Yale Center for Teaching and Learning

Strategy 3: Replace Jargon with More Common Vocabulary

One common challenge of paraphrasing occurs when a source uses highly specialized language. Words that are specific to a certain field often lack synonyms with the same level of precision. But it is often possible to rephrase disciplinary jargon without sacrificing accuracy. Consider the too-close paraphrase highlighted here:

 A screenshot of a passage with 48% of the text highlighted in grey from a Turnitin report.

This flagged section of the passage above contains two highly specialized terms: “α-amylase” and “carbohydrase.” Consider the fair paraphrase below, which replaces these terms with more broadly accessible vocabulary.

Fair Paraphrase Source:
A longer intestine enables the extensive processing of plant matter and extraction of nutrients from seeds. The most common and widely recognized morphological change is the widely recognized pattern of a relatively long gut in herbivorous (v. carnivorous) fishes.3

In replacing these two pieces of specialized language, the writer of the fair paraphrase has adopted two different strategies:

1. In substituting “enzymes for processing carbohydrate-dense leaves” for “carbohydrase,” the writer has replaced a highly-specialized noun with a description of the process that the noun attempts to convey. With this substitution, she has not only achieved a successful paraphrase; she has also made the source’s meaning accessible to a non-specialist audience who may not be familiar with the term carbohydrase.

2. In omitting the name of the enzyme “α-amylase” from her paraphrase, the writer has made a judgment call. She has determined that level of specificity to be unnecessary for her purpose, which has allowed her to cut a term only experts in the field are likely to understand.

Abstractions are another kind of specialized language that can be revised when pursuing a fair paraphrase. Consider the term “morphological change” in the following passage, highlighted by Turnitin as a too-close paraphrase:

A screenshot showing 49% of a passage highlighted in grey from a Turnitin Report

Abstractions can often be replaced by more concrete language—typically by the specific thing the abstraction is being used to indicate. Consider how the following fair paraphrase substitutes the specific evolutionary adaptation—a longer intestine—to replace the abstract phrase “morphological change.”

Fair Paraphrase: Source:
the production of specific gut enzymes for processing carbohydrate-dense leaves1 increases in activity of certain digestive enzymes, especially α-amylase, a carbohydrase2

One part of effective paraphrase is replacing a source’s words with language composed by you. To locate phrases you might revise, look for highly specialized language and abstract phrasings. You can often revise discipline-specific terminology by unpacking it—replacing jargon with definitions that are accessible to a wider audience. Along these same lines, your paraphrase will often improve the clarity of your source when you substitute specificity for abstraction wherever possible.

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

2Drewe, K.E., et al. 2004. Insectivore to frugivore: ontogenetic changes in gut morphology and digestive enzyme activity in the characid fish Brycon guatemalensis from Costa Rican rain forest streams. Journal of Fish Biology, 64: 890-902.