Yale Center for Teaching and Learning

Strategy 4: Adapt the Source’s Language to the Goals of Your Argument

When you’re struggling to revise a source’s words into your own language, it can be helpful to remember your purpose in using the source. The argumentative goal of your paper likely differs from that of your sources. Considering how you might replace a source’s words with language more relevant to your own argument is an important strategy for paraphrasing successfully. The passage below attempts to paraphrase two different sources, but does not adapt their terminology enough to the writer’s own purpose.

A screenshot of a passage from a Turnitin report with five lines, one highlighted in red and two highlighted in blue

Both sources are studies of fruit consumption by fishes of a specific species or region. Were the writer reusing the sources for a similar purpose, it could be a challenge to revise them substantively. But since the spirit of research is to build upon existing knowledge, it’s more likely the writer is using these sources in a way that extends or adapts their original purpose.

Consider how the following fair paraphrase revises the highlighted passages to consider their implications for conservation:
Fair Paraphrase: Source:
floodplain deforestation can disrupt ichthyochory (Lucas 2008). The majority of fruits and seeds consumed by characiforms belong to mid- and late-successional plant species. Therefore, this vegetation is highly vulnerable to forest degradation, and will be slow to recover.1 floodplain forest degradation could disrupt seed dispersal and threaten local and regional fisheries (Lucas 2008).2 Considering that fruits are available seasonally due to plant phenology, frugivory is also seasonal. Some plant species synchronize their fructification with the flood season, which increases the probability of its fruits being consumed by fishes.3

The writer of the fair paraphrase adapts the information from two species studies to support her own conclusion: that floodplain vegetation is highly vulnerable and should be conserved. Because she has a different purpose, the writer doesn’t need the more thorough explanations of plant phenology and flood season synchronization offered by her source, which creates space for her to rewrite the most relevant material in her own words. Understanding how her sources function as evidence for larger conclusion about ecological conservation gives the writer access to the alternate vocabulary required to achieve a successful paraphrase.

Using sources’ ideas for your own argumentative purpose is an important step in rendering their words in your own language. Allowing the points you want to make to guide how you work with sources can help you eliminate irrelevant material and replace their terminology with your own key terms.

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

2Lucas, C.M. 2008. Within Flood Season Variation in Fruit Consumption and Seed Dispersal by Two Characin Fishes of the Amazon. Biotropica, 40: 581-589.

3Costa-Pereira, R., et al. 2011. Fruit-eating fishes of Banara arguta (Salicaceae) in the Miranda River floodplain, Pantanal wetland. Biota Neotropica, 11: 373-376.