Yale Center for Teaching and Learning

Strategy 2: Condense the Source’s Language

One helpful way to generate new language for a source’s ideas is to try to present those ideas using fewer words. Consider the following passage, which has been flagged by Turnitin:

A screenshot of a passage from a paper shows 66% of the passgae highlighted in red from a turnitin report

To condense a passage from a source, consider each piece of information and determine which are essential to your argument and which can be left out. To begin the process of condensing the passage, you might begin by breaking it into different bits of information like this:

 in the diets of 69 Neotropical fishes

In the fair paraphrase below, the writer omits “studies have documented” and the specific number of fish species because they are less relevant than the findings about what the fish consumed.

Fair Paraphrase: Source:
566 Neotropical plant species from 82 families are consumed by freshwater fishes1 Studies have documented 566 species of fruits and seeds from 82 plant families in the diets of 69 Neotropical fishes2

Of course, the writer doesn’t rely solely on condensation to paraphrase the passage; she changes the phrasing of the information she retains as well. But condensing helps alter the syntax of the passage, which can then make it easier to change the wording of the ideas she does want to convey.

Cutting less relevant material isn’t the only means of condensing a passage. You can also identify phrases that can be presented more succinctly. Consider the following flagged passage:

A screenshot of a passage shows that Turnitin has highlighted 65% of the passage in green

This passage contains two phrases that can be expressed in fewer words:

  1. “floodplain forest degradation” can be condensed to “floodplain deforestation”
  2. “seed dispersal and threaten local and regional fisheries” can be condensed to “ichthyochory”
These changes result in the following, more condensed paraphrase:
Fair Paraphrase: Source:
floodplain deforestation can disrupt icthyochory floodplain forest degradation could disrupt seed dispersal and threaten local and regional fisheries3

If you’re stuck trying to paraphrase a source’s language, one effective strategy can be to look for ways to present that material in fewer words. Breaking a passage into smaller bits of information can help you figure out which are most relevant to your argument and which you can safely leave out. Isolating phrases in the source and seeing which can be expressed more simply is another effective strategy for condensing a source to achieve a fair paraphrase.

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

2Correa, S.B., et al. 2015. Neotropical fish-fruit interactions: eco-evolutionary dynamics and conservation. Biological Reviews, 90: 1263-1278.

3Lucas, C.M. 2008. Within Flood Season Variation in Fruit Consumption and Seed Dispersal by Two Characin Fishes of the Amazon. Biotropica, 40: 581-589.