How to paraphrase

When you paraphrase, you rephrase a specific sentence or set of sentences in your own words. It is important to show that you have understood your reading. Here is a technique for effective paraphrasing.

Step one

Read the following paragraph to get an idea of the context. You must make sure that you understand the idea or information you want to paraphrase in relation to its context.

Now many countries are privatising utilities, mainly under the guidance of international donors (Bayliss 2002). To some extent this is due to poor performance under public ownership (although not all had bad results). In the water sector, for example, in many cases leakage levels have been high due to aging infrastructure and illegal connections. There are weak billing and revenue collection mechanisms, and in some cases public sector organisations fail to pay their water bills and the tariff structure has failed to recoup costs. In Tanzania, World Bank advisers suggest that only about 8% of all water produced was being billed (Wateraid, 2002).


Step two

Focus on the sentence (or sentences) you want to paraphrase.

Now many countries are privatising utilities, mainly under the guidance of international donors (Bayliss 2002). To some extent this is due to poor performance under public ownership (although not all had bad results). In the water sector, for example, in many cases leakage levels have been high due to aging infrastructure and illegal connections. There are weak billing and revenue collection mechanisms, and in some cases public sector organisations fail to pay their water bills and the tariff structure has failed to recoup costs. In Tanzania, World Bank advisers suggest that only about 8% of all water produced was being billed (Wateraid, 2002).


Step three

Without looking at the original, write your understanding of what you have read. Then check to make sure you have got it right.

According to Bayliss (2003), water utilities under public ownership have failed to operate effectively in the way they invoice customers and collect payments.


Step four

Remember that whether it is a direct quotation, a paraphrase or a summary, you must acknowledge the source, in this case ‘Bayliss (2003)’.


Step five

Don’t forget to make a note of the bibliographic details for your references.

Bayliss, K. (2003). Utility privatisation in Sub-Saharan Africa: a case study of water. The Journal of Modern African Studies, Vol. 41, No. 4 pp. 507-531

When paraphrasing you should use your own words as much as possible. In academic writing, a paraphrase is not always shorter than the original. In fact, it may be very difficult to make it shorter without losing the original meaning. Again it is important to acknowledge the writer and not to include any information or interpretation that is different from the original.

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This article is from the free online course:

An Intermediate Guide to Writing in English for University Study

University of Reading