Yale Center for Teaching and Learning

Strategy 1: Set the Source Aside

The concept of fair paraphrase is straightforward: a writer must substantially rephrase the language of their sources. But in practice, the nuance and specificity of a passage can make it seem like there’s only one way to express its ideas. The following passage seems difficult to rephrase because it describes a matter of fact: that scholars divide fruit consumption by fish into two categories. Because these facts are straightforward, it can be a challenge to paraphrase them using language that differs significantly from the language of the source.

73% of a passage from an essay is highlighted in red from a turnitin report, emphasizing unoriginal work

As Turnitin’s highlighting suggests, the writer of this passage hasn’t altered the phrasing of the original at all. How might one change the source’s language in a more substantive way?

Start by setting the source aside. Once you’ve identified a passage you’d like to paraphrase, put it down and write the passage’s ideas without consulting the source. This will force you to generate your own language, since you won’t be able to rely on the source’s phrasing. After relying on your own voice to compose your paraphrase, you’ll still need to check it to make sure your own phrasing differs sufficiently from your source’s. But not allowing yourself access to the source’s language while writing your paraphrase should help ensure that the wording of your passage is your own.

While writing future papers, strive to start this process early. When taking notes on ideas you may want to use later in your writing, set the source aside and jot down its ideas in your own words. Be sure to compare your writing to the source to confirm that you’ve paraphrased its ideas accurately. Paraphrasing your sources early in the writing process should result in fewer flagged passages on your originality report when you submit your paper to Turnitin.

Here’s an effective paraphrase of the passage above:
Fair Paraphrase: Source:
which is divided into two general categories. Frugivory refers to fruit-eating, which usually enables some amount of seed dispersal, while granivory refers to dry seed predation, where the seeds are typically damaged during digestion1 which can be divided into two main categories: frugivory and granivory. Frugivores consumer fleshy fruits, normally without destroying the seeds during ingestion or passage through the digestive tract. Granivores feed on the seeds of dry fruits (including grains) and generally damages the seeds in the process of digestion2

It is easy to imagine the author of this piece, after encountering the categories of seed consumption during her research, setting the source text aside so she could introduce and explain these two key terms in her own words.

1All fair paraphrases on these pages were written by Maya Juman YC ‘20.

2Correa, S.B., et al. 2007. Evolutionary Perspectives on Seed Consumption and Dispersal by Fishes. BioScience, 57: 748–756.