Yale Center for Teaching and Learning

Strategy 5: Revise the Structure of the Source’s Sentences

Paraphrase strategies like replacing jargon and changing terminology rely primarily on substituting your own language for your source’s. But a paraphrase that substitutes synonymous phrases in the same order is still plagiarism. In order to claim the language as your own, you also need to revise the syntactical structure of a passage you are paraphrasing. The longer the section you’re paraphrasing, the more thoroughly you need to revise the syntax.

One strategy for revising the syntax of a passage is to simply cut information that isn’t relevant to your argument, which will likely shift the order in which the material is presented. However, if you need to retain all of the details of your source, you’ll need to adopt a different strategy for presenting them in a different order. Consider the following too-close paraphrase, which has been flagged by Turnitin:

A screenshot of a passage with five lines from a Turnitin report, four of the five lines are highlighted in red.

Though both contain an additional clause, each of the highlighted sentences is built around a simple declarative structure:

“Seed retention time in fishes is long”
“Fishes can disperse seeds”

Understanding the structure of a sentence is essential for revising its syntax. Consider the following fair paraphrase, which retains all of the information from the source but presents that material in a different order.

Fair Paraphrase: Source:
Fish generally have a higher seed retention time than birds and mammals, and can carry seeds great distances.

This is especially true for migratory frugivorous species, which can heavily influence the spatial distributions of plants in floodplains and riparian habitats.1

An important predictor of seed dispersal, seed retention time in fishes is long compared with that of other vertebrate dispensers.

Fishes that undergo annual spawning migrations can disperse seeds at much greater distances than monkeys, rodents, and birds, with major consequences for plant spatial distributions.2

The writer of the paraphrase adopts three strategies for restructuring her source’s sentences without cutting any information. And in each case, her strategy doesn’t simply reproduce the source’s ideas in her own language; it conveys theat information more clearly than the source did.

1. The paraphrase writer revises the first sentence so that the subject of the sentence performs the action of the verb. In the source, the subject of the sentence is time. In composing her paraphrase, the writer makes fish—the actors who carry out seed retention—the subject of the sentence. This initial shift produces a corresponding change in other parts of the sentence, dramatically altering the structure of source’s sentence and making its language her own. (For another example of this kind of revision, see how the paraphrase writer changes “The morphological change is” to “A longer intestine enables” in Strategy 3.)

2. The paraphrase writer eliminates redundancies in her source. In successive sentences, the source uses the phrases “other vertebrate dispensers” and “monkeys, rodents, and birds” to refer to the same thing. The paraphrase writer replaces this phrase with “birds and mammals” and uses it only in the first sentence—beginning the second sentence with the pronoun this to carry that idea into the next step of her analysis.

3. The paraphrase writer employs a which clause in the second sentence. The primary function of a which clause is to add information to the noun that precedes it. Organizing her sentence in this way, allows the writer to present the information in a different order than her source, which uses a different construction.

The three strategies above demonstrate only a few of the many approaches to reordering the information in a sentence. English is an especially flexible language, with a variety of ways to present ideas. When revising the syntax of a source, strive to imagine how a different structure—a new subject in the sentence, a which clause—might help you present the ideas not only differently, but more clearly than the source does.

As Joseph Williams notes in Style: (1) sentences tend to be clearest when the subject of the sentence performs the action of the verb; and (2) the ideas in a paper are easiest to follow when sentences begin with information that appeared in the previous sentence and then connect that old information to new information. When attempting the structure of a source’s sentence, you might start with these strategies first, before moving on to other approaches.

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.