subject matter in his or her own words, which again requires knowledge mastery.

Students should also be aware of cultural issues concerning plagiarism. One large concern is assumptions of usage rights. The internet creates tremendous accessibility to information and there is a prevailing belief that using information without acknowledging the author is permissible. Acquiring information from the internet still requires citation whether paraphrasing or quoting. Rewriting a blog post that concerns an academic subject and failing to cite the author is still plagiarism.


Crossen, C. (1994). Tainted truth: The manipulation of fact in America. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.

Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). Space-time. In Merriam-Webster.com dictionary. Retrieved March 28, 2020, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/space-time

Owl Perdue. (2020). Appropriate Language: Overview Retrieved from https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/general_writing/academic_writing/using_appropriate_language/index.html

Photo by Nick Morrison on Unsplash


Triola Vincent. Wed, Apr 07, 2021. Plagiarism & Paraphrasing Retrieved from https://vincenttriola.com/blogs/ten-years-of-academic-writing/plagiarism-paraphrasing

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